It won’t shock you to hear that I spend a lot of my time thinking about colours. Bright ones, pallid ones, extinct ones, ugly ones: come one, come all. This interest, of course, led me to write The Secret Lives of Colour — an extended paperback version of which is coming out in September [below, left]. But my interest didn’t end there, of course. I still profile individual shades for Elle Decoration in a column of sorts that I have been writing now for five years! Early in the year I held forth on Vantablack and the VBx2 coating used at the Winter Olymptics in Seoul for both CNN and Marketplace. In the past few months I’ve also explored the beauty and power of colour names; Werner’s Nomenclature, a reference book used by Darwin aboard HMS Beagle; the Forbes pigment collection at Harvard art museums [paywall]; and Pantone’s Ultra Violet. And finally: later this month, Color Factory, an interactive exhibit, will open in New York after a wildly successful stay in San Francisco last year. And I’m thrilled to say that I was asked to collaborate on part of the space.
But of course there’s always more to think about and more to learn. Although it’s a couple of years old now, I recently re-discovered (and still love) this Crayon chronology. On a more serious note, this excellent article in Bloomberg looked at the chemist searching for a bright, stable red: a colour that could be worth a billion dollars. While this trend-focused one from the Guardian shows that black, for many years a fashion stalwart, is losing ground to brighter hues in the era of Instagram. An assessment, incidentally, that the Pantone Institute, agrees with. So powerful is the effect, they argue, that it’s beginning to shape not only high-street trends and spending habits but retails spaces, restaurants and museums. Perhaps my favourite find, however, is the mind-melting work of David Novick, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas, an example of which is reproduced above. He enjoys creating images, or illusions, which show how easily we can be deceived by colours. In the image above, for example, the circular dots, although we perceive them as four different tints, are actually the same colour: RGB 250, 219, 172.
Last year, Color Factory, a pop-up art experience based in San Francisco, caused a sensation: a one-month run was extended to seven; tickets sold out; Instagram was awash with saturated images taken inside the space. Based on this success, they are setting up shop in New York!
This would be exciting enough – since I missed out on tickets for their initial run – but even more thrilling is that they asked me to collaborate with them on an exhibit. Reader, I said yes.
Tickets are one sale here and you can find out more about what to expect from the all-new, New York line-up here. They’ve also created a special (and free) color-walk at the Cooper Hewitt, with a palette inspired by the neighbourhood. See you there!
Last week The Secret Lives of Color was published (minus 2,663 ‘u’s) by Penguin in America. It’s had a warm welcome: it was one of the New York Times’ New & Noteworthies, was tranformed into a Buzzfeed listicle and garnered praise from Gretchen Rubin, the podcaster and author, who I spoke to about my slatternly work habits. It’s also come out in German, Spanish and Romanian, with many more exquisite translations to follow.
As any writer will confirm, writing a book is only half the battle: I owe a great debt of thanks to all those at John Murray, Penguin and elsewhere for their hard work winkling out the typos, making it into an object to be proud of, and of course making sure people actually hear about and buy it. Thank you also to everyone on Instagram for all their gorgeous photos: keep ‘em coming!
I too can report that I’ve been working hard (hence the time lag between this post and the one before). Most of my time has been spent working on my second book. It’s so nearly finished I can almost taste the celebratory cocktail I’ll be drinking once the manuscript is handed in. I’ve also been busy moving about and staying with friends and relatives while our flat is being redecorated (it’s going to be much more colourful, for a start); one weekend was spent in Istanbul, my first visit to the city, which I loved; and I’ve been doing some freelance writing to fill up all that, er, spare time.
Below, as ever, are a selection of thing that have caught my eye over the past few weeks along with a sprinkling of stuff from me. Enjoy. Continue reading
Wonderful news: ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ will be BBC Radio 4′s book of the week beginning on Monday morning at 9.45. This caps off a very busy few months for the book: the Dutch edition was chosen as De Wereld Draait’s book of the month, which promptly propelled it into the bestseller charts, and the Spanish, American and German editions all now have covers and publication dates. It has been incredibly heartening to see the book doing so well out in the wild, particularly since I am once again hacking through a forest of research and drafts for a new project. This is the stage when my email inbox becomes an intimidatingly overgrown tangle, my social life withers and my conversation turns monoculture: preemptive apologies to everyone who comes into contact with me over the next five months, here’s hoping the fruits are worth the labour!
