Shelf Reading: A Grammar of Color
I am often thinking of color; not just the shade of a color, but also the way the color is transported on the texture of an object or within the background it appears. I am reminded again and again of the transformative relationship between context and color. A great example of these types of refractions is color printing on textured paper. Sample printing books mostly from the early 20th-century are important examples of the relationship of color and texture. One of my favorites is an old volume I have on my bookshelf, “A Grammar of Color,” from 1921.
As the title page explains, the book is composed of “Arrangements of Strathmore Papers in a variety of printed color combinations according to the Munsell Color System.” The pages of the book illustrate colors that are stunning in their own right and further enhanced by the texture and colors of the papers and the printing process. Furthermore, the book’s graphic design and construction is a prime example of how refreshing something old can be. The use of pages with cut-outs that allows the colors samples to be easily isolated and compared is particularly telling.
I find it ironic that I am discussing this in a blog on a computer. I believe that in this digital age the importance of texture has lost its currency to the importance of the flat screen. Today, how something feels and the way it refracts color in subtle ways is usually not deemed an important design feature. I think this is largely because it does not read well on the internet, where images lose much of their subtle detail in the process of being uploaded and formatted for screen viewing and web browsing.
I realize, of course, the risk here of not being able to convey some of the qualities I speak of through these images.
Still, each time I discuss the relationship of color and texture with clients or show students and friends this book of “grammar,” I can sense their delight and appreciation of the simple lesson of this book: color has the power to remake things.