What is Colour?


Just  look around you and you will be bombarded with colourin every direction.  We use it, play with it, manipulate it and create with it… but what is it?

Sir Isaac Newton was clearly pondering the same thing in the late 1660’s when he started his exploration. His findings, in effect explained what Mother Nature was happily demonstrating every time we see a rainbow.

He set up a glass prism near his window. As the daylight hit the prism it was refracted into a beautiful spectrum of  colour. To prove that it wasn’t the prism colouring the light he then put a second prism in front of the first to refract the light back together.

The 7 individual rays of colour that emerged were:

So basically, colour is shattered light.

So what is light?
Light is simply the name for a range of wavelengths that we can actually see, or if you want the more technical version it’s electromagnetic radiation from the electromagnetic spectrum that can be detected by the human eye.  The spectrum also includes in longer and shorter wavelengths radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x rays and gamma rays.

Whitelight (Daylight) is made up of 7 colours which each have their own individual wavelength. The Reds have the longest, the Greens are mid-sized and the Blues have the shortest wavelength. Everything we see is either reflecting or absorbing these 7 individual rays in different degrees and that is how we see colour.

Picture a chess board…

The white squares absorb no colourand reflect back all the 7 rays whilst the black squares are absorbing all the 7 individual rays. So in effect white is the blending of all colours and black is the absence of colour. What’s more if this was outdoors and you were to touch the squares the white ones would be cooler than the black ones.

A green leaf only appears green because all rays are absorbed except the green which is reflected and that is how we perceive the objects colour.

With luck this will shed some light (no pun intended) into the magical world of colour. For me there is something very poetic that one of the key foundations in Design, is in fact endless combinations of shattered light.

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