Archives for the month of: July, 2011

The New Concourse, April 2012. Photograph © Mouse’s Education Foundation/Hartman


Dear Everyone,

I have decided to kick off the Button Shop’s theme months with the well-known ‘primary’ colour of BLUE.

Although my collection boasts quite a number of green buttons, in many different shades and sizes…

…it cannot be said that this is the case for blue buttons

Accordingly, much of July will be devoted to improving our blue button holdings.

Blue is a surprisingly tricky colour. Often a button might seem to be blue, only to appear as green or grey when you look at it in a different light:

To get to grips with Blue, we need to first situate it in the context of the larger spectrum of colours.

Towards the beginning of my research into Blue, I found the answer to a particular mystery that has been bothering me for almost as long as I can remember. If you can bear with me for a moment, I will just make a brief digression into the science of colour perception.

Cone cells and colour channels are the parts of the brain that allow us to experience colour. However, everyone’s  cone cells are different. If you are a mantis shrimp, or a zebrafish, for example, your core cone cells allow you to see four colours – red, green, blue, plus ultraviolet. As a result, you can see more combinations that effectively make up our perception of a ‘colour’; that is, you see more colours. People, on the other hand, have three types of cone cells – green, red, and blue. And mice (such as myself), in turn, lacking red, have only two types of cone cells, further limiting the number of colour combinations (that is, colours) that they can see.

This fact goes a long way towards explaining why the words ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ have always seemed…like a party that I was never invited to. Indeed, where everyone else is talking about ‘yellow-orange’ and ‘green-blue’, I (like the majority of animals in fact) see two ‘green-blues’ – although, apparently, this might not always be the case for me.

Figure 4. Functional evaluation of cone photoreceptor cells in Gnat1−/−Rpe65−/− and Gnat1−/−Lrat−/− mice after 9-cis-retinyl acetate (9cRAc) treatment. ERG responses were obtained in 4-, 6- and 8-week-old Gnat1−/−Rpe65−/− and Gnat1−/−Lrat−/− mice on the day following the last day of treatment with 9-cis-retinyl acetate (from P10 to P21, IP injection of 1.0 µg/g body weight; from P22 to P56, gavage with 50 µg/g body weight; see Materials and Methods for regimen). (A) Representative traces of scotopic single flash ERG recordings are shown for Gnat1−/− and for both strains of 4-week-old double knockout mice either treated with 9-cis-retinyl acetate or vehicle solution. Comparison of these recordings shows that both double knockout strains had reduced responses relative to the Gnat1−/− mouse and that treatment with 9-cis-retinyl acetate partially preserved ERG responses in both double knockout strains. (B) ERG b-wave amplitudes indicate that treatments with 9-cis-retinyl acetate improved responses in Gnat1−/−Lrat−/− mice (left panel) and Gnat1−/−Rpe65−/− mice (right panel) at 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age. No b-wave responses were detected in vehicle-treated Gnat1−/−Lrat−/− mice at 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age (only data from 4-week-old Gnat1−/−Lrat−/− mice are presented). Gnat1−/−Rpe65−/− mice showed some residual responses during the experimental period. Bars indicate SDs; n = 4–7, P < 0.0001.

…frankly, it’s all green to me.

Above: The  Ishihara ‘Colour Blindness’ Chart. (I personally prefer the adjective ‘differently sighted’ to ‘colour blind’.  I suspect that many other Dichromats would agree with me.)

Importantly, all this means that the colours that we ‘see’ may bear no relation to the colours that others ‘see’. Even within a single species, there is a certain amount of variation. There is effectively no real ‘colour’ at all because everyone’s colours are different; even the colours printed on colour charts change depending on who is looking at them.

But what does all this mean for Blue? For one thing, if you look at the subtle gradiations wherein blue turns into other colours below, it becomes clear that defining what Blue actually could be mostly a matter of opinion. To that ambiguity, you have to add the fact that we all see these gradiations/colour boundaries differently.

It almost boggles the mind.

Importantly, it also becomes clear that what we often taken as the ‘primary colours’ – yellow, red, and blue – are in fact simply the types of pigments that lend themselves most easily to being combined; they are not the primary colours that any of us, animals or people, actually  ‘see’.

 One can’t fail to notice that Blue is a very special colour, for it fulfils three functions at the same time. First, it is one of the colours that we genuinely ‘see’, in our cerebral comprehension of the colour spectrum. Next, it is one of the these three ‘primary’ colours above that are central in any process of design, art, textiles, or buttons. And finally, Blue is an appealing colour in itself.

In the 19th Century, people  found that with a coating of a chemical on a sheet of paper, they could make multiple reverse copies of drawings of the design of houses or machinery. As the negative of the image turned an insoluble permanent blue when exposed to light, these copies became known as Blueprints:

It is worth mentioning that some people — mostly fish, but also people who fall off the sides of  ships and aren’t rescued — are surrounded by blue for their entire lives (or the rest of them). In that sense, ‘Blue’ as a particular colour has no meaning for them, for blue is simply all empty space where there doesn’t happen to be any other things with other colours — For fish and people thrown overboard, Blue is perhaps analogous to the way we think of a clear day, a blank white canvas, or, perhaps, darkness.

No matter what your colour season is, there is guaranteed to be some variant of blue that will look flattering on you. For Summers, soft gray-blue is particularly flattering. If you are an Autumn, you will look good in Steel Blue, Teal Blue, or bright Turquoise. As a Winter, I find that Blue-Black, Dark Blue, and Violet team with my skin tone and fur colour best. Springs should opt for Clear Blue, Steel Blue, or Aqua-type colours.


Helpfully, the Button Shop offers a full Colour Consultation for the very reasonable starting price of £49.50, including swatches. Advance booking essential.

Depending on the cultural context, Blue plays different and diverse roles in ideas of fashion. Unlike in the Occidental ones, in the Japanese Colour Seasons Charts, Blue, in any form, present only in one season: Autumn.

The Collection may be somewhat lacking in blue buttons – something I hope to remedy this month – however, there are several nice examples of Blue within our Vintage Japanese Fabric Collection, below. Fabric panels, dating from the 1950s and 1960s, are priced at around £15. Framed fabric panels start at £30 and can be made to order. Swatches can provided free of charge. Each piece is unique.