colror scheme for red

Jim McKenney
Fri, 24 Sep 2004 14:10:15 PDT
At 09:26 AM 9/24/2004 +0200, you wrote:
>I am abit late but if you think you have problems with colours...... 
>As a nonnative spaker I wrestled ( and still do ) with red. I made the 
>following schemae. Starting from white, yellow or blue, I added 
>more and more red Do you think there is any truth In this 
>scheme?Or would you place some colours on another place or add 
>even more ( I dont hope so).

Hi, Ben. You are taking the same approach I did when I first started to try
to seriously understand colors and color names. 

And as you have already discovered, it's surprisingly complicated.

In the discussion which follows, I've relied on traditional subtractive
color theory - the rules which deal with pigments. But keep in mind that
for some applications the additive theory would be more appropriate. 

In short, your lists confuse two things: 1) what happens when a color is
combined with white and 2) what happens when two or more different colors
are combined. To understand "pink", for instance,  you have to understand
the difference. 

Redo your list. Group the colors first in terms of two primary colors
(white is not a primary color). In other words, set up the groups red+blue,
red+yellow, Yellow+blue. Then notice the "in-between" colors: between red
and blue, purple; between red and yellow, orange; between yellow and blue,

That gives you six colors which are widely recognized. 

Now vary those colors by adding more or less white. That gives you two sets
of colors: primary colors made paler by the addition of white make up one
group. The other group is made up of the secondary colors made paler by the
addition of white. In a sensible world, all of these colors should retain
the name of the primary or secondary color on which they are based. But
that's not the way it works. Consider the term "pink": it's not simply the
paler reds. It includes paler reds some of which include a blue/purple
element, and some of which include a yellow/orange element. Presumably the
number of potential combinations is unlimited even at this simple level.    

So far, we have considered only the primary and secondary colors and their
paler derivatives. As you try to assign names to those colors, you will
discover that already we are in deep water. 

The level of complexity really jumps when only three rather than two colors
are involved, and that's just the beginning. 

With these things in mind, let's go back and look at your groups:

>White+ Red: pink  rose  cyclamen fuchsia  
>carmine  cherry

In this group, you looked at the combinations resulting from the mixing of
red and white. Remember, white is not a primary color. And see the warning
about pink above. Rose (less so) and fuchsia (more so) have an element of
blue, and so are not derived from the simple combination of red and white -
you would have to add some blue to get these.

We have discussed cherry (cerise) in the related posts; it is too imprecise
to be used without careful definition. See the discussion of carmine below,
with crimson. 

You will have to tell me what color cyclamen is. 

>Yellow + Red: orange  salmon  lobster-red tomato-
>red  crimson vermilion cranberry  garnet  
>scarlet =ruby=cinnabar=magenta?  current-red  
>poster-red  burgundy  wine-red

This one starts out fine: red + yellow give the secondary color orange.
Tomato red and scarlet fit in here well. The others are more complex than
the simple mixing of yellow and red. Cranberry (ripe cranberries; earlier
they are red-orange), garnet, ruby, burgundy, wine red all agree in being
rich, dark colors - very complex colors, hardly simple combinations of
primary or secondary colors.  Crimson and carmine are alike in being
derived, historically, from the same natural source, kermes. Both are blue
rather than yellow reds, so-to-speak. But carmine came to be derived from
cochineal, and of the two is the brighter. A similar situation exists with
vermilion and cinnabar: historically, both are mercuric sulphide. But
cinnabar typically refers to a duller color than vermilion. Here in eastern
North America we have a bird called the painted bunting: it has big patches
of vermilion and blue in its color and is an amazing sight. 

I don't know the term poster red (is it a British term?), and I have seen
currents in photographs only (the photograph on the jelly jar!). As for
lobsters, I think they vary a lot depending on their source and the recipe
used.  ; ) 

>Blue + Red: lavender  lilac  aster-violet  mauve  
>maroon  violet  amethyst purple

The only one which does not exactly fit here is maroon, a color term which
does not have a precise meaning. It's usually a very dark red, but a red
with purple and brown in it. Whatever it is, it is not simply a combination
of red and blue. 

Ben, when you write "As a nonnative spaker I wrestled ( and still do ) with
red" you needn't apologize. Native speakers of English do not agree about
these things, either. 

Perhaps some of the responses to this post will demonstrate that.

Jim McKenney

You got off to a good start by listing colors which result from the
combination of only two primary colors. Most of us seem to agree about
these pretty much. But to my eyes, some of your suggestons involve a third
primary color.

First, let's look at your white + red list. White is not a primary color,
so strictly speaking (to my way of thinking anyway) all of the colors which
result from combining red and white are properly called red - darker or
lighter, but still red. However, since most people think of pink and red as
different colors, we have already hit a bump: common usage does not agree
with me!  

Am I wrong that for most of us, "pink" is the generic term for such
combinations? In fact, so strongly is pink established as a commonly
recognized color that even people otherwise insensitive to color are apt to
see the difference between blue pinks and yellow pinks. 

So, we started with red and white, recognized the importance of pink as a
distinct color in common usage, and then noted the variations in pink as it
varies to the blue (magenta falls here, so does rose; historically, fuchsia
[fuchsine] and magenta are the same thing, aren't they?) or the yellow side
of the color wheel (salmon falls here). 

So already we have lots of complications, and we are discussing only one
primary color, red, dulled or brightened with white and a touch of the
colors on either side of red on the color wheel. 

Crimson (etymologically from kermes, an insect which yields a purplish-red)
is a full, strong red with a bit of blue in it. Think nineteenth century
red Hybrid Perpetual roses, or red pre-Pernetiana garden roses in general.
Carmine (also kermes etymologically, but eventually cochineal in fact, a
brighter red) is harder to define, and in fact the book definitions have it
going off into the blue direction and the yellow direction (scarlet). Most
agree that carmine is lighter and brighter than crimson. 

Vermilion and cinnabar should, chemically, be the same thing, since they
are both mercuric sulphide. But the terms are used differently: vermillion
is the color seen in the Painted Bunting, an amazing color. If you've never
seen a painted bunting, the color is to red as the color of the bluebird is
to blue. Cinnabar is to my eyes duller - more like the redder corals (not
to be confused with the color term coral, which is less red).  

But two of the others you mention, namely rose and fuchsia, have a bit of
blue, fuchsia more so than rose.  

>White+ Red: pink  rose  cyclamen fuchsia  
>carmine  cherry
>Yellow + Red: orange  salmon  lobster-red tomato-
>red  crimson vermilion cranberry  garnet  
>scarlet =ruby=cinnabar=magenta?  current-red  
>poster-red  burgundy  wine-red
>Blue + Red: lavender  lilac  aster-violet  mauve  
>maroon  violet  amethyst purple
>Ben J.M.Zonneveld
>Institute of Biology,Leiden University, Clusius lab 
>Wassenaarse weg 64, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
>Fax: +31-71-5274999. min temp -10C (15F)
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