Category Archives: bright colors

Properly Defining Color: Webster’s Dictionary and the Science of Color

Color is one of the hardest things to properly define. Most people do it by using comparatives such as “sunset orange,” “sky blue,” and “jade green”. But Webster’s Dictionary, wanting to be as direct and precise as possible, actually hired a color scientist to assist with color definitions for its Second Edition.

Isaac H. Godlove, who was chief color consultant for Webster’s from 1921 until 1935, had excellent credentials for the job. He was the chairman of the Committee of Measurement and Specification of the Inter-Society Color Council, a member of the Colorimetry Committee of the Optical Society, and director of the Munsell Research Laboratory, which created the Munsell Color Company, formed specifically to standardize colors.

Dr. Godlove created a system of defining colors by hue, saturation, and brilliance. Hue was the color itself, such as red or yellow; saturation described how the color looked under certain lighting conditions; brilliance (also known as brightness) was measured by how close it was to white. He defined ‘cherry’ as “a bright-red color; a color, yellowish-red in hue, of very high saturation and medium brilliance.” The entry for color is three columns long and includes graphs and two color plates.

Pleased with and even awed by his work, Webster’s editors called Godlove in to work on color definitions for the Third Edition. In the intervening years between the two editions, color names had become increasingly standardized. Popular use of these names had even been analyzed in mass-marketing campaigns, and their findings were to be incorporated into the new edition.

The Third Edition contained comprehensive color plates as well as an entire page dedicated to explaining the color charts and the descriptive names of each hue. There was even a five-page dye chart! Other additions and changes included:

  • Color definitions were now relational: each one was now something “more or less of” another. There were no more formulaic descriptions of a color’s hue, saturation, and brilliance.
  • Color names were defined by so-called ‘color specialists’ from retail giants Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. This resulted in consumer-style definitions such as ‘Cerise’: a moderate red that is slightly darker than claret (sense 3a), slightly lighter than Harvard crimson (sense 1), very slightly bluer and duller than average strawberry (sense 2a), and bluer and very slightly lighter than Turkey red.

In retrospect, the Third Edition took the ‘color as science’ concept too far. These definitions are too full-blown and subjective to make sense to the average person, except for ‘light blue’, ‘pale green’, or, in the cerise example ‘moderate red’. Accordingly, they were demystified and translated into simpler language in future editions: today, Webster’s defines the color blue as ‘the color of the sky’.

When Webster’s original 1847 edition was being revised during the 1850s, colors were more simply defined. Red was blood. Green was fresh grass. Those are descriptions we can easily relate to today, over 150 years later.

Science is an amazing and liberating field, but when it comes to describing the raw beauty of color, it seems simplicity is all we need.

Read more Segmation blog posts about art and color:

Color Advances Science

Art Illuminates Science

The Psychology of Color

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Frans Hals – Dutch Portrait Painter

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Frans Hals (c. 1580 – August 26, 1666) was a master portrait painter and one of the most gifted artists of the 17th century Dutch school. His fresh, lively approach influenced the way future artists handled large-scale group portraits.

Not much is known about the life of Frans Hals. He was born in Antwerp sometime around 1580-1581 to a Dutch family living in Flanders. His father was a draper, and the family fled the city when it was conquered by Spain in 1585, moving to Haarlem in Holland where Frans Hals would spend the rest of his life.

Hals studied painting from 1601-1603 under Karel van Mander, who had fled Antwerp at the same time as the Hals family, and in 1610, was admitted to the Haarlem painters’ guild. He started working for the city as an art restorer and in the same year, married his first wife, Annetje Harmansdr. The couple had two sons, but Annetje died during the birth of their second son.www.segmation.com

The paintings Hals produced before the age of 30 are unknown, but his first important commission was painted in 1616: a life-sized group portrait known as The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company. This work led to other, similar commissions throughout the 1620s and 30s, which are among the artist’s finest productions. He was at the height of his artistic popularity during those years.

Hals was doing well and in 1617 he remarried. His second wife, Lysbeth Reyniers, had been hired as nanny for his two children. It is rumored she was eight months pregnant when they married and the couple went on to have eight children together. In fact, Frans Hals was a lively character with the reputation of being a womanizer who liked to have a good time. That might have been one of the reasons why, despite his success as an artist, he was always short of money.

The paintings produced in the 1630’s tend towards simple compositions and bright colors. These give way to cooler tones and by the 1640s a dramatic change can be seen in Hals’s works. His brushwork was bold and free and the colors became monochromatic tones of blacks and greys. His most important work of this period is the 1648 portrait of René Descartes.

Although Hals was elected chairman of the Haarlem painters’ guild in 1644, his manner of painting was starting to go out of style and he was losing customers. With a large family to support, Hals changed his style in a bid to remain popular, but to little effect. He worked as an art dealer, and acted as art tax expert for the municipality. In 1652 he was taken to court and declared bankrupt. He had to sell his belongings and was left destitute, relying on a stipend from the Haarlem municipality to survive.

When he was 84 years old, Hals painted two of his greatest works, Lady Regents of the Almshouse and The Governors of the Almshouse, considered to be among the greatest portrait works ever painted.

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Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Hals

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