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Colour and Conventional Wisdom


Kate had her colours done in her 40’s to feel confident about her appearance and make sense of lipstick.

Kate + Apparel = Presentation

In the equation, her PCA (personal colour analysis) demonstrated the  importance of raising Kate's contribution to 50%. Apparel once got top billing until she realized how true it is that others see us and the colours we wear, not us or the colours we wear.

Kate is a True Summer. We met in a line-up. I thought she looked so beautiful that I told her so. She stood like an island of peace as the hustle around her receded. Shoulder length, side part, straight silvery white hair, pink violet lips and cheeks, a cloud of soft navy at her outer eyelids, eyeglass frames of lake blue and silver, and off-white T-shirt and trousers, all decorated with a blue, lilac, and pink swirl of a scarf.


Easy word to use. Less easy to fulfill its meaning with words.

Why was Kate a lovely example of harmony in appearance?

Words like pleasing or agreement are true may not match the depth of a feeling often expressed with tears or silence. The sensation can be overwhelming, as if the agreement within Kate’s appearance is so great that others feel as if they’re seeing her for the first time, like Kate to the 10th power.

Like blurring the background in a photograph, the subject becomes more focused and they communicate more clearly. Time stands still for a few seconds. The aspect of appearance that interests me most is the information it contains.

We could describe harmony by what doesn’t happen as we gaze at the parts or the whole: distraction.

We are not taken outside the composition.

The focal point of a person’s appearance is the eyes. If we gaze at the focal point and widen our awareness to the whole, we are aware of the other colours, pleased and satisfied that they are there. Our eyes sense energetic balance and accord, a self-supporting structure, and no need to jump around. Our mind doesn’t feel a need to process. The wheels go quiet and we take in the scene, the reason we climb Lookout Mountain. It feels deeply good as we accept a truth revealed, a way that the world is. One real, right, complete human being steps forward.

I believe that we all share our recognition of harmony, other things being equal. Neutralizing age, emotion, nurture, culture, and teaching, we respond to visual harmony in the same way. Since time is needed to reach this degree of neutrality, student colour analysts also learn to recognize harmony through more measurable standards.

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

Kate got comments

Neutralizing emotion. Now there’s a skill set that takes time.

Some folks asked Kate how she did it. She straight up looked better. They saw her as a person with more influence.

Others said that she looked more powerful before, when she coloured her hair medium brown and wore scarlet and black. When she stuck to her guns and described the relief of her new appearance, they insinuated that she looked weaker and would be treated as more of a pushover.

Why did they need to make it personal?

Were they annoyed that she didn’t follow their suggestions, or their advice was apparently not the best option?

Some friends want us to look like them. The relationship carries an unspoken agreement that we will be their mirror and they, ours. If we colour our hair the same, we confirm for one another that we’re all making our best choices. Annoying common sense taps us on the shoulder and clears its throat, pointing out the low odds of having the same optimal hair colour, but we ignore it for now. Our stronger need is to look alike together.

Were they worried that our relationship would change, that we might somehow get ahead of them?

People have needs for reasons we can’t know about. Say, folks who laugh too loud and often in crowded movie theaters. If there were a social situation that literally asks nothing of us, it would be sitting still in a dark, quiet room. If there were a defining activity of human beings that no other species enacts, it might be gathering to sit in dark, quiet rooms to look and listen for extended periods. This person has a need intense enough to step outside the social agreement.  Maybe they need to be hear themselves to know they’re in a room. Maybe they were simply showing appreciation. Maybe something else. They figured they paid the same admission, and at the movies, spilling over into the experience of others is their normal. If the folks who sat beside them are trying to move away, oh well.

But it’s interesting, right? I ask myself, what don’t I understand about them?  If we met, what would they need me to know? In a dark room full of strangers, it’s not about me. It’s not personal.

We all lose control somewhere. That’s called Normal. In those moments, we need a friend we trust to say, “You’re doing that thing again.” Or a stranger with enough perspective on a topic to know the categories. In appearance, colour analysis is the friend and stranger that you can trust.

Kate is sensitive to critique.  She can’t help it. To her, it does feel personal. Choosing colour inside a smaller box feels risk-free and saves her from thinking and re-thinking every decision. She compares her choices to conventional wisdoms, taking them to be generally true and accepted by most people. Nothing wrong with that.

