an open source architectural beadwork project from Kate McKinnon and a worldwide team of innovators

light and colour in other materials

One of the things we’ve been working with for our academic textbook is how differently light and colour are described in various fields of study. In the physical art world we discuss colour in terms of pigments, and stuff like fibers and fabrics, glass, surfaces and paints, but when we work with light as a medium color is another thing entirely, and the combinations used to achieve mixed colours and contrasts are different. The language and the colour wheels are unique to the jobs being done.

In our beads (which have many different surfaces) colour has all of these properties. We have silverlined, white-lined, colour-lined beads, transparents, opaque colours, mattes, metals and metallics, we can facet the glass, coat surfaces with different textures and finishes, we can use conductive thread or coloured thread to attach them together…almost any property of colour, light or charge can be leveraged in glass beadwork.

photos of street tile and a glass cafe window in Barcelona by Kate, feel free to use or share

It is a sufficient challenge for us to find words that can communicate colour and light to different artistic disciplines. If a painter, a ceramicist, a beader and a lighting designer can agree on what we say, we feel like winners.

Colour may present keys to deeper understanding of ancient art as well. In our designs, in addition to expressing artistically, each of these colours could signify a different frequency or speed of light. If we were looking for this type of mapping, what might we be able to discern in ancient beadwork, or convey in our contemporary work? Certainly we could choose to embed any data in our work in this way.

beaded colour-spectrum Eggbox by Floor Kaspers

The job of communicating about light beyond art and colour is an even bigger one. To stretch into science and optics and discuss the many possibilities of the frequencies of light is frustrating and enlightening. Studying the spectrum displayed by a simple prism has given me entirely new (and humorously ancient) ideas about the fundamental nature of light itself and I am now entirely dissatisfied with the way people from all fields speak and teach about “breaking” light into frequencies, or that light is “made up of” all frequencies. Denying the most magical thing we know a fundamental reality simply because we can use a prism to slow light and show the visual spectrum seems silly.

Light can convert to or express at any frequency, and that is a powerful reality.

Speaking of “breaking” light into frequencies feels a lot like using the words “sunrise” and “sunset” to describe the glorious choreography of spin, rotation and orbit that make up the dance of the stars and planets. I can’t guess why we limit ourselves or our children by speaking of our Sun and Moon as Sky Puppets, rising and falling from our Earthly stage. This bugs me. The fertile minds of children can easily cope with the idea of a celestial dance, they don’t need us to use misleading words for their comfort.

I am not at odds with science in the way I think of light, sunrises or sunsets; my only problem is with the limiting words that they commonly use to discuss them. When we limit our language, we limit discovery.

I feel that we can do much better not only in the way we speak about light and colour, but also in the way that we speak of new ideas, and how we speak of the creative reaching that goes into new breakthroughs. So much of successful discovery is getting people to accept a change of perspective. If no one will listen to new thoughts, then the discoveries themselves do not take on life. It is only by skilllfully communicating new ideas to others and having them accepted that we progress.

If we are willing as a society to value discovery, and if we spend the time to ask real questions about our inbred assumptions, we can pilot ourselves into a good future. If we are not willing to put in the effort, or if we forget the importance of asking original questions, we will surely spiral into irrelevance.

I’ll be back soon with more colourwork and word charts tomorrow, and some chat about the many different ways to lay out and build a Kaleidocycle. Today, I am caught up in what a poor performance humans are giving overall and I am deeply thankful for those of you who never give up questing, hoping, working, striving, learning, growing and caring.

You are my solace and my inspiration.

About katemckinnon

Kate McKinnon has devoted herself to the study of how things are done, and how they could be done better.

15 comments on “light and colour in other materials

  1. Jennifer Halloran
    November 29, 2021

    At the risk of muddying the waters, this post reminded me of a concept from philosophy and postmodern literary criticism: always/already. It describes the features of a phenomenon that seem to precede any perception of it. So light is always/already a spectrum and a whole and individual colors and a wave and a particle and whatever other words we use to portray it. It always has been and already is, even if we can’t see it or describe it that way.

    In effect, light is out there in its totality, waiting for us to find words and concepts that may only ever be partial and provisional to describe its essence.

  2. Gradmama2011
    November 23, 2021

    I find this article very impressive, I love color, and learning and pondering color theory. The sunrise-sunset thing deals with our learned and taught beliefs about our human superiority on Earth. I once got into trouble for coloring Cinderella’s gown pink and emerald green…I always think of that during a discussion about color.

    • katemckinnon
      November 23, 2021

      Oh I would like to hear more about *why* your teacher objected to you using pink and green to color the dress?

      • Gradmama2011
        November 24, 2021

        Oh no, it was my Mom that tried to teach me the evils of clashing colors. It’s just that “the rules” existed about color combinations, wearing white shoes, skirts had to be just so…I wear what I want, and choose colors to please my eye, not anyone else.

  3. Jacque Johnston
    November 22, 2021

    Love this article. Color is something wonderful to me. Although I love color I find it difficult to design with because I can’t tell what color some things are. Like shades of red and shades of orange.

  4. Julia
    November 22, 2021

    You may like to look into Tracy Holmes’ Breakthrough Colour – her system for understanding and using color is beautifully mathematical, scientific and intuitive. Her work would be a wonderful synergy with what you are doing here!

    • katemckinnon
      November 23, 2021

      I will check it out. I also have and love this book by Deb Mosch, but it is focused on painting, so has it’s frame.

  5. dmfbeads
    November 22, 2021

    Have you read “information” by James Geick?

    • katemckinnon
      November 23, 2021

      No, but I ordered a copy so I can talk about it with you! It comes tomorrow.

  6. cbeadz
    November 22, 2021

    Your posts regarding color (and everything else!) have been very helpful and inspiring to me. Thank you for this wonderful learning experience!

    • katemckinnon
      November 22, 2021

      so much to think about, right? difficult to communicate cross-field.

  7. Maureen Boylan
    November 22, 2021

    I am so grateful to you, Kate, for the ways that you open new doors in my mind and heart!

  8. Suzanne Golden
    November 22, 2021

    Very interesting!!

    On a side note and for another discussion….why are some people drawn to bright colors (like me) whereas many beaders are not. A recent comment made to me after posting a picture of my latest piece was that “I am very brave!!!” I was very surprised by that comment…

    On the other hand, i cannot work with any variation of the color brown!!! It shuts off my creativity…

    Thanks for this current post..


    Sent from my iPhone


    • katemckinnon
      November 22, 2021

      That’s a good question about bravery and colour, I am not sure why some people feel that way, but of course you are brave about colour in every way including personal expression. I am with you, life is short, I even like to wear different-coloured socks so that I can experience two colours at once.

Please feel free to comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on November 22, 2021 by .
November 2021
%d bloggers like this: