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Color Magic

September 23, 2021

I love color in all forms. Crayons, paints, pencils, markers, glitter – you name it, I love it. I mentioned a while ago that I came across the book, The Secret Lives of Color, that I really enjoyed. The author of that book listed a bibliography of her sources, and I have to say that it sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole. These books were all fascinating in different ways, and I thought I’d share with you what I found.

This one is the most like The Secret Lives. This one has a one-page story about a hundred or so different colors and how they came to be. Honestly, I think it was the most beautiful, though. If nothing else, just check it out to look at all the beautiful photographs of the different pigments 

I think this one was my favorite. It was the best combination of pigment use and art without getting bogged down in either. The author travelled around the world to experience pigments in their natural habitat. The chapter I remember most was her trying to get to Afghanistan (in early 2001) to see how Lapis Lazuli is mined.

This was the first series I read after The Secret Lives. This is actually a series featuring five books. In addition to Blue, the other volumes include Black, Red, Green, and Yellow. Each of these five volumes breaks down the entire life of each particular color from antiquity to present day. The author is French, so he does focus more on European uses of color. NPL only has Blue, but if you want to read the others, ILL will save the day. I think my favorite volume was Green, but Yellow was good, too.

If you only read one of these, this one would get you the most bang for your buck. Bright Earth tells the complete stories of various different pigments and how they fit into the world of art and textiles. I feel like this one got a little boggy when it came to discussing all the art across the centuries. Although, had this been the only book I read about color, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. It’s a good read, but you’re going to have to put some effort into it.

I cannot pick a favorite color, but if I did make a short list, purple would definitely be on it. I have loved purple for as long as I can remember. I always have at least one room in my house painted the color of violets. The creation of mauve was mentioned in a couple other of the books – it was an accident, of course – but when I saw there was a whole book about it, I knew I had to check it out. This was a pretty quick read, but it was enjoyable. 

The biggest thing to come out of all my color reading is how toxic most of the original pigments were. Orpiment (yellow), realgar (orange), lead white, emerald green – all of these guys have a body count. It is fascinating, especially as someone who has never made her own paint. I just go to the store, buy tubes, and voilà! Paint comes out in any color I want. If you are any kind of artist, you definitely need to check some of these out to really appreciate where art has been and where pigments are going. 

Happy Colorizing…

:) Amanda

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.