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Design As A Factor In Flower Arrangement; Composition And Color

( Originally Published 1923 )

"Study of composition of line, mass and color leads to appreciation of all forms of art and of the beauty of nature." —Dow.

In the introduction to his book on "Composition," Professor Arthur Wesley Dow states that he chose the title because that word expresses the idea upon which the method presented was founded—the "putting together of lines, masses and colors to make harmony."

"Composition, building up of harmony, is the fundamental process of all the fine arts."

The element of line in flower arrangement has been quite thoroughly considered in the discussion of Japanese flower arrangement and some of the principles to be observed in massing flowers and their color factors in design were studied. It is now necessary to consider more definitely the relation which notan and color bear to interesting flower arrangements. There is probably no better illustration of the added interest which color imparts than from the use of colored and uncolored slides in the stereopticon. In the uncolored, the effect is monotonous and the audience soon loses interest in the illustrations, but the life and variety which exist in colored slides, hold the attention constantly. Color emphasizes line and form.

Certain bodies, like the sun or electric lamp, emit their own light and we speak of them as luminous bodies, but the majority of objects are rendered visible to the eye only as they reflect light which falls on them. Our gar-dens in the early morning are radiant with the colors they reflect from the sunlight. As evening approaches, the colors lose in intensity until the darkness renders them invisible. If, in the evening, the garden be lighted by electricity, the colors reappear but their values are different from those of the daytime, because the illumination from the electric light varies from that of the sun.

Much has been written on the subject of color and its production and it is not my purpose to discuss causes of color. Sufficient it is to say that the person arranging flowers must take material furnished by the garden, study the colors, note each peculiar quality and then arrange and combine the species so there will be harmony and the eye be pleased.

Hurst in his discussion of color* says: "The simplest color effect is produced when a single color only is employed, but such color effect varies considerably in the impression it makes upon our eyes, or, perhaps, more strictly speaking, upon our sense of color. This color sense varies very considerably in different individuals, in some being more highly developed than in others; and we find a color or combination of colors makes a different impression upon one individual than it does on another, and what may be pleasing to the one is far from harmonious to the other. In this respect the sense of color resembles the sense of sound; a combination of musical notes which would grate upon the ears of one person, whose sense of musical harmony is strongly developed, would be passed over by one whose sense of music is in but a rudimental condition."

"The impression which a color makes upon the eye depends upon several factors—first, its character, whether it be red, orange, yellow, green, blue or violet; whether it is brilliant or luminous, dull or somber. Different colors of themselves convey different impressions to the mind; yellow for instance, conveys the impression of luminosity or brightness. Blue, on the other hand, conveys the impression of coldness. Again, red conveys the impression of warmth."

"Then again, colors convey an impression of distance; thus, red and yellow always convey an appearance of nearness, while blues and greens convey an appearance of distance."

Notan, Professor Dow defines as the "dark and light," and this is given particular emphasis in "harmony building." In flower arrangement it is particularly important, for often the beauty of a composition is rendered far more effective if there be a careful spacing of material, so that contrasting light and dark tones are present. In discus-sing the value of flowers in art compositions, Professor Dow says: "Flowers having great variety of line and pro-portion are valuable as well as convenient subjects for elementary composition. Their forms and colors have furnished themes for painters and sculptors since the beginning of art, and the treatment has ranged from abstractions to extreme realism; from refinement of Lotus-derived friezes to Poppy and Rose wallpapers of the present time. The flower may be rendered realistically, as in some Japanese design, or reduced to an abstraction as in the Greek, without in the least affecting the purpose in view; namely, the setting of floral lines into a space in a fine way, forming a line scheme on which may be played many notan-variation."

The notan of colors, or the percentage of white and black ranging in nine intensities for each tone of the primary colors from white to the full color and then to black are given by Ridgway in his "Color Standards and Nomenclature." These may also be spoken of as the nine values„ As an example of these gradations in notan, that is the value from white to black in the scale of red, the following is given :

"White—100% white.
Hermosa Pink—45% white, 55% red.
Eosine Pink—22.5% white, 77.5% red.
Begonia Rose—9.5% white, 90.5% red.
Spectrum Red—100% red.
Carmine—55% red, 45% black.
Ox-blood Red—29.5% red, 70.5% black.
Victoria Lake—12.5% red, 87.5% black.
Black—0% white."

Each of the other colors is listed under definite names, in four intensities: full, approximately two-thirds, one-half and one-fourth.

Flowers exhibit a wide range of color, consequently there is much confusion in color names. In one seeds-man's catalog a variety of annual flowering plants may be given under one color name, and in another catalog, the same variety may be described by a different name.

There have been many attempts to standardize color names, and among the best of the published works are "Repertoire des Colors," by Oberthur and Dunthenay, and "Color Standards and Nomenclature," by Robert Ridgway. Ridgway's book has been quite generally used in the United States and is accepted at Cornell University as a standard for student's work in flower arrangement. It is the result of many years of painstaking study by Mr. Ridgway and seems best suited for work with flowers. Were it generally adopted by publishers of plant catalogs, there would be far less confusion in color nomenclature of varieties of ornamental plants. For the benefit of those interested in the study of color in flowers, copies of Ridgway's book should be available. In many instances this is not possible; therefore, the following quotations are taken that there may be a clear understanding of the meaning of the definitions in their use in flower arrangement.

