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A Science Mystery Solved: Color and Light

Light affects color in ways you might not expect.

We had an unexpected lesson in the science of color and light this past week. Donald graciously used most of his vacation week to paint our kitchen and dining room, and it was one of those snowball projects. We were going from a deep, warm red to a nice mellow Behr color called “Bagel”— a warm golden yellow, much like the shade you see in the Vermeer painting to the left (“The Music Lesson” by Johannes [Jan] Vermeer).

The Music Lesson by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer c. 1662-65Five gallons of paint of paint and six days after we started taping, the project seems to be all done except for untaping and putting everything back in. However, we had a most interesting science lesson along the way. I enjoy choosing paint colors, and can usually visualize exactly what the color will look like on the wall. This time, by day two of painting, I was getting worried. The nice mellow color on the chip was glowing a rather violent orange hue on the wall. It looked dreadful — but not all the time. There were a couple of times when I looked at it and it was perfect!

We thought perhaps the red beneath was showing through, so we bought another gallon and added a second coat. It still didn’t look like the chip. Donald decided to paint the ceiling (two more gallons of paint). The walls still glowed. He painted the shelf around the top of the room in a shade darker than the walls (another gallon of paint). The whole room looked worse.

We were getting a bit frustrated. Why did the color look almost right at certain times, then absolutely dreadful the rest of the time? It was a mystery!

Color and light interact in surprising ways

On day four of the project, we finally reached an “aha!” moment. Donald called us in (he probably saw me shuffling through my pile of paint chips again!), and pointed out that the oak cabinets on one side of the room looked like ordinary golden oak, while on the other side of the room, they were glowing reddish — almost a heart pine color. The paint on one side looked lovely- just like the paint chip, while on the other side, it simmered dangerously.

One look at the light bulbs, and we had saved the mystery. I chose the chip in natural daylight lighting, but we had been painting while it was raining, so we had the recessed lights on, plus a floor lamp that we moved from place to place. The lights on the mellow golden side of the room were soft white compact fluorescents, and the lights on the reddish side of the room were Reveal incandescents. The difference was striking!

As dedicated lifelong learners, we had to learn a bit more about the color spectrum and light. Color and light and the ways they interact are absolutely fascinating, and knowing this will certainly be useful for future projects. We ended up by re-painting the dining room shelf in Behr’s Yellow Cream, a nice French vanilla shade. I also rag-rolled the back hall in a blend of the three shades of gold/yellow/cream.

Lesson of the day? If you don’t like your paint color, check your light bulbs. Color and light are a tightly woven package, and the right light bulb can make a room look lovely. Here are few good resources for learning more about the physics of color and light:

Once we swapped all the warm-spectrum bulbs for the cooler compact fluorescents, ‘Bagel’ turned out just as it had appeared on the chip, and we like it a lot. Now to put the room back together!

News– You may remember Lynda Coats from the benefit sale a couple of weeks ago — she’s just posted a request for prayer on her blog at www.LyndaCoats.com. Her dear husband Lauren is in the last days, perhaps hours, of his life, and she’s requested prayers for their family. I am sure it would be an encouragement to them all if you could visit her blog and leave a comment.

Upcoming Events-

Friday, November 2, I’ll be teaching a Beat-the-Clock SAT Prep Essay Workshop. You can read more about it at http://www.EssayWorkshop.com.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 at 1PM CST, I’ll be talking with Cindy Rushton about Evaluating Student Writing. This is a free preview Talk-a-Latte chat for her online High School Seminar that happens on Friday and Saturday, November 9-10, 2007. During the seminar, I’ll be offering three workshops:

  • Transcripts Made Easy
  • Literature for Teens
  • Getting a Jumpstart on College

These online seminars are so much fun — you’re able to text-chat with other participants while the speakers are speaking, and ask questions when you need to. I’d love to see you there, and early next week, I’ll let you know exactly how you can join us.

November is National Novel Writing Month. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days! It’s so much fun, and very, very challenging. I’ll write more about it later, but meanwhile, why don’t you visit NANOWRIMO headquarters and find out more?

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1 Response

  1. Nilda says:

    I think that before painting your room, pick out a color scheme for your walls. When you chose your paint, remember that many painting techniques use two shades of one color. If you are using one of the techniques that does use two shades of color for painting, you can pick a darker color than you normally would chose for your base color, since the lighter top color will make the final result much lighter.

    Regards, Nilda

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