Color your world

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Can you paint with all the colors of the…pantone?

In my current job at an online eyewear company called Eyemusement, I often have minor assignments designing basic promotional materials–newsletters, postcards, press kits, etc. The founders of Eyemusement chose chocolate and turquoise as the main colors, which seem pretty straightforward. I’ve found out, though, that there are approximately 1 million shades of brown and 10 billion shades of turquoise (forget you, EL James–I’m sure there are at least 51 shades of gray!) I know this because I’ve spent many an afternoon trying to match one Hershey’s-chocolate brown logo to a Dove-chocolate brown box. Let’s not even get into the variations between “pool” and “Tiffany’s turquoise.”

Of course, this would all be easier if we chose one Pantone code for each of the two colors and stuck to it. Pantone is the bible of colorists and designers worldwide, offering color charts and palettes, forecasting which colors will be popular in a given year, even making up new colors. (Apparently, making up colors isn’t such a novel thing: a 19th-century British Prime Minister studied every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad and found no mentions of blue. In this Radiolab segment, a linguist and neuropsychologist discuss why, across cultures, blue is the last color to appear in human understanding).

While you or I might not associate 2009, for instance, with Palace Blue and Rose Dust (the colors forecasted that year), perhaps in some later year we’ll be able to see a pattern in the popular colors of the 2000s. I found a complete list of color-palette-by-decade since the 1880s, and there are some recognizable trends: the muted tones of the 1920s, the war-inspired colors of the 1940s, the neon-hued 1960s. And, of course, nothing is more iconic of the 1950s than Avocado and Harvest Gold. May they rest in peace.

After so much time spent matching colors, though, I was feeling pretty cocky. I thought I was pretty good at identifying when my chocolate brown needed just a little more red, or my turquoise needed a bit more yellow. And so, when I came across an online color challenge, I was sure I would get a great score. The challenge consists of 4 rows of 20 hues which you must arrange in order, from rose to turquoise to lavender and back. I lined them all up, checked my results…and found out I am terrible at distinguishing hues, except for in a few cases. I was shocked. But heck, even Monet got his colors off a little bit, especially near the end of his life. Maybe this test just signifies that I’m a genius.

Try it yourself.

What score did you get?

Monet: wrong? Or brilliantly right?

PS. Since everything relates back to books for me, here’s a list of 13 authors with corresponding color palettes. Lovely.

A murmuration

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One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Spain was sit on my rooftop terrace at sunset. From there I could watch dark birds glide in  air currents around the cathedral towers. It was like being able to see the wind.

When I first saw a video of a starling murmuration, I though it was the same phenomenon. After all, the shapes that these flocks of thousands form into look like the rolling of waves, the inflation of clouds. But apparently scientists still aren’t sure how individual creatures operate on a mass scale. The best theory compares the starling flock to a liquid becoming a gas, or the origin of an avalanche. These are all systems on the brink of transition, capable of instantaneous change. Not surprisingly, this is a theory that comes out of physics; starlings are one of the few macrobiological examples of phase transitions. The only contribution from biology is that this might be an evolutionary tactic to avoid predators, but it’s still unknown how simultaneous communication occurs between thousands of these birds. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s beautiful:

This is the video I first saw and is pretty cool because the birds fly directly overhead. Starts at 0:22:

How to be a museum curator

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What you’ll need: an art history degree

Songlist: Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer, The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright

Further reading: The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (but don’t actually read this one)

Monet's waterlilies curve around the specially designed rooms of Musee L'Orangerie in Paris

Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family-friendly event called ¡España! I had been lured by the promise of flamenco guitar in the galleries. Since I was fairly sure I would know the guitarist(s)–the Twin Cities flamenco community is not all that big–I was more interested in the concept of looking at art with flamenco guitar as a backdrop than the music itself. After wandering around the galleries waiting to hear guitar strings vibrating in the vicinity, we finally just asked a docent where to find the guitarist. He pointed back the way we came: all the way to the end of the hall, take a left, and all the way to the end of that hall. We wound up in a bright white atrium–no art on the walls–facing an empty black chair with a microphone forlornly angled at the floor and a sign saying “Flamenco guitar: 12 pm-4pm.” I looked at my watch: 3:15 pm.

The day was not a total waste, though, because I always love wandering the Institute’s halls. We walked past old favorites–the easy to love Monet haystack and Van Gogh olive trees, the more violent Max Beckmann triptych that my mom and I discovered last April–and temporary galleries of photography and modern art.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a kid and it was one of my parents’ birthdays or we had a visitor from out-of-town, we would invariably go to the MIA. I was not bored by the art at the time, but I always assumed beforehand that I would be; this assumption, voiced in protest to my parents, meant that I could not thereafter be seen enjoying myself at the art museum.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

Perhaps it was when I visited London with my mom at the age of 14 that I suddenly realized how much I do enjoy being at art museums. We went to the National Gallery and I fell in love with two paintings there: Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm and The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. Because they were the first paintings I truly loved, they are still the paintings I love best.

