Friday, April 20, 2012

Books and Magazines

Dear Readers, I’ve had another of those frustrating, unproductive weeks. Big plans; no accomplishments.
Mostly it’s due to a perfect storm of atmospheric conditions: temps hovering around 98 (metric readers, that’s 37 C!), ozone and particulate levels triggering an official health watch, pollen count “high”, and UV index at “very high”. All of which leaves me too sneezy to work outside and too headachy to do any sewing.
I caught up on a few missed episodes of Bones and Castle, and did a bit of internet window-shopping. But I spent most of the time reading books and magazines that recently arrived in the mail.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color is one I’ve spent a lot of time with. I ordered it mainly because I love color and pretty pictures, but I also had a vague notion of using it as a reference for era-appropriate color matching of fabrics to sewing patterns.
This compilation had to be quite an undertaking. The 200-page book was published in 2011, and the introduction states that “we are now just far away enough to try to perceive the era as a whole.” Fine to view it as a whole, but how on earth to break it down into parts, and select which parts to present in a limited number of pages? The authors admit that following a century of color trends in every region of the world would be a lifetime’s work, and they had to limit their scope to the US. At the same time, it’s clear that influences from all over the globe have contributed to the kaleidoscope of US culture.
India influence, 1970s

Each decade is introduced with text explaining current events and influences, followed by eight to ten color palettes and beautiful photos illustrating their use. Contrary to my expectation that the colors would be based on historical clothing, the palettes chosen for each decade come from many distinct aspects of the culture. The most frequent sources are paintings, furnishings, advertisement, theater and film, textiles, and even antiquities. Apparel takes a larger role in the book starting in the 40s and continuing through the 80s, but is still only one factor among many.
World War II influence, 1940s

I’d assumed that Pantone was one of those things that had been around forever, but I learned that the company was only started in 1963 as a matching system for art supply manufacturers. It rapidly expanded into “the language of color,” according to the authors, for every type of material and industry around the world. Although the decades prior to 1960 did not have Pantone as a frame of reference, the authors used the best match in Pantone to illustrate the colors in such historic icons as Tiffany lamps, Maxfield Parrish paintings, Bakelite plastics, WPA posters, and Dior’s New Look.

Another thing I found interesting was the cyclical nature of color popularity, as well as the changing meaning of colors. As you flip through the book it’s apparent that not only are many of the colors repeated, but entire palettes show up again and again. Some are unsurprising: much of 1940’s Fantasia repeats in 1969’s Sesame Street and modern anime.

Other similarities are unexpected. The 1990’s Grunge colors, which we think of gloomy, look as though they could have been drawn from the spirited 1920s Art Deco palettes. The “naturals” of the 70s (harvest gold, avocado green, burnt orange…) were preceded by the rich, sunny, landscape colors of 1920s travel posters. My favorite pale blues, greens, and grays are found in the 1990s Zen palette, but similar colors were seen 60 years earlier in 1930s Hollywood glamour.

Although it’s not exactly what I expected, the book is certainly interesting and has a wealth of visual information for designers and artists. A serious student of history or color science would find it too basic and arbitrary, but it’s great for casual readers like me.
Well, I hope you all had an enjoyable week, more productive than mine, and are looking forward to a nice weekend!

Note: all images from Pantone: The 20th Century in Color. More info here, book purchased here


  1. This is truly fascinating! I wish I'd found something this interesting to get me through my (also unproductive) week. I only recently became aware of Pantone's existence, to be honest, and I never knew how color trends pervade the whole culture. Very, very interesting.

  2. Wow, I am in love with this book! The Pantone system fascinates me, though I don't know much about it. I am going to explore your links; thanks for sharing!

  3. The Pantone system is really interesting. You have peaked my interest. I am the same as you this week....lots of plans, few accomplishments. Oh well, next week will be better! Have a great weekend!

  4. You might also want to check out

    Maybe some color-combination inspiration for your next project?

  5. Interesting stuff. I'm checking out that book, thanks.
    I worked with Pantone references in my old job in the advertising industry - I miss the colour and creativity.