cracking the Japanese color code
By Patricia Belyea
SEATTLE WA When Victoria was in Portland a few weeks ago, she picked up a book for me: A Dictionary of Color Combinations. That young lady knows her mother well. Who wouldn’t want a book that reveals what colors look great with one another—from a Japanese perspective!
Originally Sanzo Wada (1883-1967), an artist and costume designer, compiled a six-volume collection with color combinations for kimono and Japanese fashion. His remarkable work, Haishoku Soukan, was produced between 1933 and 1934. More recently, Seigensha Art Publishing extracted 348 of these combos for the pocket-sized Dictionary.
The Dictionary starts with an 8-page introduction and a 9-page chapter about how to use the book, all in Japanese. Illiterate when it comes to written Japanese, I have no idea (yet!) what any of it says.
What follows is easily understood as everything is visual with Japanese and English captions. There are two-color, three-color, and four-color combinations shown. The next section presents 159 color blocks with the color listed in Japanese and English, and its CMYK formula for modern-day printing, plus a list of all the color combos in the book that include that color. Finally, for all 159 colors, there are swatches that you can cut out and play with to make your own combos. One of the coolest things revealed to me is the names of colors! For instance—Etruscan Red, Seashell Pink, Pale Burnt Lake, Ochraceous Salmon, and Venice Green. I’m sure you know exactly what those colors look like.
I plan to take this book along to workshops for others to also be inspired by the color combinations. Move over, Josef Albers, I have a new colored star to follow!
If you’re interested in buying the book from Cord, a super-cool shop in Portland that also has a great selection of woodland tools such as axes, +click here