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Colour is, of course, simply the way we describe light
of different wavelengths. When we see colour, we are really
seeing light. When we look around us, the light which enters
our eyes does so in three ways - directly, e.g. from a light
source such as the Sun or a light bulb, indirectly, by reflection
from any smooth reflective surface, or by transmission
through a transparent material, such as coloured glass. When
we look at an object, the colour it appears to have depends
on which wavelengths of the light falling on it are absorbed,
reflected or transmitted. A yellow flower is yellow because it
reflects yellow light and absorbs other wavelengths. The red
glass of a stained glass window is red because it transmits
red light and absorbs other wavelengths. The process by
which we perceive the colours of natural objects around us
can therefore be described as a ’subtractive’ process.
Subtractive, because the objects ’subtract’ certain wavelengths
from the white light falling upon them before reflecting and/
or transmitting the wavelengths which determine their colour.
The colours we see when we look at an original old master
depend on the optical properties of the pigments used to
produce the original paint employed by the artist and on how
these properties may have altered over the centuries since
the work was created.design
Some of the earliest cave drawings were created using
charcoal from burnt sticks mixed with a natural binder such
as animal fat, fish glue or the sap from plants, or using natural
chalks - white calcium carbonate, red iron oxide or black
carboniferous shale. The first ’paint’ used by the earliest cave
painters was a crude rust-coloured paste made from groundup
iron oxide mixed with a binder.design
Colour was introduced to early three-dimensional works
of art by applying coloured pieces of glass, stone, ceramics,
marble, terracotta, mother-of-pearl, and enamels. Although
mosaic decoration was mainly confined to floors, walls and
ceilings, its use extended to sculptures, panels, and other
objects. Tesserae - shaped pieces in the form of small cubes -
were embedded in plaster, cement, or putty to hold them in