The conventions

Broad: I should look glorious in every colour in my palette.

Narrow: My red, my white.

Broad: If you don’t wear black well, there can be no Winter in your colouring.

Narrow: All True Winters are perfect in black.

Broad: Silver for cool, gold for warm.

Narrow: I repeat my natural contrast level in every outfit.


Shelley doesn’t see the world as personal. Change needs time to figure itself out, like trying to get across the continent through five airports. Some flights will be delayed, some sidetracked, some on time., none of it personal. Other people need time to realize that they don’t change when we do; they stay where they are.

Shelley has an allergy to rules, like something stuck to her skin or tiny black flies buzzing around her head. No surprise that she suspects conventional wisdom of being 20 years ago and shrinking her playing field.

She plans to operate in the biggest box possible. She figures that edges are only obvious once we cross them. Having seen from her colour analysis that colours brighten up when she wears them, true for all Soft Summers, and darkness is easy, not true for all Soft Summers, she wants to touch her ceilings.

She keeps a list of Books That Changed My Life, which includes The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Skills, by Daniel Coyle.

You can find a brief summary at Faster to Master. If the topic interests you, the back stories in the book are worthwhile. 

What is it that people who become truly great at something have in common?

Hint: Not talent.

Grit is a big part of creative success. She believes that,

Success is measured too often in accomplishment and not enough in resilience.

Shelley’s going the distance. Colour started as a job to get done to solve a hair problem. Combine a small-boned face, a small-scale person, a shaggy hair style past her shoulders, and intense (though otherwise good) hair colour, and the hair replaced the woman in social interactions. Unless the makeup was amped up, her face faded and blurred out. When the makeup balanced the hair, it was all anyone could see.

She asked me,

- Are you looking at me or my hair?

- Your hair.

- I thought so, she replied.

If hair colour takes over with or without comfortable makeup, there’s a better choice. Her instincts told her to reach back to the person at the center. Shelley is a Soft Summer. For everyone, because hair colour is the big one for standing in the way of excellent appearance, a narrower menu of choices is better.

I find more flexibility in cosmetics and more still in apparel than I do with harmonious hair colour. Using the definitions earlier in this post, harmonious hair colour is not distracting. When we see women of composure and elegance, our eyes don’t skip to or particularly register their hair colour, which speaks to me as a form of self-mastery. A woman might have several equally good choices in coloured cosmetics (lipstick, blush, eyeshadow) compared with one or two or maybe three hair colours.

In an afternoon, Shelley’s hair colour was softened in Soft Summer tradition and a wavy, chin length style created, with volume to correspond with her body type, and a shape that followed the shape of her head. Shelley reappeared, a beautiful woman with flattering hair, rather than a woman defined or identified by her hair. Most days, opinions can’t get close to her nerves but on that day, she accepted compliments and felt happy.

Shelley believes,

A person is more than an archetype. I am a story.

If the archetype is the seed in the center, she wants to build herself outwards from the archetype.

To find new stories within her story, she borrows a question from the world of improv and asks,

- If this is true in this world, what else could be true?

(From Improv, this question is a method of finding new ways to push the story. If feet are hands, what else is true in this world? If it’s always 6PM, what else is true in this world? Is the sun always an inch above the horizon?)

If Soft Summer red can be this bright, what else could be true in this world?

If any colour in my palette can be anything in my wardrobe, what becomes possible for boots besides black?

PCA’s great question: What now becomes possible?

Have a look at these magnificent examples, here and here, by artist, Carol A. McIntyre. Her book was recommended by a new and respected artist friend for anyone who enjoys colour mixing.

Remember Kate’s equation: 50% Person + 50% Apparel = Presentation. An artist whose canvas is a canvas begins with a blank slate. An artist whose canvas is a human begins with half the colours already in place and a pre-set harmony.

The Season palette sets up the colours of a world. Over morning tea, Shelley gazes at her Soft Summer palette, reads the information from her colour analyst, visits the Pinterest pages, and says,

- OK. Guess I’ll lay another chip down and keep playing.