Here are a selection of the pieces that caught my eye this month. Enjoy
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Over the past fortnight I’ve been reading two books simultaneously. The first is “The Silk Roads”, in preparation for an interview with the historian Peter Frankopan for Always Take Notes, and the second is Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” in anticipation of the release of the TV series. Although they are of course very different, both turn on dominant world views, how rigid and unassailable they can seem, and under what circumstances they become plastic, either suddenly shattering or gradually remolding into something else entirely.
Another thing they have in common is a preoccupation with power. In both, the effects of its shifting from one group to another are distorting and disturbing, rippling through societies like magnets waved over iron filings. Reading the news as compulsively as I have found myself doing over the past six months, it is hard not to feel that the magnets of our own age are entering an active phase.
It is comforting, then, that both were utterly absorbing and instructive. Like all writers it is my hope that reading well will enrich my own writing — it was partly to keep a record of the interesting things that I was reading month to month that I began sending out this newsletter. Telling stories is my job, too. And I aim to tell them as well as I can, to make them as interesting and comprehensible and as true as I can, because as a reader I know that the best ones can at the same time help straighten tangles of events and act as a balm for the rush and confusion. Stories were there right at the beginning, and will surely be there right at the end too, just before the lights go out.
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Anyone who has tried to coax something sensible out of me for the past month will know that I have been involved in a seemingly all-consuming little project: a wedding. It took place on April 1st and it was magical.
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I have now been freelance for a year and one of the things I get asked most is what it’s like. People often wonder whether I get lonely; if it’s difficult to find enough work; and how I manage my time. So here, for what they’re worth, are some of my freelancer headlines.
After a turbulent start to the year, welcome to what I hope may be a calmer February.
The changes haven’t all been alarming though. First off, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve now signed my second book deal with John Murray, the publishers that brought ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ to vivid life. This time I’ll be telling stories about fabrics both ancient and as yet unrealised. Those who follow me on Instagram will know that I’m currently researching spiders and spider silk; I spent a fascinating morning 10 days ago talking to the wonderful staff at London Zoo about some of their eight-legged charges.
Another project I’m working on has also taken a leap forwards. Always Take Notes, a series of live events and podcast that I am hosting with Simon Akam, now has a shiny new website. We’ve recorded three episodes, which are being edited down by our wonderful producers, Olivia Crellin and Ed Kiernan, and will be released in the next month. Our next live Q&A will be with Stig Abell, the editor of the TLS and former managing editor of The Sun. Future guests include the historian Peter Frankopan and Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors.
Below, as ever, are a selection of things that caught my eye this month and some of the pieces that I’ve worked on. Enjoy.
The final few days of each year always feel a little deflated, like balloons five days after a children’s party. Here in the UK, the buzz and build-up of Christmas (love it or loathe it) has popped and people are sated and yet still not quite satisfied.
The new year brings reckonings and renewed goals. After a tumultuous 12 months I know I’m not the only one nervous about what 2017 holds for global geopolitics. (Those of an ominous disposition might not want to be reminded that next year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution and 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’.)
There are, however, many things to be excited about. Russian revolutionary art will be celebrated at the Royal Academy; the work of David Hockney will return en masse to the Tate Britain; while Pink Floyd is heralded at the V&A. Elsewhere, Seurat will take a turn at the Met and Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy will be on display at MoMA. The second season of ‘Stranger Things‘, the brilliant Netflix show from the Duffer brothers, will be released. (I wrote this piece about the show for Film & Furniture.) The 200th anniversary of the death of Madame de Stael, an eloquent opponent of Napoleon, will see a renewed interest in one of history’s great women of letters.
And so the final month of what has been a tumultuous year, both politically and personally, hoves into view.
If you can’t wait to see the back of 2016 you may enjoy this very sweary take [about as NSFW as it gets, so be warned]. My take on this year, though, is a little different. For a start, it was my first as a freelancer, which has been an eye-opening experience. In addition, I finished writing and then published ‘The Secret Lives of Colour‘, got engaged and got a puppy (that’s her in the photo above). I’ve also begun working on two new projects — a second book and a podcast about writers and writing, since you ask. It has, in short, been quite a year.
So, for the last time in 2016: here is a roundup of all the brilliant things I’ve read this month. See you in the new year. Continue reading