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Baltimore, Maryland interior designer Brad Weesner shares insights on luxury residential design and fine commercial interiors. Read blog.

What is light? What is colour?

Not everyone knows that colour and light go hand in hand.  I mean, on one hand, this seems to be obvious and we all nod in agreement when this is mentioned.  But, when I asked several people why one needs the other, the responses sort of, well,  they went dark so to speak. 


My Definition of Colour -  Is an individual’s perception of refracted light rays from a surface.  A fabric, a wall colour, a diamond, grass and sky,, all show us colour.  The way this happens is that the full spectrum of light falls upon the surface being viewed. Then in a unique way, the rays of light OTHER than the colour being considered are absorbed, and the light rays of the colour(s) are reflected/refracted back to the eye. 

This is remarkably over-simplified, and not a course on colour theory!   Notice my choice of words, and note this is only one of thousands of definitions of colour.  Mine is tailored to help explain this concept most easily to my clients.   Note my use of the word of perception.  The variables such as the colour of the ambient light, the individual’s fluency in naming colours and certainly the actual synaptic transactions in the retina and messages to the brain can all alter what we understand as colour.  Because the observer’s perception of color happens in the brain, it can be affected by changes in body chemistry.  If you are sick, tired, consumed alcohol,or any number of other factors, you will likely perceive color differently than you normally would.

We are all familiar with the refraction of light when projected through a prism. 

Notice, that with any display of colour, the spectrum will always go from the reds to the blues.  In the images below, notice the projection of light onto the ceiling, and the image of the rainbow – again showing light refraction from the reds to the blues.  This is only the visible light from the total electromagnetic spectrum.

When wrapped into a circle, we know the “colour wheel” to be shown in the same gradients.

Notice, how small the portion of visible light is on the total electromagnetic scale!

Now, consider the colours below,  are we seeing the same colour, as we each look at these?

How many of the blues, above, have some gray in them?  Are there 4 or 5 blues shown?   How many are red, and how many are yellow?  I wouldn’t attempt to even answer this!!  Yikes! Note the HotCakes colour on the bottom most, center most.  Is this a green, or a yellow?  Would you call it gold?  For me, I would call this Chartreuse.  Not to be fancy, but you can see that in working with colour needs all the funny words we use!! 

In a future post we will look at the effect of light in spaces – you will see similar colours in different lights and decide what you would call it.