And while I haven’t fallen quite so hard for any other painting, I have been strongly affected many times since while touring art museums: at Madrid’s Reina Sofia I stood shocked at Picasso’s Guernica and felt intensely nostalgic in front Dali’s Muchacha de Espalda. I felt awed by the gigantic water lily paintings that wrap around two ovular galleries in the Musee L’Orangerie in Paris. And I was giddy with excitement seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night in person at the MoMA.

The best experience I had, though, was a thirty-minute jaunt through the Louvre on a Friday evening with my friend Hilary. Admission was free for those under 26 on Friday evenings, and we’d meant to get there earlier but had dallied. This also happened to be a night where musicians were scattered around the vast palaces. Hilary and I raced past a jazz trio playing in front of an Egyptian pyramid, a violinist in the Great Hall, a brass quartet by the Venus de Milo. It was this beautiful phantasmagoria of color and sound made more exciting by the fact that we were actually, literally, running through the Louvre to take it all in.

What I can’t fathom is how incredible it would be to work in these buildings, to patrol the corridors where incredible art hangs, to have meetings down the hall from John Singer Sargent or El Greco or Caravaggio. Does a curator become complacent about the scenery? It seems doubtful. I imagine that being in that setting day after day would be like a perpetual dream…flamenco guitar or not.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Henna, kohl, and sacred makeup

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While makeup in modern American culture is often considered frivolous, throughout history it has been a powerful indicator of identity, often with spiritual significance.

My first thought of makeup as indicator of identity was of geisha women in Japan, whose white face makeup is instantly recognizable. In fact, the elaborate hair styles, beautiful kimonos, and full makeup that I associate with the word geisha is worn primarily by maiko, or apprentice geisha. Geisha wear more subdued makeup to accentuate their natural beauty, usually only applying the full makeup–faces painted white with rice powder, teeth blackened, lips reddened with safflower–for the most formal occasions.

Henna designs on a bride's hands

Henna is used for formal occasions throughout the world. Brides from India to Morocco are painted with elaborate henna tattoos just before their weddings. The intricate patterns of mehndi, the name of these henna paintings in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are more than just ornamentation. They are described in the Vedas, ancient ritual books dating back three thousand years, as being symbolic of the Inner and Outer Sun (traditional mehndi designs include a sun drawn on the palm of one’s hand). Henna is believed to contain some of the goddess Lakshmi’s essence and thus the wearer is imparted with Lakshmi’s sacred protection.

The Prophet Mohammad dyed his beard with henna, and thus some Muslim men use henna in their beards to emulate Mohammad. This practice is considered sunnah, or fortunate, due to its relation to the Prophet. While some Muslim men dye their beards only after making the hajj to Mecca, it is more commonplace in certain cultures. For instance, we have a large Somali population in the Twin Cities and many elderly Somalian men here have bright orange beards (local blogger Ifrah Jimale addressed this question in her “Ask a Somali” column; she noted that henna was a luxury in Somalia and thus it might carry some cache in the United States).

Rock that eyeliner, girl

Other cosmetic substances were used not only for religious reasons but also medicinally. Galena, or kohl, worn ubiquitously in ancient Egypt, possesses disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties. Also, much like modern day athletes wearing black stripes below their eyes to reduce glare, Egyptians wore kohl to protect their eyes from intense sun. But eye makeup in ancient Egypt had other protective characteristics; the Egyptian word for eye-palette even derives from their word for “protect.” Powdered green malachite when applied to the eyes was thought to imbue the wearer with protection from Hathor, the goddess of beauty, joy, and love.

Man, it’s time for my makeup to do a little more work; all it boasts is SPF. When I go to the cosmetic aisle at CVS tomorrow, I should look instead for makeup that boasts a high GPF: Goddess Protection Factor.

The Beauty Department

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I discovered Lauren Conrad’s beauty blog, The Beauty Department, a few months ago while doing research for my online eyewear company. Expecting it to be annoying (due to my lingering irritation over Ms. Conrad’s poor acting skills in Laguna Beach and The Hills), I was more than pleasantly surprised. The website’s aesthetic is friendly and fun while still being incredibly instructive. I especially love the little video tutorials that help know-nothings like me learn how to braid hair, put on false eyelashes, and so on. Here’s Lauren showing you how to be “Hollywood Glam:”

The Beauty Department’s videos came in handy especially while I was preparing for my dance role. For instance, I used the following tutorial to put my hair in a bun:

And we definitely used the techniques demonstrated below to apply super glittery eye shadow:

Result: Raven!