INTERIVEW // Leatrice Eisman

Leatrice is fluent in the language of color...

Do you remember your first kind of creative outlets as a kid? Like some of the first times maybe you discovered art and color. Well, it was more about, decorating my own room because, uh, I, I think the kids love to do that. You know, whether they take their first crayons out, scribble on the wall (LAUGHS) we just don't tell him, you know, gets a big no-no. But at the same time, I think that the colors that you use in your own room or an expression of who you are, provided you don't have a really stern parent who determines exactly what colors you should have in your room. But for me it was all about, being able to put color in my own space. And I remember specifically one year when I did Chinese Red, black and white. In my life, I was fortunate enough to have both a mother and an aunt who really allowed me to express myself with color. Or the only proviso was when I got tired of it, guess who got to do the repainting?  Whether it's as you know, chest of drawers or the bed posts or the walls, whatever. I could paint whatever color I wanted to do, whatever crazy combination, excepted I had to make the change. So, I think that's a great way to go with kids, to allow them to express their individuality and who they are, in a bigger space other than just on a piece of paper. But getting them a sense of responsibility as to, you know, somebody doesn't come in and do it for you and now you have to make the change and you have you have to do the choosing and then you have to make the change itself. So it was, you're all really very intellectual, having two adults in my life who acknowledged that I had some talent and ability and allowed me to use it.  Yeah, definitely. I think, when it comes to parenting, there's definitely different styles and some may be more lenient with those type of things and uh, that, yeah, definitely could influence the way a kid looks at looks individuality and art in general. Exactly. And I know for some adults that would not be a comfort level. You know, I wouldn't let my kid have a can of paint, paint the room, but for me it worked. I mean it was a great means of expression and I think it really was a big determining factor in my wanting to be in the world of color as a grown up.  How do, how do you think color affects people in ways they might not realize? Well I think a lot of it is subliminal. I mean I think some people are just super conscious and aware of the color in the world around them and they'd probably been that way ever since children more than likely. it's the same thing as, you know, a child sitting down and playing the piano at age three without having learned how to read music or anything. They, it's a natural inclination, and I think for some artist as well, give a young child a paintbrush, some will scribble and others will pay something that's very meaningful and even quite beautiful and you recognize that that child has a special talent.  Now that's not to say that color is something that can't be learned. I mean you can have an innate ability, but at the same time you can study color and you can enhance what you feel and know naturally. I tell designers, you have that innate sense when you were a child and maybe that hasn't changed at all. Maybe when you take a class about color or you read a book about color, what it does is to validate what you feel instinctively. And I think that's what music in the world and of art, its an innate ability. Then you develop as you grow older realizing, "Hey, wait a minute, I did make that choice, and boy, that does look pretty good and everybody else thinks so too." So It kind of validates your choices. 

Gotcha. So do you think there's like an infinite amount of things that you can learn about color? Are you still learning about color?  Absolutely. I think that, you never stop learning about color. I mean, anybody who has the attitude of "Boy, I know it all now." that's sad because there's always something new to learn.  So I've always tried to imagine a color that has yet to be discovered. One that goes beyond their primary colors due to the limitations of our eyes and visible light, It is probably impossible. But have you ever given this any thought, what colors lie beyond the capabilities of our perception?  I would say absolutely, even though there may be limitations as we know them now, I think that technology as we move forward, is going to enable people to see something that they can't see now, you know, Just as some birds and some insects can see beyond our spectrum or they can see within the infrared spectrum. We as individuals might not have that capability now. But when you think about technology and what might be possible. I mean there are even lenses that have been developed for color blind people that enables them to see colors more clearly.  So I would be the last person to say, no, this is it. You know, what you see is what you get. You're going to see a means that will enable people to see beyond what we see now.  Yeah. That's something I've always been really curious about just because it's imaginable like to us, we can't really even fathom what this would ever look like.  Oh, absolutely. I mean, we all have had that experience. I often think about, you know, what about our ancestors? Can you imagine anybody living a hundred years ago to even look at a computer? And think that was possible? Or even before that, people flying around in the sky in an airplane, I mean, to, to every age there has been this unbelievable, change that has happened. So I think if our experience bears out, we can certainly anticipate it's going to continue to happen in the future.  Yeah. Right and it only takes those certain people, that are kind of radical enough to actually push for those types of things or can even imagine them in the first place.  