Color Book Summary By Victoria Finlay

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Color: A Natural History of the Palette is an informative and interesting read that takes readers on a journey through time and uncovering the stories surrounding the use of pigments and paints.

This book covers everything from ancient cave drawings to modern-day restrictions on white paint.

The text is full of fascinating facts about how our ancestors used ochre for artwork, as well as colorful descriptions about how different hues were discovered throughout history.

Along the way, readers will learn more about the heyday of pigment manufacturing, various legal regulations enforced on paint companies in recent decades, and much more.

All in all, Color: A Natural History of the Palette is a unique read that offers insights into the past while also looking towards the future.

Color Book

Book Name: Color (A Natural History of the Palette)

Author(s): Victoria Finlay

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Victoria Finlay is the author of Color Book and is a journalist who was born and raised in Britain.

She gained extensive experience working as the Arts Editor at the South China Morning Post for four years and then ventured out to do independent research into color, which sparked her inspiration to write this book.

Color Book marks Victoria's debut as an author, proving that not only does she have a passion for writing, but also a tremendous knowledge about color!

Explore The Surprising Histories Behind Everyday Colors

Everyday Colors

From the red of a cherry lollipop to the yellow in sunflowers, the world is frequently filled with stunning vibrant hues.

In the Color Book Summary, you’ll discover why color is so special and learn about its wide range of impact on our lives.

For instance, you’ll find out how an ancient brownish-yellow pigment was the first to be used for paints; what makes glass objects have such a sparkly luster in paintings by Dutch masters; and even how bullets influenced the development of yellow pigments during the Vietnam War.

You’ll also uncover that one of the most common ingredients used in red dyes are actually derived from thousands of insects, while Napoleon’s untimely demise may be linked to green paint.

All these elements make up why color is so important and sets our world apart with its captivating vibrancy.

Ochre: A Colour That Tells An Ancient Story Of Art, Protection And Aboriginal Culture

Ochre is an ancient pigment with a long and diverse history of use.

It dates back to prehistoric times, when it was used to create cave paintings in locations like Lascaux and Altamira.

Ochre has a wide range of color variations, from earthy brown to yellow to red depending on the type of iron oxide present, making it one of the earliest pigments used for paint.

Throughout history, ochre pigment has been valued for its protective properties—it was believed by native peoples of North America that painting their skin with ochre would protect them from evil spirits as well as insect bites during summer months.

The use of ochre has remained an important part of traditional culture in Australia and other parts of the world today.

In many areas, works created using ochre still feature patterns that carry meanings such as circles representing water holes or wavy lines depicting people gathered around a fire.

Ochre remains popular among aboriginal artists living in Australia’s Central Desert Region and is often used to create artworks with mystical titles such as Two Snakes Dreaming.

Clearly, this vivid hue continues to have a significant place in mythology and art even though it was one of the first colors ever employed by humankind thousands of years ago.

The Deadly Beauty Of Lead White Paint: A Look At Its Deadly History And Manufacture

White paint had a long and notoriously deadly history, with artists unknowingly poisoning themselves and others.

Although the use of white paint goes back centuries, its use was particularly popular among the Dutch school during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

It may have been used for its perfect color and to highlight details, such as reflections on silver vessels or a glimmer in someone’s eyes – but we now know that it was loaded with lead, which can be fatal if ingested or absorbed through the skin.

The process of making this deadly color wasn’t particularly pleasant either: Vinegar filled bowls were surrounded by cow manure in order to foster chemical reaction and produce more white lead faster.

Even though people were aware of the poison’s dangers, it seemed almost impossible to control its use until 1978 when it was banned in U.S.

White paint may have been prized for its sheer whiteness but it is no surprise that it’s “popular, deadly & somewhat revolting” all at once.

We Just Can’T Let Go Of The Unstable And Sadistic Pigment Of Death: Understanding The Transience Of Turner’S Artwork Through Carmine


Red carmine is an incredibly powerful pigment, originally created by the English landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner for his 1835 piece Waves Breaking Against the Wind.

While it appears in this painting as a rather unsettling gray sunset, its true color was a vibrant and transitory red that would eventually dull over time.

Turner knew only too well that the pigment would fade, yet decided to use it anyway for its immediate impact on the canvas – and possibly to make a point about the impermanence of nature itself.

What’s interesting is that this particular pigment is still being used today – made of the blood of thousands of insects called cochineal bugs which feed on cactus plants and are harvested and pressed for their blood.

It’s even used in lipstick and eyeshadow, as well as Cherry Coke and other sweet treats throughout Europe.

