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To dye for: Illustrator Marion Deuchars on the beauty of colour

The artist who wants to know your 'favourite colour memory'

07 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Page illustrations from Marion Deuchars’ book, Colour

“COLOUR,” said artist Paul Klee, “is the place where our brain and the universe meet.’
And this legend is the opening line in a new book by Marion Deuchars, the illustrator and writer whose work has opened up a world of imagination and creativity for children and adults with her “how to” books, and whose trademark hand-lettering has become globally recognised.

Her latest book is simply called Colour – and takes the reader on a beautiful journey through something so fundamental to us and the world around us, but that we rarely stop and consider.

“I felt it was time to do something that was not activity-based or inspiring others to create art,” says the artist, who is based in Islington. “Colour has always fascinated me. I thought it would be a great subject to write about but as soon as I started looking at it, I felt a little overwhelmed.”

Her book explores how colours are used to their history and cultural meanings, and even the science behind how humans react to pigments. For example, she describes how there are approximately eight million different colours than can be seen by the human eye, men and women view the colour red differently, while all creatures see colours in a way particular to their species. She considers what colours mean to artists and different cultures, asks why grey makes other colours stand out, considers what colour the oceans are and the science of mixing primaries to make something altogether different.

“Everyone is interested in, and everyone has an opinion on, colour,” she says. “This ranges from the colours of the walls in your home to the colour of the clothes you wear.”

She also gives us page after page of lovely facts to brighten up a day: “Grey makes all other colours appear brighter,” she says. “Think of a stormy sky and the sun coming out – everything is illuminated in such a bright way.”

She tells us why leaves change colour in the autumn – “As winter approaches, there is not enough light or water for photosynthesis,” she says. “The trees must live off the food they have stored in the summer. In doing so, the green chlorophyll disappears from their leaves, revealing their yellow and orange colours.”

The book takes us through the huge number of names we have for different shades, how they were created and why some painters and artists prefer one colour range to another.

“You have to work instinctively with colour,” she adds, drawing on her own experience. “People work intuitively with colour, artists work with colours they know and how they seem to fit each other. I wanted to explore that – and then put colours that are not meant to work well together with each other and consider why. Artists have colour palettes that are habitual.”

Colour, she says, plays a crucial role in the world we inhabit. She states how we are creatures filled with colour associations, how they can remind us of a time, place, person, smell, experience.

“I like asking people to talk about their favourite colour memory,” she says. “Maybe it will be something like an orange Chopper bike you had as a kid. “I remember begging my mum to buy me a pair of red patent leather shoes when I was a girl. There was something striking about their red shininess. We are certainly drawn to some more than others.”

This is individual, but also shared, she adds. For example, in Japan the colour yellow represents bravery and wealth but in France it represents jealousy and betrayal. “Red, the colour of danger, passion, love and fear in countless Western cultures, is symbolic of mourning in South Africa,” she adds.

Finally, she says “…colour is something that we can have an instinctive and long-lasting personal reaction to. We either like or don’t like certain colours and we don’t need words to explain why, because our emotive response to colours were there well before language developed – before we gave them names.”

Colour. By Marion Deuchars, Particular Books, £20

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