What Color Is That? Part 1

I’ve talked a lot about color in the last week or so, and it’s only going to increase. So here’s the first of several posts on how to actually talk about the color of a bead.

I’m going to start with monochrome beads, because those are relatively simple. In fact, I’m going to talk specifically about monochrome glass beads, because those are perhaps the simplest colors we can get with beads.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that red beads could be a variety of different reds, and that really, so long as the primary color of the bead is red, it’s a red bead.

What this means is that when you look at the bead, it’s more red than it is any other color. Sounds simple, and it generally is, but it can also be a bit tricky when you get into areas like the green to blue transition or yellow to green or blue to purple.

I also don’t want anyone using super fancy color terms like sea green or scarlet or chartreuse. Those color words are problematic, because 1) the sea can be all kinds of different greens; 2) scarlet is a highly specific color that doesn’t really allow us much wiggle room and kind of splits hairs when it comes to bead colors in ways that probably aren’t necessary or even really possible for archaeological beads; and 3) chartreuse is a word that many people kind of sort of know what it means, but not really and a bunch of you probably went to go look it up just like I did (it’s apparently halfway between yellow and green, and even Wikipedia can’t decide what color it actually is).

Instead, just use basic color terms. I’ll give them to you right now for free: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black, white, and grey. You can add pink if you really need it, but that’s more halfway between purple and red.

In general, try to find the color that matches most closely with the bead. Let’s use this one:

tl blue bicone-2Now, this is a modern bead, but color definitely applies. I would say the main color of this bead is blue. You could try to disagree with me (especially if you’re colorblind), but I’m going to say right now for this post, it’s blue.

That’s great, and it helps me a little with scientific analysis if I wanted that sort of thing, but it doesn’t really describe the bead all that much.

So now you’ve got the main color, but blue covers a large range of hues. So let’s narrow it down a touch more.

Is the primary color dark, medium, or light? That is, for this bead, is it a dark blue, a medium blue, or a light blue? Most people would say dark blue (though some might say medium). That narrows it down quite a bit, doesn’t it? Dark blue beads are different from medium blue beads, and very different from light blue beads.

And guess what? That’s step 1 of talking about bead colors. It’s incredibly simple, so go ahead and use it!

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About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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8 Responses to What Color Is That? Part 1

  1. Pingback: Orange Beads | Stringing the Past

  2. Pingback: What Color Is That? Part 2 | Stringing the Past

  3. Pingback: Yellow Beads | Stringing the Past

  4. Pingback: What Color Is That? Part 2 | Stringing the Past

  5. Pingback: Green Beads | Stringing the Past

  6. Pingback: Clear and White Beads | Stringing the Past

  7. Pingback: Recycled Blue-Green Bead from Thailand | Stringing the Past

  8. Pingback: Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Documenting Bead Designs | Stringing the Past

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