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Victoria Finlay

A Natural History of the Palette

4.3 (34 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

Color by Victoria Finlay takes readers on a journey to uncover the fascinating history, science, and cultural significance behind different colors. From precious gems to natural dyes, this book explores how colors have shaped our world.

Table of Contents

    Color
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Ochre was the earliest color of paint and it remains an important shade to this day.

    Have you ever seen pictures of prehistoric cave paintings, such as those at Lascaux or Altamira? They’re truly wondrous designs, but you may have noticed that their color palette is quite restricted. There’s a good reason for this.

    The artists who created these cave paintings mostly used ochre, a naturally occurring pigment that ranges in color from earthy brown to yellow to red depending on the sort of iron oxide present.

    Ochre was unearthed and used long before all other kinds of paint were discovered or circulated widely, and it has long been cherished as a result. According to the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder, the rocks around Sinope on the Black Sea were the best source for ochre, but the pigment is found in many other regions as well.

    For example, the native peoples of North America used the pigment on their skin, believing it protected them against evil spirits. It also repelled flying insects in the summer months and protected their skin against biting winter winds. In fact, painting their skin is probably why white colonists gave them the derogatory name “red Indians” or “redskins.”

    Ochre continues to play an important role in modern aboriginal art, and some of the best examples can be found in Australia.

    The author headed to Alice Springs in Northern Australia to see these works of art in their natural setting. Many Aboriginal artists still work with ochre, especially those from the Australia’s Central Desert Region.

    These works are often given mystical titles, such as Two Snakes Dreaming, and their composition is similarly mystical. Ochre paintings often include patterns of dots, waves and circles, with each of these shapes carrying a significant meaning. Circles may represent water holes in the desert, ovals may represent shields and wavy lines may depict people sitting around a fire.

    As you can see, Ochre is an ancient color and has been daubed on skin, stone and canvas – but it's just the start of our journey into colors.

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    What is Color about?

    Color: A Natural History of the Palette (2002) tells the intriguing and odd stories connected to the discovery of pigments and the use of paints. From the prehistoric use of ochre in cave drawings to the outlawing of white paint in the twentieth century, these blinks are full of surprising, colorful information.

    Color Review

    Color (2002) by Victoria Finlay is a captivating exploration of the incredible stories behind the colors we see in our everyday lives. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Full of fascinating historical anecdotes, it uncovers the hidden tales of how different colors were discovered and used throughout time.
    • With a mix of scientific research and personal travel experiences, the author's journey adds a personal touch and makes the book both informative and relatable.
    • By delving into the cultural and emotional significance of colors, the book offers a new lens through which to view art, history, and our own perceptions of the world.

    Who should read Color?

    • People curious about how humans perceive the world around them
    • Seasoned or aspiring graphic designers, illustrators and photographers
    • Anyone interested in art history

    About the Author

    Victoria Finlay was born in Britain and works as a journalist in Hong Kong. She was arts editor at the South China Morning Post for four years before embarking on her own research into color. This is her first book.

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    Color FAQs 

    What is the main message of Color?

    Through fascinating stories, Color explores the history, significance, and cultural impact of different colors.

    How long does it take to read Color?

    Color can be read in a few hours. The Blinkist summary of Color takes just 15 minutes to read.

    Is Color a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Color is a captivating book that beautifully unravels the mysteries of colors, making it a worthwhile read for curious minds.

    Who is the author of Color?

    Victoria Finlay is the author of Color.

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