Read: Chromatopia

This gorgeous hardcover version of David Coles Chromatopia was published a couple of years ago but we’re only just rediscovering it after writing about the Spectrum exhibition at the NGV and realising David Cole of Langridge Artist Colours was behind a similar concept (created as a museum exhibition) in 2017.


Chromatopia An Illustrated History of Colour

Chromatopia An Illustrated History of ColourChromatopia An Illustrated History of Colour

Chromatopia An Illustrated History of Colour


His stunning book sprouted from that exhibition and tells the origin story of history’s most vivid colour pigments. The book is a ‘must-have’ for artists, history buffs, science lovers, and design fanatics.

David Cole has spent his whole life within the world of colour. His tenacious pursuit of the alchemical transformation of dirt into colour saw him found a paint-making company in Melbourne in the 90s, Langdridge Artist Colours which has become one of the world’s most respected makers of artists’ oil paints.

Born in the UK, he studied painting at Bristol Art College under a traditional system learning colour, draftsman ship, composition and the preparation and manufacture of the artist’s materials: canvas, paint, mediums and varnishes before emigrating to Australia, determined to build a business on his knowledge and passion.

Langridge Artist Colours initially supplied the materials he knew best – artist-quality pigments and his own range of oil mediums – to artist friends within the Melbourne art world. In 2005 he released their oil colours as the centrepiece of the brand. In the twenty-five years since he began, he has grown his company to become one of Australia’s leading paint-makers.

Cole, who is also a university lecturer and a writer, is obsessed with the nature and uses of colour. Whether it is the discovery of a pigment’s history (some are as old as the ages), or the electrifying sensation of seeing a new modern pigment for the first time.

His book Chomotopia is a beautifully crafted work of art, spanning thousands of years of colour origin. It’s a travel through the story of pigments and their incredible journeys from across the globe.


‘In addition to providing a fascinating lesson in art history, Chromatopia is a superb introduction to the physical properties, cultural meanings, and emotional capacities of colour.’ – Australian Book Review


Chromatopia An Illustrated History of Colour

Chromatopia An Illustrated History of Colour


Tales of dragons & beetles, alchemy & poisons, slaves & pirates, from the ancient world to the present come alive in Chromotopia which features pigments made from deadly metals, poisonous minerals, urine, dung and crushed insects. Raw materials were burnt, boiled or reacted with dangerous acids. Colours were drawn out of nature itself; tree saps, flowers, leaves and roots. The book examines the human ingenuity to fashion colour out of dirt lead for the magnificence of Medieval manuscripts, the art of the Renaissance, and the expressions of 20th-century Modernism.

Did you know that the Egyptians created the first synthetic colour and used it to create the famous blue crown of Queen Nefertiti? Or that the noblest purple comes from a predatory sea snail? In the Roman Empire, hundreds of thousands of snails had to be sacrificed to produce a single ounce of dye. From grinding down beetles and burning animal bones to alchemy and pure luck, Chromatopia is full of fascinating stories about colour.

 Featuring informative and detailed colour histories, a section on working with monochromatic colour, and “recipes” for paint-making, Chromatopia provides colour enthusiasts with an eclectic story of how synthetic colours came to be. 

Spanning from the ancient world to modern leaps in technology, and vibrantly illustrated throughout, this book will add a little chroma to anyone’s understanding of the history of colours.

After almost forty years working with colour, Cole is still amazed at its power to excite emotions and that’s what this gorgeous book is a celebration of.

If you want to learn more about the history of artist’s paints, listen to David Coles’ interview on Conversations with Richard Fidler here

Or buy the book (we sought out the beautiful hardcover edition designed by graphic designer and artist extraordinaire, Evi-O).

Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Colour
Thames and Hudson, 2019
By David Coles
Photography by Adrian Lander
Designed by Evi. O

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