The yellow pigment known in Asia as ivy yellow, or gamboge, is actually extracted from the resin of the Garcinia tree – which is not related to ivy.

This highly sought-after pigment is harvested by making an incision into the trunk of the tree – just like natural rubber – but unlike rubber, it can take up to a year for the resin to flow.

Though it’s a widespread shade of yellow, its purity hasn’t always been consistent due to events such as the Vietnam War and Cambodian Khmer Rouge rule.

During this time, many Garcinia trees were felled and their resin mixed with mud in the area around them.

This lessened its value because it was no longer bright saffron yellow, but more of a toffee color.

Worse yet, when paint companies such Winsor & Newton analyzed the exported pigment packets they found traces of bullets mixed in from combat.

It seems that poison and violence has had an effect even on something as innocent as paint pigments!

The Mysterious Death Of Napoleon: An Unsolved Mystery Linked To Green Paint Containing Arsenic

The mysterious circumstances surrounding Napoleon’s death has been a central part of historical debate for centuries.

Was it cancer or exilic depression, or something else? In 1960, some of Napoleon’s hair was analyzed and traces of arsenic were found.

Could this deadly element be the cause of his death?

It turns out that green paint produced around the time of his death may have had something to do with it.

Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered an unexpected, brilliant green paint when an arsenic component was accidentally added to a chlorine and oxygen mix in 1775.

This new “scheele green” became popular amongst the elite during Napoleon’s time and may have eventually lead to his death due to the release of arsenic from exposed walls in damp St.


Though we cannot be positive that it was definitively the arsenical lined wallpaper that killed Napoleon, its presence has now become another key piece to the puzzle surrounding his demise.

How Thousands Of Years Of History Led To A Common Shade Of Blue

Years Of History

True ultramarine blue has long been a symbol of wealth and luxury, and that still stands today.

The reason it is so highly valued arrives from the complex process of its extraction.

It starts with lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone found in abundance in Afghanistan.

The stone must be purified then ground into powder which is mixed with gum, resin, wax and oil.

After three days of rest, the mixture can be pressed to extract an ultramarine liquid which is finally left to dry and form an residue based paint.

This intensive production process makes for an incredibly vibrant color that has been used to adorn many places of significance since ancient times – such as the sixth century Bamiyan statues found in Afghanistan – and there is no surprise why true ultramarine blue remains very valuable even today.

The Ancient Britons Used Woad Dye To Paint Their Skin Before Battle For Both Religious And Practical Reasons

The ancient Britons used indigo dye extracted from plants in battle.

This was first observed by the Romans when they conquered the region and later noted by Pliny the Elder, who wrote that the Britons used a weed called glastum, more commonly known as woad, to give their skin a blue hue.

The process of preparing this dye was laborious, involving the gathering and crushing of leaves before undergoing another round of fermentation.

Despite the effort it took to prepare, woad helped with practical matters for those going into battle – acting as both an astringent and antiseptic to help reduce infection and slow blood loss.

It was also likely used during religious rites or invocations to gods.

In contrast, the Romans were found using armor instead of paint.

The Story Of Tyrian Purple: How A Color Chemically Made From Sea Creatures Transformed Roman Society

Roman Society

Purple has long been revered as the color of the elite, a symbol of wealth and power that stretches all the way back to one of the most romantic moments in history – Julius Caesar’s courtship of Cleopatra.

It is said that when Julius Caesar visited Cleopatra in 49 BC, purple stones were strewn all across her palace and even the sails of her ship were made from purple fabrics – rare and expensive at the time because dyes came from precious sea creatures.

It was an impressive sight that truly flew the flag for luxury and glitz.

The effect was noteworthy enough for Caesar to fall head over heels in love with Cleopatra, complete with his own outfit next: a toga completely dyed in purple, which quickly became a status symbol for upper-class folk in Rome.

So much so that only emperors like Nero (37-68) were allowed to wear it, with anyone else found wearing it facing summary execution!

Legislation on who could don this regal type of clothing ebbed and flowed through Roman society until Diocletian (244-311) popularized wearing purple as part of his taxation strategy – enforcing taxes on luxurious dyes such as those used to make purple garments.

Wrap Up

The Color Book promises to be an eye-opening read for anyone who’s interested in the history and power of color.

It gives its readers an in depth look into the intricate journeys and discoveries that were made to create paint and pigments.

Not only does this book provide readers with a fascinating history lesson, it also shows how deeply embedded color is with our collective culture.

As you turn the last page, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for the evolution of hues and shades we use today, knowing they symbolize so much more than just visual delights.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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