Ask our local color expert, Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, about Ultra Violet. Her answer may be a bit different than you’d imagine.
The Color of the Year is not just purple, people.
Oh, no. Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes awareness and potential to a higher level,” according to Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.
“From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what is yet to come.”
Isn’t that a lot to put on a single shade? I asked Eiseman the other day as we sat in a lofty workspace on one end of her Bainbridge Island home.
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The place is a museum to the power of color and light. The deep red walls of her dining room evoke friendship and long dinners with lots of talk and wine. In the kitchen, the cabinets have purple accents that make you want to don an apron. I felt a rush of emotions just walking to the bathroom.
That’s exactly what Eiseman is after. As Pantone’s executive director, a color forecaster and the head of her own Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training, she wants you to feel something, remember something, or aspire to be something more.
Eiseman and the selection committee consider many things before choosing the Color of the Year, which this year carries the official name of PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet. (Past winners were a limey shade called “Greenery,” in 2017; and in 2016 there was a tie between a soft blue called “Serenity” and a light pink called “Rose Quartz”).
Judges research what fashion designers are doing, where people are traveling, the popular films and art collections.
In writing about the choice, Eiseman wrote how Ultra Violet “suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries of where we are now.”
Enigmatic purples are symbolic of counterculture. Think Prince. David Bowie. Jimi Hendrix. It evokes experimentation and nonconformity “and is associated with mindfulness practices, which offer a higher ground to those seeking refuge from today’s overstimulated world.”
It makes sense to me — and it made sense of the selection committee, which Eiseman said “was all on the same wavelength.”
“There was a bit of discussion about taking it bluer,” she said. “But we decided to take it to a more creative, thoughtful side. Purple is symbolic of innovation. It seemed to be the right color at the right time.”
In addition to her work with the Color of the Year, Eiseman authored the latest edition of “The Complete Color Harmony: Pantone Edition,” published last year.
I looked up her description of purple. Only the wealthy or royal could afford to wear it, for it was a labor-intensive color that once took the ink of 250,000 tiny snails to make one ounce of the dye.
“The color of show and shadow,” is how Eiseman put it.
Sounds fitting for this, the second year of President Donald Trump, no? Wealthy. Show and shadow. The color of king’s capes.
Eiseman wasn’t biting. Those who choose the Color of the Year don’t dip into the political well. So to speak.
“We try to elevate ourselves from some of the chaos around us,” she said. “To get beyond us. If people are feeling turmoil and want to find their way out of it, color can help you get to that point.
“Color is sometimes not overtly seen, but still observed and understood.”
So what was it about the late Apple founder Steve Jobs always wearing black?
“It is the ultimate color of empowerment,” Eiseman said. “And when you think about black, the absence of color may have meant he didn’t want to be distracted.”
Eiseman lived in Los Angeles for a long time, but moved to Seattle 20 years ago after the publication of her first book, “More Alive with Color.” She had visited the city while on tour in 1983 “and I fell in love with the area.”
It took several years for her and her husband, Herb, a music publisher and producer, to make the move. But once settled in, Eiseman noticed something about the light here.
“As a colorist, the light is so fabulous,” she said. “If you try to do color matching in L.A., the sun sucks the color out.”
Eiseman was drawn to color from early on.
She and her mother, Anna, would have long conversations about color, and when the young Lee wanted to paint her bedroom walls Chinese Red and all her furniture black, her mother bought the brushes.
She has gone on to teach a four-day “Color/Design Course” for designers, artists and others on their own “color quest.”
She also contracts with companies to help them choose a color for a product, talking to them not about what color they like, but how the product will serve the person living with it, even if it’s just an appliance on the counter.
Eiseman has chosen the colors for the Leatherman utility tool called “Juice,” and Schick’s “Intuition” shaver, among others.
But ask her about her favorite color, and she demurs.
“That’s like asking someone ‘Who is your favorite child?’ ” she said. “You’ve got to be very, very open to color.”
So this year, she said, get some Ultra Violet in your life. A pillow. A cutting board. Something to wear around your neck. A small something that — how did Eiseman put it? — “lights the way to what is yet to come.”