What colour is wood? Not just brown!

By Yuqi Chock

The Furniture Conservation students were recently invited to join a two-day workshop on colour theory, organised by the Visual Arts department and taught by Caroline de Lannoy.

Caroline presented an engaging introductory lecture on the topic, providing a comprehensive explanation on how we perceive and depict colour. She spurred us into contemplating issues of human interaction with colour, such as the psychological effect colour has on the human brain, and the sensations and emotions it arouses in us. Even more exciting (to me at least) was the alleged correlation between the seven colours of the spectrum and the musical scale-a notion supported by Newton!

We were also introduced to recent research linked with the perception of colour, such as the work of Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroesthetics at UCL (see his book Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain). Professor Zeki's fascinating research expounds that all colour is constructed by the human brain, and that the colours we "see" do not actually exist in the external world. This makes complete sense, when you think of people with colour blindness, or animals who view colour in a different way to what we identify as normal colour vision.

Following the lecture, we participated in painting exercises, experimenting with mixing pigments using the three primary colours of red, yellow and blue to develop, in effect, an infinite palette of colours. We learnt how to achieve warm or cool colours by throwing a touch of yellow or white into the colour compound, and how to desaturate colour by sneaking in some grey or a complementary colour into the mix of pigments. Useful stuff!

Having understood how to generate specific colours, we then proceeded with attempts to colour match various stained wood and veneer slices that we had brought along to experiment with.

At the end of the workshop we all came away with a greater appreciation of the complexities of colour, and an increased confidence to create, as Caroline is fond of saying, "our own colours" from the basic pigments of blue, yellow and red, rather than rely on the standard available pigments.

Lastly, a big THANK YOU to the Visual Arts department for hosting us!