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Colours: Their Wonderful Names to Conjure Images in the Mind, Brightening Lives

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I love colours - the names of colours, their derivation and their uses. I want to encourage writers to use more variety in descriptions.

Colours of Paint

Oil Paints: Look at the names!  Wonderful!

Oil Paints: Look at the names! Wonderful!

Splashes of Colour

Look at a range of oil colours in tubes large or small, look at a tray of watercolours and its mixing tin, look at a box of pastels in tissue paper! Whatever your preferred medium, whatever you go on to paint, the colours themselves cook up a carousel of connotations.

Since I was a little girl, I have loved colours, green being my favourite, but I have been intrigued even more by the names themselves, the richness and depth of their origins.

Descriptions of Colour

From one end of the spectrum to the other there are colours, from green to red. No, no! It’s not green! It’s ‘Chartreuse’, ‘Jade’, ‘Bottle’, ‘Forest’, ‘Mint’, ‘Russian’ or ‘Sea’; I could go on.

Nor is it red! It’s ‘Vermillion’, ‘Burgundy’, ‘Chestnut’, ‘Damask’, ‘Flame’, ‘Oxblood’, ‘Poppy’, ‘Titian’; you will have your own favourites.

In between, you have all manner of shades, the whole playful palette.

As a bonus, you have not just one-word names. You find Cerulean Blue, Burnt Umber and Lamp Black – is that a contradiction in terms?

Images of Colour

What thoughts or images do these names conjure up? To me, Burgundy says wine, a mellow depth of hue which tickles my taste buds by mere suggestion. Jade transports me to Hokitika, in the south island of New Zealand, to the deep greenstone which is their unique version of jade. Ultramarine gives me an image of the far reaches and depths of the sea – it’s ‘ultra’, beyond the range, out of one’s grasp.

Palette of Colours

Colour Block Pastel Square

Colour Block Pastel Square

Origins of Colour

Some colour-names come from the element or soil that forms them, such as Cadmium Yellow. Cadmium is an earth mineral, white’ish until processed into its yellow form. It is expensive as it takes much to produce the final colour pigment.

Another that I think sounds great is New Gamboge. It is yellow to orange and comes from a resin of a few trees found in Asia, from the Garcina genus, particularly in Cambodia. The name is derived from ‘cambugium’ just like Cambodia itself.

The next is not easy to pronounce but is a beautiful rich blue: Phthalo, also known as Thalo blue, is an abbreviated name for paints made with the pigment Phthalocyanine Blue, or PB15. All rather scientific, isn’t it?

Box of Pastels

Soft, Gentle Pastels

Soft, Gentle Pastels

Change of Colours

Here are a few colours I hadn’t heard of, all a base for other colours: Hansa Yellow, Pyrrole Red, Payne’s Grey. I’ll leave you to look those up if you are so inclined.

I’ve also found seafoam, blush, egg nog, and neon watermelon. Those terms just make me smile.

Worlds of Colour

Colours, of course, are everywhere, colours make our world. You might, or might not, be surprised to learn that there is yet another dimension, a parallel world of colour.

Some people see abstracts in colours. This is called synaesthesia and those who have it can be referred to as synesthetes. Without going into too much detail, it’s to do with stimulation in one sensory or cognitive pathway leading to stimulation in another. It’s giving a visual aspect to abstract concepts.

Thus, days of the week, or notes of music, or emotions, can each have a different colour. The colours will be different for each individual.

Variety of Colour

Words, like colour, can move from bland to colourful to multicolourful. They brighten up our lives and writers can use them to brighten up others’ lives. So we can make up our own colours, linking them to objects or emotions. We can swell the hearts and minds using the whole spectrum and more, variations on a theme, pushing the boundaries of the hues themselves, as well as using their origins to give depth and meaning.

So here’s a challenge! Describe an object, scene or person, using colours, but in an unusual way. Make up colours if you like but don’t use the basic, well-known colours we refer to every day. You can put senses into colour-ways if you like, or just invent shades that are exciting. I’ll give you an example.

In Praise of Willow

Willow me white, willow me green,

it’ll be the worst feeling I’ve ever seen.

Willow me pic-white, willow me finch-stripe,

then I can feel the image of tree-pipe.

Willow me flow-lime, willow me sway-grime,

shades of the weather in pliable moss-slime.

Willow me sun-quince, willow me lemon-dew

flowers to herald, weeping-bottle leaves new.

Willow me air-drops of holly-gloss swirls

as autumn strips willow of auburn-sun curls.

AFC 2021

If you're still stuck, here's a photo I took from my back door. Describe this scene without using the obvious colours. Above all, have fun!

(Don't forget to let me know if you write a response!)

Photo Prompt

Wonderful Colour!

Wonderful Colour!

Sources and Responses

John Hansen:

© 2021 Ann Carr

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