METAMARISM and LIGHT: Two Obstacles To Picking The Right Colour

Why is it so hard to pick a colour.  I am asked this all the time.

When it comes to colour and design I probably have  10,000 hours of practice and  that, according to Malcolm Gladwell,  makes me an expert.   But that doesn’t mean that picking a colour is ever a simple process.  Why?  Because often we are not in control of how we see colour unless we have lots of practice and have become aware of Metamerism …..even then it is hard.    Our brains are hardwired to make colour a constant, what we see is often not what we are actually seeing, but what our brains HAVE DECIDED WE SHOULD BE SEEING.  The brain likes to keep a green apple ….. ? green.  The camera, on the other hand, usually does not  lie. It  simply reproduces what it sees. Although, technology is trying to create software so cameras will make those adjustments…….   Confused yet?

When I took this picture of the apple during the day,  the apple was green and the wall was white.
But after dark when I took this picture, I was still seeing  a green apple.  But when I looked at the picture in the camera all I could see was a brown and black, apple shaped object against a yellow wall.  The camera reproduced exactly what was there.

The thing is, the minute before I took the second picture, the apple looked as green as in the first picture.  My brain had made adjustments,  the camera revealed the actual truth.

How many times have you clicked a photograph indoors thinking it looked pretty good only to see it in the playback as dark, colours dull and skin tones pale.  A blah picture.

LIGHT is a  constant challenge to choosing colours and is the leading factor in why we so often get it wrong.   The brain is programmed to constantly adjust our perception  of colour so that  colours look the same and are always constant. But they are not.  Light makes choosing colour complicated.

So add light to the second problem.  We fall in love with a colour at the paint store on  tiny little colour chips.  We  bring the chips home and tape them to the wall in the chosen room.  We may even ask several peoples’ opinion. The light is reacting to ink not paint and it overwhelms the paint chip. Personally the thought of an inexperienced homeowner trying to  choose a colour that way ….. worries me.


I will only choose a colour from a fan deck if I absolutely MUST.  But years of experience have taught me which colours I can confidently choose and how light affects them.  This is when my 10,0000 hours comes in handy!     But in the best situation I want my 2″ x 1′ hand painted colour chips to help me make the right colour choice.  I want to see my very large painted sample on several walls because the colour on the wall where the window is …….. will be different from the wall with no window.

These are my large hand painted colour chips that I use.  Same colours as above but in actual paint.  Surprising huh?

To further complicate things …….  there are not just two factors that make choosing colours hard.  I also know from experience that other factors  will influence the colour I am seeing.  The time of day, the colour behind the chip, the size of the chip, whether it is cloudy or sunny, night or day, winter or summer, from which direction  the light is coming from.  I know that if the client uses  hallogen, or energy savers or incandescent , or LED Light sources, each one will have a different effect. I know that man made or natural flooring can  make my wall colour seem muddy or clean depending on the undertones in the floor or stain.  The undertones of a neutral carpet colour can change the colours on your wall.   And undertones are a whole other conversation!  And then our brains are there to add to the confusion.

So whats a homeowner to do.

Well reading this web site will certainly help,  but hiring someone to help you choose your colours is probably wise.  In the long run it will save you a lot of frustration and money.

If you look at this picture I found on Pinterest you will see a white room with yellow in the book cases.  But is there any yellow in the book cases or is it the light playing tricks?  When you look at the picture the bookcases on the far side  look white (or perhaps a little green?) behind the glass doors.  But then the bookcases closest to you, in the picture, look yellow.  So what colour is that room?   Hard to tell?

You need to ask an expert! 🙂

Love where you live, choose the right colour.  I can do consults in person or online

Call me 416-577-4944 or email me roz@romorgan

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