"Color.—The term of widest application being the only one which can be used to cover the entire range of chromatic manifestation; that is to say, the spectrum colors, (together with those between violet and red, not shown in the spectrum) with all their innumerable variations of luminosity, mixture, etc. In a more restricted sense, applies to the six distinct, spectrum colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet), which are some-times distinguished as fundamental colors or spectrum colors.

"Hue.—While often used interchangeably or synonymously with color, the term hue is more properly restricted by special application to those lying between any contiguous pair of the spectrum colors (also between violet and purple and between purple and red); as an orange hue (not shade or tint, as so often incorrectly said of red), a yellow hue of orange; a greenish hue of yellow, a bluish hue of green; a violet hue of blue, etc."

"Tint.—Any color (pure or broken) weakened by high illumination or (in case of pigments) by admixture of white, or (in the case of dyes or washes) by excess of aqueous or other liquid medium; as, a deep, medium, light, pale or delicate (pallid) tint of red. The term cannot correctly be used in any other sense."

"Shade.—Any color, (pure or broken) darkened by shadow or (in the case of pigments) by admixture of black; exactly the opposite of tint; as a medium, dark, or very dark (dusky) shade of red."

"Tone.—Each step in a color scale is a tone of that color.* The term tone cannot, however, be properly applied to a step in the spectrum scale, in which each contiguous pair of the six distinct spectrum or `fundamental' colors are connected by hues." Hence tone is exclusively applicable to the steps in a scale of a single color or hue, comprising the full color (in the center) and graduated tints and shades leading off therefrom in opposite directions or of neutral gray similarly graduated in tone from the darkest shade to the palest tint."

"Scale. —A linear series of colors showing a gradual transition from one to another, a similar series of tones of one color. The first is a chromatic scale (or scale of colors and hues); and second is a tone scale; the third kind of color scale is represented by adding progressive increments of neutral gray to any color." These different scales are fully illustrated by plates in "Color Standards and Nomenclature."

"Full Color.—A color corresponding in intensity with its manifestation in the solar spectrum."

"Pure Color.—A color corresponding in purity with (or, in the case of material color, closely approximating to) one of the spectrum colors."

"Broken Color.—Any one of the spectrum colors or hues dulled or reduced in purity by admixture (in any proportion) of neutral gray, or varying relative proportions of both black and white; also produced by ad-mixture of certain spectrum colors, as red with green, orange with blue, yellow with violet, etc. These broken colors are far more numerous in Nature than the pure spectrum colors, and include the almost infinite variations of brown, russet, citrine, olive, drab, etc. They are often called dull or neutral colors."

"Fundamental Colors.—The six psychologically distinct colors of the solar spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet."

"Primary Colors.—Theoretically, any of the spectrum colors which cannot be made by mixture of two other colors. According to the generally accepted Young-Helmholtz theory, the primary colors are red, green and violet; orange and yellow resulting from a mixture of red and green, and blue from a mixture of green and violet. There is considerable difference of opinion, however, as to this question, and further investigation of the subject seems to be required; at any rate, authorities fail to explain why red may be exactly reproduced (except as to degree of luminosity) by a mixture of orange and violet, exactly as yellow results from a mixture of red and green or blue from green and violet, green being, in fact, the only spectrum color that cannot be made by mixture of other colors."

"Chroma.—Degree of freedom from white light; purity, intensity or fullness of color."

"Luminosity.—Degree of brightness or clearness. The relative luminosity of the spectrum colors is as follows: Yellow (brightest); orange-yellow; orange; greenish-yellow, yellow-green, and green; orange-red; red and blue (equal); violet-blue, blue-violet, violet."

"Warm Colors.—The colors nearest the red end of the spectrum or those of longer wave-lengths (red, orange, and yellow, and connecting hues) `and combinations in which they predominate.' "

"Cool, or Cold Colors.—The colors nearer the violet end of the spectrum or those of shorter wave-length, especially blue and green-blue. `But it is, perhaps, questionable whether green and violet may be termed either warm or cool.' "

"Complementary.—`As white light is the sum of all color, if we take from white light a given color, the remaining color is the complement of the given color.' When any two colors or hues which, when combined in proper proportion on the color-wheel produce, by rotation, neutral gray, these two colors each represent the complementary of the other."

"Constants of Color.—The constants of color are numbers which measure (1) the wave length, (2) the chroma, and (3) the luminosity."

In addition to the terms defined there are many others, for which the reader is referred to the chapter on "Color Definitions," on pages 23-30 of Milton Bradley's excellent and most useful book, "Elementary Color."

With these definitions clearly in mind, the student of flower arrangement is prepared to make a critical analysis of any combination of plant material.

It will be interesting to note that when there is an abundance of flowering material in the garden, there are certain color combinations which are discordant. Each species in itself may be attractive or when combined with certain hues or tones, the whole falls into accord, and the result is pleasing. It is only by a critical analysis of the color factors that discordant notes can be eliminated in the grouping of species in the flower garden.

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