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It is said that the human eye can discern between 1 million and 7 million colors. Do you think you could name them all?
Most people can easily identify the 3 primary colors (red, yellow, blue), and the three secondary colors (orange, green and purple), plus white and black. It’s their many mixtures, variants, tints and shades that cause a stumbling block when it comes to identifying colors.
Because of their familiarity with pigments, artists have a slew of color names at their disposal when it comes to naming colors. (For instance, “I painted a Cerulean sky over an Ultramarine ocean, tinged with hints of Light Hansa.”) These terms may leave non-artists scratching their heads. Where do these color names originate?
As we discussed in a previous article, some artist pigments are named for the material that they are made from (cobalt blue, made from cobalt), or the place where they the pigments first came from (burnt sienna, from Sienna, Italy). Other colors are named for the person who first discovered the pigment that could be used to create the color (fuchsia, named for the German scientist Leonard Fuchs).
The complexity of color is difficult to pin down with the limitations of language – especially when one person claims to see lavender while another argues that the color is actually lilac. Aside from the necessity of naming pigments and hues for color-matching purposes, perhaps many color names are best left to the imagination, where poetic expressiveness can assign the most appropriate color name for that particular purpose and moment.