Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Book Review: Color

Color - A natural history of the paletteby Victoria Finlay; Random House Publishing, 2002.ISBN 0-8129-7142-6

This book has been in my library since 2005. I consider it a good friend, especially during times of grey and achromatic weather. Color has been pulled from the bookshelf again this winter and I am engrossed in Victoria Finlay’s vivid writing style bringing me closer to the origin of color pigments once more. Who knew that color has such a rich history?

The book is written as a travelogue, the chapter headings are colors, starting with “The Beginning of the Rainbow” and closing out with “The End of the Rainbow”. Between these the reader discovers ochre, black and brown, white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The writer navigates “through the European paintbox” and takes us further to explore Afghanistan in search of lapis lazuli and how it ended up on Michelangelo’s paintbrush. She explores China in search of yellow and celadon, Mexico for cochineal red and Pupura pansa to name just a few destinations. Nearly every country in the world has natural history relating to color.

Just look around and see how color IS the essence of landscape, of mood and our perception of the physical surroundings. Natural dye stuffs have been extracted from the earth, plants and insects for as long as homo sapiens have inhabited the world. Adornment is part of human nature, whether we decorate our bodies with permanent tattoos, wear bright and patterned clothes or paint the walls of our homes with a favorite color. We cannot escape the power of color.

The author, Victoria Finlay, has traveled the world in search of color and as a journalist. She spent 12 years in Hong Kong, many of these as the arts editor for the South China Morning Post. She now lives in Britain. When researching her most recent activities I came across her blog, which I am now subscribed to. Check it out when you need a color boost or want to travel but time won’t permit packing the suitcase and leaving the country yourself… Enjoy!


This entry was published on January 17, 2013 at 8:30 am. It’s filed under Art, Book Review, Design, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

16 thoughts on “Book Review: Color

  1. Judithkh on said:

    Thank you, thank you Anna. I will acquire the Finlay book somehow, and also Stephen Beale’s poetry that has been mentioned above. Victoria Finlay’s website is a great find., . As you might guess, I have been instantly captured by the gorgeous red Hibiscus!


    • If you can’t find the book I am happy to lend you my copy, Judith. Yes, the hibiscus reminded me of you! I knew you would enjoy this site!


      • Judithkh on said:

        Anna I have ordered the Victoria Findlay book from Amazon where it has been well-reviewed. It is coming from the UK. I have also ordered “Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color” by Philip Ball which has also been very highly-rated on Amazon, and sounds like an excellent reference based on explanations of the science of colour.


      • Thanks for sharing the “Bright Earth…” info, Judith. I will keep my eyes open for it. It sounds like an important addition to my library.


  2. I absolutely loved this book. Part travelogue, part color history, it was a great armchair escape and a great education of something so important to my quilting.


  3. Katina on said:

    I tried finding “Colour” in the library system, but not available. I will make a note when I am in Halifax some day and see if any of the bookstores have it. Meanwhile I will check out her blog. Stay warm. -6 and bright sunshine today, before snow and cold temps hit tomorrow.


    • Katina, make sure you spell the title the way it is displayed on the cover: “Color” not “Colour”… The book has been around for 10 years. Maybe ask your local library to bring it in via inter-library loan. This option is a Canada wide service. Check out Amazon or Chapters, you may be able to get it second-hand at a good price. Good luck with this.
      Stay warm – we have sunshine, which makes the – 24.3 C only half as harsh!


  4. marginmirror on said:

    Thanks, Anna; I’m going to look up both book and author. Your post triggered this thought: have you read Stephen Beal’s “The Very ‘Stuff”? Fabulous poetry inspired by DMC floss colours! Interweave Press, 1995…you might search it out. Does a heart good, it does.


    • Yes, Marg, the Book by Stephen Beal has been around… I used to sell it my story in Calgary and have featured it a couple of times when I was still publishing my newsletter. I have been reading it this winter off and on and was actually debating whether to do the review on his book or Victoria Finlay’s. Good to see that you are appreciating “The Very Stuff” as much as I do!


  5. This sounds fabulous. I’m putting it on my TBR list and heading over to Victoria’s page 😀


  6. Cathy Willoughby on said:

    This book is one of my favourites too. I read it over a period of several months, enjoying each colour journey. I bought my copy at the Rochester NY Art Gallery when I visited our mutual friend Sarah.


  7. Debbie Tyson on said:

    I read this book a number of years ago and so thoroughly enjoyed it. I bought it on a family vacation in Banff at that delightful bookstore that is, alas, now gone. It sits in my library (dusty by now) but I will bring it down for a reread. Thanks for the reminder. I did not know that the author had a blog, which I will be sure to check out. Thanks for that too.


    • The bookstore in Banff – I can’t believe it is gone! Another victim to the big box stores???
      My copy of “Color” might not be dusty but the cover is dog eared and worn – the sign of a much loved book in my library. Just flipping through to research my post has be yearning for a day of reading while ignoring the snowflakes outside the window. Enjoy your time “traveling” through the world of color, Debbie!


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