Artistic vs. Crowd-Pleasing Appearance

Did you see the movie out last month, Knives Out by director Rian Johnson?

As good a blend of art and popular appeal as one could ask for.

Whodunit, check, plus plenty for the eyes to take in. The clothing, hair, and makeup of the characters is archetypal to the point of being comical. Superb performances, which for these actors means just add water, but it was enjoyable to see them eat their lines. The depiction of perspective, meaning ask 5 people, get 5 answers, is terrific in a story where momentum is driven mostly by dialogue.

By the time detective Benoit Blanc is unwinding the plot, I’m in. What is true in this world has been set up and I could believe him even if I couldn’t follow every twist. It sounded right, somewhere in the back of my mind.

Once the world is set up and I trust it, I’ll play. I might not understand all the Why’s and How’s but I’m willing hand my beliefs over to a master. The Colour Master was the late Kathryn Kalisz, founder of the Sci\ART system that 12 BLUEPRINTS and the Chrysalis Colour communities follow.

A moisture farm on the planet Tatooine, where Luke Skywalker was adopted? Sure, why not. Set it up for me in a way I believe, and I’ll buy in. If a Toyota Camry drove by, the world would collapse in one detail.

The bell curve: Soft Summer’s warm to cool range extends from here to here.

“If this is true in this world, what would not be true?”

If these are most harmonious colours a Soft Summer could wear, Shelley’s previous lipstick colour would not be part of this world. It would be a Camry on Tatooine.

She repeats Benoit Blanc, drawl and all, and says, “The game is afoot.” And chooses Seduce, the newest lipstick in the Soft Summer collection.

In a 2-hour movie, the time to build a character beyond an archetype is short. A book offers more time, for a few characters at least. A person has the rest of their life.

Colour in appearance is like Lego, with interchangeable blocks of apparel, cosmetics, and hair colour. It’s your choice to add cosmetics or hair colour or don’t. All I’m saying, spend the money well or don’t spend it. Sugary blush and lipstick colours lose the plot of an otherwise superb Soft Summer look.

Soft Summer does delicious with desert pinks and plum roses. True Summer is as delicious in rain-washed pinks and fuchsia roses. I like pink, carnation, coral, rust, wine, i.e.: red in lips, compared with gray lips, earth lips, or no lips. Our native, natural version of red looks healthier, more vital, sexier, juicier, evokes more feeling, and fulfills what lipstick is able to do besides defining the lips from the background of the face.

There are directors (and appearances) that lose themselves in the art (Tarantino, on the spectrum towards David Lynch). For others, crowd-pleasing might be on the spectrum towards let-down (perhaps a plot event in the recent Star Wars?) or attending too much to voices that articulate in 140 characters or less.

My default is curiosity. What was the director (or the person wearing outfit) trying to say? What didn’t I understand about them and now I do?

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. 

- Cesar A. Cruz

For a colour analyst testing Seasons, constraints give bell curves boundaries instead of floating edges. Without boundaries,  the structure is mushy.

For teaching colour analysis, a world has to be set up that provides the student with a reliable, reproducible structure and a way to learn using their skill set, not the instructor's.

For Kate and Shelley expressing their colours, their colouring, same thing, freedom can open interesting doors. Kate bought a silvery pink taupe puffer coat that covers her from neck to mid-calf. Once Shelley realized that although the neutral colours appear close to the colour-colours in Soft Summer, they're further apart in actual textiles and garments, her closet and sweater drawer filled up with colour.

The most uniquely beautiful feature we have may be the one we think is least interesting. To us, it’s normal. The brave person separates the fighting dogs; to them it’s normal, not brave.

We read the magazines, we watched TV, we saw the media pictures, we compared ourselves. We didn’t look like those women but the world around us was trying to. Were we supposed to? Next thing we knew, we waved goodbye to our multi-tonal, soft pink-brown hair 20 years ago.

Safety nets and conventional beliefs deserve half an ear, but don’t let your arm get twisted to the point of pulling your most natural, native feature too far from the starting point. It might have been your most unique gift. When we finally see Soft Summer hair existing in the world of its own colours, the first question in our minds is, “This is what you’ve been covering this all this time?!”

Anyone can be a hero. The Force picks someone but to colour, we’re all Skywalkers.