It's often the case with creatives that we follow our bliss and might not have a specific vision driving our direction. For me, the process of creating has always been paramount. It is where I find my enjoyment. It's where I get lost. When I set out to create my spring collection, I had some specific colors in mind, but I needed to figure out, through the medium of natural dyes, how to achieve them.
Midway through the research process, I became interested in how to describe shades of pigments in a naturalistic way. As a horticulturist, botanical nomenclature has always been a very important tool. Plants-people from all around the world need to be able to speak a common language. I feel the same way about color. To give a color way an obscure name does nothing for its description. Queue all paint chip names.
I had ran across the title 'Werner's Nomenclature of Color' last fall when I was reading a New Yorker article about the Forbes Collection of natural pigments. Werner's nomenclature of color was a resource for naturalists, artists, scientists and anthropologists of the 19th century. Its intention was to provide scientific color descriptions and examples from the natural world. The samples included animal, plants, and minerals. The description are both useful and poetic and come from great observations of the natural world. Because my art is based on living color, it is important to me that they are described in this way.
From my research, what I find most interesting, is that the language of color was often not necessary for many cultures, and that most communication about color was based on three colors, black (dark), white (bright) and red (warm). I can see this descriptive language in my preschool aged daughter who refers to dark shades of her favorite color purple, as 'black-purple'. Color is often identified to a specific object in the natural world. Yellow, the name of a bird; red, a ripe fruit, dark green, an unripe fruit. Warm object colors being much more common, than cool background colors.
As a garden designer, the arrangement of texture and color has always been a driving force in my design work. As the language of my creative expression has changed from plants to fibers, color and texture once again play an important role is my design decisions. Most often it is in the pairings of color that spark something in me. A subtle chestnut brown, highly textured linen, paired with a soft, sky blue gauze. Living, plant based, pigments, often give the viewer a sense of layered colors. Color, set upon color, set upon color. This would be one of the main differences in natural color pigments. Its not just the colors depth that excites the senses, it's the subtle differences, dependent upon a vast array of environmental factors, that make natural color so interesting. As a dyer, it is the observation of the way the color develops on the fiber, as it is heated in the pot. It is the way it ages as it is exposed to the elements once taken from the pot.
As part of my practice, I enjoy the familiarity of natural dye extracts, their ease of use and replicability, but what really calls to me is ephemeral color. The kind that can't always be so easily reproduced. The kind of color that you happen upon on a walk, or color that you cultivate with your own two hands. It is as much about the gathering of color that calls to me, as the color itself. All this to say that natural color descriptors are around us all the time. They may or may not be universal, but they are deeply rooted in a sense of place. They speak to us like the sea, like the red breast of a robin, like the setting sun shining through freshly dyed wool.