Right, right. Exactly.  So can you explain the idea of using color as a language? No question. Yeah, I mean, think about it. It's very everyday terms and I think that anybody that's ever bought paint to paint a room in their house, you know can relate to that. You go in and you look at a bunch of paints put out by a paint company and one will have a name that just pops out at you and just really speaks to you. I can remember a friend of mine of when he was redecorating his house, we saw it for the first time. It was a gray color that was on the wall. And I said, oh, this is really an interesting color. It's like a rich goldish brown shade, very earthy. And it really looks beautiful on the wall with light was coming in from the outside. And I said, oh, that's a gorgeous color. And he said, well, the reason I bought it is the name was Tundra, And I said, you're kidding? He said, no, it was all about the name more so than what's the color. So, you know, you would patch a beautiful name to a color or an evocative name or a romantic name. I'm certainly the cosmetic companies have discovered that a long time ago and you know, give a red a sexy name and it makes it much more appealing than just calling a chain one, two, three, four.  And I think that my years having been with Pantone, One of the things that I've done for Pantone is to name most of their colors. And at one point in time there was somebody who came into the company who said, well, what do you need to give a color or a name? I mean, just, you know, just give it a number so people can identify it.  Of course, I almost collapsed (Laughs), I'll never forget that meeting. I really pounced on this guy. And I said, wait a minute, wait a minute. You're taking all the romance out of the color. That's part of what is all about. That's what they could memorable.  So yes, you create language from that standpoint, from naming of color, but also by creating a system which Pantone has done and has done very well for so many years. You can have somebody in Istanbul communicating with somebody in Fort Worth, Texas and they both have the same color or that Pantone ship. And they know exactly what it is that each of them is talking about. So, creating a system with color is very important as well. So for easy identification of a color and then you know, you're on the same wavelength.  Yeah, exactly. That's like, science and math and language in general. You need a universal like identification system to communicate with other people so you know exactly what someone else is actually talking about from a culture of a place that is different from yours. Because we each conjure up a different picture in our minds. I mean, I could say a Candy Apple Red and that means one thing to you and another thing to somebody else. But if you have a definite nomenclature, a number of system, then you've created that language. 

Speaking of like different parts of the world, Have you noticed, different countries or parts of the world use certain colors more than others?  Well, a general rule of thumb is that, people are inclined to use the colors that are indigenous to their environment. I mean that's, that's a comfort level. There are lots of green shoes in the northwest where I live because obviously people are surrounded by lots of greens. But by the same token, the closer to the equator humans live, the more open you are to using more vibrant color. And that's a physiological reaction that you're having to the color, not just because of where you live, but it's a physiological reaction, meaning that the closer you are to the equator, the more accepting your eyes is to color and that's because as the sun gets very strong, it starts to pull some of the color out. I don't know if that's making much sense, but another example I can give you, I could take the same house in LA and paint it a vibrant shade of pink and it wouldn't look that vibrant in the sunlight of LA or Tucson or in Fort Worth, Texas or wherever it's a much warmer climate,  or even in Latin America. Because the sun will pull some of the strengths out of their color. Whereas if I take that same color and I put it in Portland, Oregon, it's going to look much, much more vibrant because sky around it is so dull and it may not be even appropriate as a house color because it's so outstanding.  So yes, there are physiological reasons why people will gravitate to a certain color. Now that doesn't mean that everybody that lives in a certain area is going to choose exactly the same colors because there are some people who are brave enough to experiment to do what is different and unusual and unique and not indigenous to their area. But the comfort level is greater when you do colors that you see in nature a lot and you have a certain comfort level with those colors.  So are there any colors that you aren't a fan of?  Well, you know, when you're dealing with professionals and this, that's what I do professionally. If I allow my personal likes and dislikes to enter into my professional likes and dislikes, then I'm not doing the best job I can do for my client. And not only that, but it's sort of like asking somebody with their who's their favorite child (Laughs). You know, I can take any color and mix it with other colors and make it appropriate. And if it's right for that particular usage and if I have a client who comes to me and their manufacturer certain kind of widget and they tell me who their target audience is, where they're selling it, at what price point. I have to do a lot of homework before I make a judgment about that color. But the last judgment I want to make is based on my personal feelings about the color. So a real professional has to wipe away those personal attachments, or show positives or negatives, it probably started in your own childhood.  