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Picturing a World

Heads, Myra excavation, 2020

Blog post alert: Yea! Real terracotta busts that retain their original paint, with the bonus of letting us catch a glimpse of a female hairstyle. These ladies two are among Dozens of terracotta cult figurines found in ancient Myra.
Via the History Blog

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Visualizing ancient faces

Website alert: Historical fiction may attempt accuracy (never achievable), a wild but serious alternative representation (Hamilton), or broad-stroked just-for-fun romance that should fool nobody (Bridgerton). Now, suppose you aim for accuracy. What a delight to find that doing so can still startle you out of conventional thinking. Consider these two heads of Caesar Augustus. On the left, the usual blank aura of marmoreal power. On the right, whoops! a somewhat worried weird young man. Now there's a stimulous imagination! It's not just that we need to realize that ancient statues were painted, it's that color helps us conjure up living people—and so, off you go to "HISTORY IN 3D" creates a series of accurate reconstructions of the first 12 Roman Caesars. 

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Rachel again

After reading my post on Rachel powder, a friend told me about playing with her mother's and aunts' cosmetics when she was a little girl. She had a hazy memory of seeing something labeled Rachel. That sent me back to the internet, and voilà, more information about Elizabeth Arden products and the company's history here and here. What useful details for fiction set in the 20th C! My old editor at Berkley thought I should set Anonymity in a more glamorous industry than publishing. I sarcastically queried, such as interior decorating? Good idea! she said.

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Biden color gradient

One more color post (and a little more political celebration). A recent Berkshire Eagle article, Adams native part of graphic design team behind Biden-Harris' 'victory gradient' fascinated me. Jessica Lucia helped develop the color combinations that in November delivered the message "We won!" To audiences accustomed to sophisticated computer images, plain old primary red, white, and blue just don't communicate the way they used to. In this case, I'd say in contrast to their opponent's bluster and intimidation, the subliminal message that comes across is elegance, restraint, and joyous confidence.

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Isabella color

Tile from a Tadelakt color chart

A day after hitting Rachel, what should I come across but "Isabella-coloured clothes." Back to the Oxford English Dictionary: "Greyish yellow; light buff," with a first citation to an inventory of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe in 1600. The word is now used mostly of dogs and horses, but the sample shown here is one tile in a chart by Tadelakt, a company that sells waterproof plaster. For an article on canine genetics that includes pictures of Isabella-colored dogs, click here. For the Wikipedia article on Isabella/Isabelline, click here. How to use it in fiction? Maybe as in-joke, a pair of cats named Rachel and Isabella.

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Roman makeup

Website alert: Via a History Blog post, I got to this YouTube tutorial from English Heritage on how the Romans prepared and applied cosmetics. Imagine a tiny, curved mortar with a curved pestle that doubled as an applicator for eye-liner! Don't just imagine—watch. (With bonuses on Roman fabric dyes and wig-weaving.)

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Website tip: A nifty interactive website, Pigments through the Ages lets you explore colors, how pigments are made, the history of individual pigments, and various painting techniques. Informative time-sink!
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Who knew that a purple pigment led to the development of aspirin? Simon Garfield’s fascinating book, Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, tells the story of William Henry Perkin’s discovery of the first synthetic carbon-based dye. The ability to mass produce paints, textile dyes, and drugs with stable chemical properties revolutionized industries, including fashion.

As I investigated the 1870s, I was struck again and again by how much in the modern world stems from the mid 19thC—artificial lighting, department stores, photography, railroads. And thematically, nothing could have suited my purposes better than the intersection of chemistry, color, and pharmaceuticals. Dyes and pharmaceuticals give Theodore an argument for persuading Edward to go to Europe; the chemistry involved quickens Edward's mind; and color gives him a connection to Jeanette's world. Read More 
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