We’re going out with a bang this New Year with a colour conversation from the author of one of our favourite books from 2017, Colour, by the internationally acclaimed, award-winning illustrator Marion Deuchars.
In Colour, you take a personal journey through colour, sharing what you know about the subject to inspire and encourage us to make our own colour journey. How did it come about?
I was interested in making a book about colour but it took me while to find a way to make it personal. The more I read about colour the more daunting that task became. I have always been interested in colour but remembered how hard I found studying Colour Theory at art school, and initially when I first started using colour pigments it was difficult. I thought I could make a book that made some of the stories and theories of colour more accessible and to hopefully inspire readers to play more with colour too in their lives.
A book that really helped me was reading Derek Jarman’s Chroma. It is such a beautiful book to read and so very personal. It gave me a way in to realise I could do my own personal journey of colour. In fact, it made me realise that all one can do is a personal approach to the subject as it is so huge to comprehend.
Tell us about your illustrative career and the kind of work you do…
I’ve been working as an illustrator for 25 years, so it’s quite varied. I tend to work across all areas of the industry, from magazines, books, newspapers advertising to design. Some highlights have been working for Jamie Oliver books and the Royal Mail (RSC anniversary stamps) to the Guardian newspaper. I like the variety of commercial work – it’s never the same and subjects help push your work in unexpected directions, as a result.
Have you loved colour from an early age? Earliest colourful memory?
I have two strong colour memories. One is choosing my first pair of shoes. I was completely smitten with the red patent leather ones in the shop and not too happy with the sensible matt black selection my mother had in mind. I was appreciating without realising it… the ‘power of red’.
My second colour memory is my bright orange Chopper bike. I had wished and wished for that bike and finally got one for Christmas. My parents managed to buy a second-hand one so did not buy the one I had in mind (a red one). I remember being momentarily taken aback by the colour orange but grew to love it. Orange relates to adventure and risk-taking, inspiring physical confidence, competition and independence, so perhaps it was the right choice after all.
Do you have a favourite quote from the book?
The artist Josef Albers observed: “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”
I’ve always liked this quote. It reminds me that no two people see colour – or the world around them – in the same way. Your ‘blue’ could be someone else’s ‘grey’. Colours have had and continue to have a number of meanings across cultures and time.
Most intriguing fact or word of wisdom?
There was no word for blue in ancient Greek literature. In Homer’s The Iliad (and later, in The Odyssey) the Aegean Sea is described as ‘wine-dark’, which raises the question of whether, when we look at the sea today, we’re seeing it entirely differently to how the ancient Greeks saw it. By far the most common colour words in his reticent vocabulary were black (170 times) and white (100), followed distantly by red (13).
I think like smell, colour often has a subliminal influence on how we feel and what we remember. It’s easier to think of colours we don’t like sometimes and that makes you realise, even if we think we don’t that we have a strong emotional attachment to colour. I like being in neutral rooms, for example and don’t like one colour to dominate, no matter how nice.
I like looking at colour in nature. My favourite colours are from the British coastline. Dramatic, ever-changing and subtle. Coming from Scotland, where the landscape transforms from the ubiquitous grey to dazzling sun-lit mountains, I can appreciate the whole spectrum and especially so when we don’t have a Mediterranean sun lighting up our lives every day!
How much has colour made its way into your wardrobe? Do you have a favourite piece?
I am not very adventurous in wearing colour. I think it may be part of the London ‘fitting in’ thing where in a big city, one does not necessarily want to attract unwanted attention. I used to travel every day on the Northern Line and hide behind a newspaper as there were so many unnerving incidents happening there. When I’ve gone to countries like Mexico and Cuba were colour is ubiquitous and run rampant, I feel like we are so deprived and sadly lacking in colour in our every day life!
And your everyday life? Do you surround yourself in colour in your home and studio, for example?
My favourite place to see colour is on the page. I do, however, have some bright pieces of furniture around the house – quite a lot of orange chairs and lamp shades, so it does creep in. My studio is probably more colourful, but probably just more messy.
Who or what inspires you?
Living in London inspires me every day, keeps you on your toes, culturally, politically, creatively and mentally.
Last great colourful buy?
I bought an odd-coloured dress (not the famous blue and white stripe internet craze one) but a colour in between green and yellow. I would say it was chartreuse, but it was a good conversation piece as so many people saw it differently.
And finally, we have to ask, do you have a favourite colour?
I always say my favourite colour is cobalt blue. Blue is universally the world’s most popular colour so I’m not being too original here. I don’t like ‘all’ blues, though, and cobalt is not only my favourite colour to paint with but I love it’s history. Blue is one of the oldest colours we know of. The earliest known lump of glass dates back to 2000BC in ancient Mesopotamia. The Egyptians also used ‘blue glass’ known as ‘smalt’ in their pottery. It was then ‘lost’ as a colour until the modern era.
Photograph of Marion Deuchars by Tom Dunkley.