[Tig] Color Standards and Color Nomenclature

Richard Kirk richard at filmlight.ltd.uk
Tue Jun 5 12:54:33 BST 2012

> Rob ob Lingelbach <rob at colorist.org>

Rob Lingelbach <rob at colorist.org> sez...

> A hundred years ago, the scientist/ornithologist Robert Ridgway printed his exhaustive work titled "Color Standards and Color Nomenclature."  
> A full scan of all the color plates, or a relatively pristine copy of the actual book, will be necessary to understand the nomenclature Ridgway proposed for his Standard.

There have been a lot of attempts to standardise colour names. It is quite easy to collect colour names and particular examples, or to present people with colour patches and ask them to name the colours. However, people do not use any of these when they want to describe a precise colour. Maybe the colours are not accurate enough.

The Pantone and Munsell sets are a known colour. The Ridgway book colour plates are said to be in good condition. If they are uniform, then they have probably not faded because of exposure to air or to light. If you have some pigment such as Payne's Grey, then it is probably unfaded, but some other colours can change badly.

Suppose we were to attempt the same job today, we would probably record the reflection spectrum, and have a some tool that would calculate L*a*b* for a given illuminant, or the RGB values for a given monitor given the ICC profile. So, if you wanted to know what grass green was, then it could tell you. In fact, there are lots of different grasses, and conditions of grass, so you might end up with a locus of the colours you got with grass. Indeed, there might be a locus for a lot of plant material with Cholorophyll a (and perhaps Chlorophyll b). So, if you had a picture with some greenish vegetation in it you could probably make a reasonable guess of the original colour. Even if you had one of those funny plants at the garden centre with pink-black leaves, you could probably guess the colour from an addition of anthrocyanins to chlorophyll. There would be a similar locus for flesh tones with varying amounts of melanin (yellow-brown) and sunburn (red).

You would have a similar set of self-luminous colours for things like sky colours, the colour of clouds when it is going to snow, street lights, northern lights, and so on. You might have separate sets of transmission colours (amber), or interference colours (soap films). We might even include existing sets of colour names. 

I am not sure how useful a collection of named colours would be. I am not sure that naming colours is the way to go. I have seen some databases of spectral colours, and this leaves me with a feeling that an open database of colours would have other uses. We can at least solve the problems of accuracy and permanence, and see where this gets us.
Richard Kirk
FilmLight Ltd, Artists House, 14-15 Manette Street, London W1D 4AP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 0400  Fax: +44 (0)20 7292 0401

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