I mean if you have a bad reaction to a color, it's probably because of something that happened in your childhood that maybe you remember, maybe you don't, but in your mind's eye you remember it and whenever you look at that color, you may not be able to express it, but there some reason why it turns you off. Um, but you have to erase that when you're a professional working with color.  It's all a matter of context, you know. In real estate it's "Location, Location, Location" with color is "Context, Context, Context." Where and how is it being used.  Miles Davis has this quote, he says, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note, it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” I felt like that could definitely be applied to color somehow. Would you agree? Oh, Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it's more about inappropriate. When I say inappropriate, I don't mean because people will love it or hate it. I mean it's appropriate... Again, I'm thinking in terms of the work that I do, is it appropriate for the right time or place? Is it mixed with other colors? I'll give you an example. If someone came to you and said, "I'm designing this and like zen like liquid that's going to go into the bathtub and I want you to feel very relaxed and you know, you're going to come out of the bath feeling very cleansed." The last color I would want to do is a very hot, high energy color because that would be totally inappropriate for that particular usage. it's counter intuitive. It would fight, again to the mood you're trying to create. However, somebody came to me and said, you know, "I want to change my living room color. I've been done beige all my life. I'm sick and tired of it. The color of thinking of it, is a really red-purple, And my questioning would be, obviously you love purple and you want to live with purple. That is your personal choice. That's your own surroundings and you get to make her the choice on that. So there's a difference again, it's context.  Do you have any favorite places in the world or maybe nature in particular, where you just like love the colors? Well, you know, it sounds kind of self serving, but I live near Seattle, on Bainbridge Island. And one thing I look forward to every spring is that explosion of color against the green. I mean we're so surrounded by so much green and I love it. I mean, I look out my window and I can count about 13 shades of green. I always say as Mother Nature's most ubiquitous neutral color, Because we never look at the daffodils is a crocus or the daisies or any flower and say, Whoa, what a terrible combination against the green. You know, we just inherently know that that's gonna work. I moved here from California, I moved but the light here is fabulous for color matching, particularly in northern light.  In addition to that, because we do have a duller winter, spring, summer and fall come, then your sense of appreciation of the colors that are around you when they come forth are just astounding. I think that you appreciate them that much more, because of the fact that we do have out grey days in the winter time. No question of that., but my answer to that is it's not a color they would think of for the northwest. But, but it's very logical to me if you don't have a lot of sun in the winter time, you want to create sunlight where there is none. So why would you not use a warm color in your surroundings? Create the illusion that you have some light when in fact you might not. And on a sunny day it makes it even sunnier.  How long have you been living there?  A long time. Um, well, you know, when I went to college, I thought there might be an opportunity to do my life's work around it. I'm not an artist, but I know that I have this innate sense of color. When I went to college and then I stopped for a while and went back again, I changed my major to psychology because I realized that the psychology of color was, um, an essential part of it. And the work that I did, I took a wonderful training program at UCLA where my instructor and professor who headed it, allowed me to do a practicum that included color. That was amazing because I got to test it on people, question them a lot. Yet the more human aspect of color and what  it does for people.  Yeah, I totally agree with that. I feel like psychology is kind of embedded in all the ways that you see color, whatever it reminds you of, how it makes you feel, how it affects your mood and such. Exactly Can you think of any movies or directors that make great use of color? I think film is hugely influential in color, because I think filmmakers or some of them were just so gifted. Right now I think the most wonderful work is being done in animated film and kids films. Because, I mean kids love it, film animators know that that's a place that they can be very experimental with color, in an animated film. So I would say absolutely the animated films. But I think historically, you know, going back to the Wizard of Oz, the magic that came forward when, all of a sudden you got to see the Emerald City on the yellow brick road. You can imagine the impact that must have had on people. That we're just accustomed to seeing black and white movies.  I think with Anderson's films are astounding. I think his sense of color is just amazing. I think that again, historically, I think Dick Tracy in 1990 was a watermark for color and film. What we've done in the color of that film was fantastic. And you know, there was a picture, I'm not sure of the year, but this one really, I felt so wonderful. Robin Williams was in it. What Dreams May Come. Oh, it's astounding. If you're into color, that is a picture to watch. There was another one that kind of slipped under the radar, but I thought it was fabulous color wise and it was called Far From Heaven, Julianne Moore was in it. I think that the way color was used symbolically and that film was astounding.