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  • Susanne Irving



While I was in Kew Gardens recently, I also saw an exhibition exploring the potential of structural colour.


We were permitted to take photographs of the exhibition, but my camera was unable to capture the changing beauty of the colours that were created by microscopic light-reflecting structures. What looked rather dull and "bland" from one angle, turned into a colour explosion by just a slight change in my position. It made me wonder how much we may miss if we do not explore an object from all angles.


The development of structural colour was inspired by some incredible colours found in nature, for example in the iridescent feathers of peacocks and hummingbirds, the inside or Abalone shells, on butterfly wings and even some fern and begonia leaves. It is another example of inventors learning to imitate some of the design principles found in the natural world.


The more I learn about the intricacies of nature, especially the beauty that is found on the inside of an animal or plant (what would be the evolutionary benefit of that?), the more I am convinced that our universe was designed by an amazing creator.


From what I have read so far, it appears to be possible to create structural colour that is environment-friendly. Regardless of how the structural colour is put together, the use of structural colours would save fuel if conventional paints were replaced with structural colours on aeroplanes...


In the 19th century, artist John Gould tried to capture the colour of hummingbird feathers by first painting a layer of gold or silver leaf, then adding a layer of translucent paint and a top glaze that contained honey to approximate what he saw in nature. I'd love to have a go with this technique at some point, but if I had a choice, I would rather experiment with a structural colour (as long as it had been produced in a way that does not harm the environment.) I love the thought of an artwork coming alive by offering different experiences at different viewing angles.