March 08, 2022

The Science and Art Behind Color and Light

Color is a fundamental part of humans’ perception of the natural world. We understand objects based on their shades. Blue is essential to knowing that a blueberry is in fact a blueberry, while green is key to recognizing grass. Color also keeps us safe--we instinctually avoid foods that are brightly colored because, evolutionarily speaking, they represented poison. It may seem counterintuitive then, that in reality, color does not exist in the natural world at all. Color is simply a result of our visual system.

What we know to be color is actually light: different wavelengths of it, to be exact. For humans, the range of visible light extends between 400 and 700 nanometers. When these electromagnetic waves reach the eye, specialized cells in the retina, called cones, translate them into neural information that then travels to the brain. The color we see depends on the length of the electromagnetic wave that hits our eye.

According to the trichromatic theory of color-vision, different cones pick up different wavelengths of light: “S” cones receive short lengths (blue-violet), “M” cones receive medium lengths (yellow-green) and “L” cones receive long lengths (orange-red). An object appears to be given color because of the type of light it reflects.

Photo courtesy of David Geib/Pexels
In the design world, a number of artists have been playing with the relationship between light and color. Brian Eno, for example, has released a line of glowing record players. The base contains an LED-light system, allowing the turntable to alternate between different color combinations as the music plays. The hues themselves are vivid and bright, ranging from deep blue to bubble-gum pink. Eno calls the colored light tactile, describing himself as being ‘transfixed by this totally new experience of light as a physical presence.’ 

Photo courtesy of Decoded Magazine
Larry Bell, an artist inspired by glass’s transformation of light into color, has a new exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Featuring two large cubes of glass, Bell’s installation is located on the building’s sun-drenched roof. As the sun moves throughout the day, the cubes emit varying hues of saturated, red light. The different shades of “habanero, cerise, hibiscus, and carmine” are almost iridescent, rich beams of light emulating a flame.

Photos courtesy of MOCA

Though not a visual artist himself, Nico Martin also understands the magic of colored light. In 2019, Martin was asked to cover his car in “fairy-lights” and drive it around his town, all to bring joy to one of his neighbors, an 11-year-old boy afflicted with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he realized he might be able to spread the same happiness to a larger radius. On November 25
, 2021, Martin began a five-week tour of the UK in his electric MINI. Wrapped in 2,000 green, blue, purple, pink, red, and yellow LED lights, the car gifted glee to raise money for three charities—the Alzheimer’s Society, MS Trust, and Duchenne UK.


Through the medium of light, whether LED or sun, colors become saturated and immersive.  We invite you explore our range of shades through our Fabric Finder to create a mesmerizing experience of your own.

Photo courtesy of Autoevolution

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