Colour Narratives

Colour Narratives

Colour theory explores how we interpret colours. It not only looks at how our eyes perceive colours and colour relationships, but also how colour can make us feel. It is known that colours in the red area of the color spectrum evoke emotions ranging from feelings of comfort to feelings of anger. While colours on the blue side of the spectrum are seen as calming, but can also create feelings of sadness. Historically, ancient cultures practiced chromotherapy, often known as light therapy, which uses colours to heal. It is believed to have worked as followed;

Red to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.

Yellow to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.

Orange to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.

Blue to soothe illnesses and treat pain.

Indigo to alleviate skin problems.

Blue is said to be one of the most favoured colours in the colour spectrum. It is believed that this is because of its association with nature. People see blue as serene due to it being found in a bright sky and the ocean. But the ocean is in fact not blue. The colour is created as the water absorbs colors in the red part of the light spectrum. Like a filter, this leaves behind colors in the blue part of the light spectrum.

Within the design field colour choice plays a very important role. It can evoke feelings, making consumers purchase. But it also plays an important role in the narrative of the product, by showcasing the history of an object. Or even hiding its history. With the development of plastics, creating a large array of colours became possible. These were created from synthetic dyes, but bright colours and variations could easily be made. This is perhaps why we associate these vibrant colours with synthetic objects and substances. But due to their contrast with earthy tones these coloured objects can be seen as more refined. 

With the development of new biomaterials, and people avoiding plastic, the natural aesthetic comes with the trend. Instead, muted tones and natural textures are highlighted to showcase materials. These organic materials often have unpredictable colours, which in turn adds interest. It would be counterproductive to cover these sustainable materials with uniform pigments, especially as these colours can be synthetic. But some designers are experimenting with natural pigments which are bright in colour. Completely natural, but eye-catching. Helping to show the potential of ecological alternatives to plastic. Synthetic biology has also helped to develop new dyes through bio-utilisation. Microbes are used to dye fabrics by studios such as Faber Futures who use a bacterium called Streptomyces coelicolor which is typically found in soil. When left to grow within the lab this bacteria dyes the fabric it lives upon, turning it hues of pink and purple. 

The use of alchemy to create colours takes us back to a time where we were unable to produce synthetic dyes. Instead, all of our colours were derived from nature. Atelier NL is a studio created by Nadine Sterk and Lonny van Ryswyck. Working mainly with sand and clay, they create all of their pieces from earth-derived materials. Their Earth Paint project has led to the creation of natural paints made from the soil of a village called Neunen, where the painter Van Gogh lived and worked. Different types of clay were excavated, found within layers in one location. Each of these clays has a different composition, which causes it to also have a different colour. The paints were created in a similar manner to how they once were. As they are natural and made by hand each paint has slight variation, which they think makes it extra special as it tells the story of the material and the person who made it. Polderwall is a curated tile wall that is based on the methodical collection of clay deposits from different locations in the Noordoostpolder region of the Netherlands. Each tile corresponds to a farmer’s field and its regional plot number. It acts as a physical archive of the various types of earth found on each of these farms. 

As well as exploring clay, Atelier NL have created a number of projects with sand. ZandBank represents a collection and study of sands, showcasing how the composition of sand varies and how it develops in a place over time. The sand is organised from both a scientific and design perspective. The sand can be seen in many forms and with an array of colours within the green spectrum as it turns to glass. Through experimentation, firing, and contextual organization a geological story is formed, as well as a visual representation of the unique colours and textures of sand. 

Another way of creating more sustainable materials is through recycling. A large proportion of items put into the recycling bin are in fact not recycled. This may be due to their suitability or low demand, as lots of plastic producers want specific colours if reusing plastic. But showing the history of a piece can help add to its narrative by showing each element and highlighting the plastics bright colours. It could also make the product more sustainable as the unwanted bits of plastic can be used, and less processing is needed.

S-M-A-S-H-E-R is a project by designer Will Yates-Johnson. It comprises a group of three objects which utilise his manufacturing technique called Polyspolia. This process explores the idea of a product’s lifespan. Instead of disposing of the product it is broken down and turned into a new product, thus creating a relationship with the materials. This also allows the products to constantly transform and become more complex overtime. The project offers an alternative to the consumer’s expectations of newness. The use of vivid and contrasting colours makes it easier to give a visual demonstration of the process and history of the product. 



Marvin Leuvrey: Noma, Mold Magazine

Atelier NL

Will Yates-Johnson