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Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox Paperback – May 26, 2003
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More About the Author
I first became fascinated with the story of colours when I was eight, and my father showed me a stained glass window in Chartres cathedral and explained how the blue glass was made 800 years ago and we couldn't make it like that any more. Many years later I gave up my day job as Arts editor at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong - where I lived for 12 years - to write Color: A Natural History of the Palette. My second book followed in 2005, called Jewels: A Secret History.
In the course of my research, I travelled to the underground opal churches of outback Australia, interviewed retired pearl fishermen in Scotland, crawled through Cleopatra's long-deserted emerald mines, climbed the "blue mountains" of Afghanistan where Michelangelo's ultramarine paint came from, learned about medieval stained glass and tried my hand at gem cutting in the dusty Sri Lankan city where Marco Polo once bartered for sapphires. I moved back to the UK in 2003 and now live near Bath, in southwest England. I divide my time between researching for my next book, working for an international environmental charity and writing for various UK and international publications.
The author photo was taken at the Getty when I was there researching in February 2013. I was SO happy to find that case full of pigment samples. The face-painting photo was taken on the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia where Doreen Tipoulera created the Big Sheep, Little Sheep Dreaming in ochre on my face. I didn't wash it off for hours. And the Afghanistan picture was taken at a house in Sar-e-sang, where miners dynamited for blue. I had just noticed something metallic under the sofa. It was an AK47.
Top Customer Reviews
One thing this book does is show the unreliability of mythic stories on the source of various colours and the secrecy and economic strength these dyes and paints held for various people throughout the centuries. You will not gain all the secrets to the various colours of the rainbow in this book, but you will gain an appreciation for how much knowledge has been lost or corrupted over the centuries and how hard it was to develop simple things like colours that we take for granted today.
This book is recommended for anyone who has ever painted or dyed - you'll get a new appreciation for those people in the past whose skills we probably really don't truly appreciate today.
Too many other writers in this genre seem to do their "research" on the internet - at least that is how some of their books come across to me. It is certainly a cheap way of churning out books - in both senses of the word.
Finlay went to the places she wrote about. She talked to local experts. Her diligence makes the book particularly worthwhile. I respect writers who also respect their subject and who do the hard work to understand it.
In the chapter on blue she describes an epic journey to see the lapis lazuli mines in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. It's a great story, and typical of many other stories in the book.
In the hands of a lesser writer, such stories would be annoyingly trivial "look at me! look at me!" exercises in narcissistic attention-seeking. In this book they serve to illustrate important parts of the colours Finlay tracks down in unusual places.
Today painters, dyers and printers have easy access to almost any colour they want. It was not always like that. Many of the colours Finlay writes about were once available only from natural products - plants, insects and minerals - that came from far away places. Many of them were toxic. Many faded over time. Some reacted with other pigments and their colours changed if used carelessly.
In the chapter on white, Finlay graphically describes how one of the most prized white pigments was made from ingredients that included cow manure and vinegar. This was white lead and was used not only as a white pigment in paints, but also as a white base for cosmetics until late in the 19th century.Read more ›
As much as I enjoy novels I tend to read mostly non fiction(and a lot of it)natural history, science etc..
What I enjoyed so much about this book was that the author flawlessly weaves together not just the history of each color but varied stories on her quest to find the truth that are as rich as the colors themselves. It was an absolute joy to read and I wish there were more books out there like this one.
This book very much reminds me of some of my favorites by Diane Akerman (A Natural History of The Senses, An Alchemy of The Mind etc..)though perhaps a bit less poetic than Diane this book is none the less imaginative and interesting.
I highly recommended it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really did. I saw it, coveted it and finally owned it. I tried to start it five times, and this Christmas I was determined to finish it. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Tara Glastonbury
This is the third copy I have bought of this book. One at the gift shop of the National Gallery, which was hosting a show on Colour at the time, and two on Amazon. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Left Coast
Loved this book - history, geography, art, sociology - fun facts galore and very readable. It's about so much more than color.Published 22 months ago by Judy Ryan
This is a truly wonderful book for anyone interested in painting, art history, or just dabbling around with colors, JWPlonkPublished on December 26, 2013 by James W. Plonk
This is such a great book I bought it twice. The stories and facts included in its pages are well worth the read. Read morePublished on December 11, 2013 by Kyle Kunnecke
I am so happy to finally have this book in my personal library! Finlay is an amazing writer and a brave traveller.Published on November 29, 2012 by Marilyn Varley
This is one of the most interesting books I have. It investigates the history and provenance of the colours we take for granted every day. Read morePublished on March 3, 2012 by hereiam
This copy of the book seems to be just fine. I purchased it for a friend who has the book on Gems by the same author.Published on October 31, 2011 by Dianne Marty