Insights into the World of Color - Interview with Jude Stewart, Author:  'Roy G. Biv' - Part 1

Insights into the World of Color - Interview with Jude Stewart, Author: 'Roy G. Biv' - Part 1

Color is absolutely fascinating, don't you think? Over the years I've seen thousands of studies conducted on the significance of certain colors, how colors make us feel, and that ways colors influence our decision making.

Color is something we are exposed to in all aspects of our daily lives, when we walk into a room, look at a flyer, take a shower, and pretty much a part of every other experience we have on a moment-to-moment basis. Jude Stewart, an incredible author and new mother, and I had a chance to talk about color and her new book ROY G. BIV, a book not only filled with fun color facts but interesting information you've probably never heard before in regard to the world of color. Today, we're bringing you part of our colorful interview with Jude to celebrate the release of her new book ROY G. BIV, and tomorrow we will bring you Part 2!

ROY G. BIV, is not only a reference guide to help people understand color better, but a powerful inspiration tool for anyone interested in design, color, and aesthetics. I had the chance to ask Jude a few questions about the book and herself as an author. Below you'll find part of our interview delving into the magical world of color.

Jude, What is Your Favorite Color?

"Ha! I love this question and have finally figured out a snappy answer. I’m mad for this color I like to call “highlighter yellow”, a highly acidic yellow-green. I like it so much I blogged about it for Print Magazine (nice pics in there, btw): Hard to say why it draws my eye so insistently – it seems clean, electric, and punches up every outfit I wear. It’s definitely among the odder shades that probably only color-aficionados love."

You mentioned different shades, what is a shade in color theory?

"I’m not an expert in color theory, but in writing my book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, naturally I had to get up-to-speed with the basics. As I understand it, Color has three chief characteristics: its hue (the color itself), saturation (a color’s purity, or how much black or white has been mixed in), and brightness (approximately what shade of gray a color generates in a black-and-white photocopy). Not sure how a true color-theorist would define the term “shade”, but “brightness” seems to cover it. Here’s hoping one of your readers can enlighten us all!"

I found this interesting image that hopefully help you better understand shades from a visual perspective:

Where do color meanings originally stem from and what accounts for different cultures attributing different meanings to certain colors?

This may seem obvious, but most of color’s meanings stem from the most common objects surrounding us in that color. The tricky part, of course, is in defining what’s a “common object” in a given cultural context, and how that influences color’s meanings within that culture.

I like this quote from the American painter Robert Motherwell: “The ‘pure’ red of which certain abstractionists speak does not exist. Any red is rooted in blood, glass, wine, hunters’ caps and a thousand other concrete phenomena. Otherwise we would have no feeling toward red and its relations.” Red is perhaps THE most universal color-connotation in cultures across the globe. It’s very consistently associated with blood and the many emotions – valor, passion, pain – that blood suggests.

Of course, what’s really intriguing is when color meaning diverge across cultures – for instance, how the color black suggests fecundity and rich soils in many arid cultures, like the Uruk people in Iraq and many corners of northwestern Africa. That’s not a connotation most Westerners bring to black, but only because our culture – and weather patterns – don’t suggest this meaning as strongly.

Can you explain the significance of commonly used terminology of black or white and gray area?

"I delve into this a lot in ROY G. BIV. Again, I particularly like examples where other languages use color-metaphors that differ from the ones we use in English – it helps us “see” the color through a totally different lens. There’s a really curious color-shift that happens in German for many color metaphors, for example. They go “yellow with envy” (gelb vor Neid), “black with rage” (schwarz mit Ärger), get as “blue drunk as a violet” (blau wie ein Veilchen), and “beat someone up green and yellow” (jemanden grün und gelb schlagen). Germans and Americans aren’t so far apart culturally, yet they happen to notice totally different colors in their bruises and capture that difference in a common color-saying. Funny and very interesting, right?"

So, What color is the universe?

I thought you’d never ask! This is one of my favorite anecdotes from ROY G. BIV. Two astronomers from Johns Hopkins tackled this very question in a 2002 academic conference. Their paper was actually about a related subject: the age of the known universe. They had studied the colors of stars in over 200,000 galaxies; color is a dead giveaway for a particular star’s age, or point in its lifecycle. As a funny footnote they decided to calculate the average color of the universe based on the same data. Drumroll, please…they concluded it was turquoise.

Fast forward two months, however, and the plot thickened when a color scientist at Rochester Institute of Technology re-ran the numbers and concluded they’d made an error. The universe is actually, anti-climactically, beige. The reasons why are a bit technical to explain, but they boil down to this: the Johns Hopkins team had incorrectly set what’s known as the “white point”, the point at which light appears white to the human eye under different kinds of illumination. If you’ve ever bought a sweater or paint color under one kind of illumination in the store, then brought it home and hated the color under different illumination, you’ve been foiled by a shifting white point, too.


Check back tomorrow to learn more about the book itself, and read the rest of my colorful interview with Jude. ROY G BIV is available for purchase today!

More About Jude Stewart

Jude Stewart writes frequently about design and culture for magazines including Slate, The Believer and Fast Company, among others. As a contributing editor for Print, she blogs twice monthly about color, patterns, and other design-related hilarities. Her book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color is available now. She lives in Chicago.

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 Comments
Washing fibers
How insightful. I enjoyed this thoroughly; and since for centuries society has used errors in science to shape culture, I will stick with the Johns Hopkins team and experience the Universe in turquoise.

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