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Forgotten colour theory book gets overdue reprint

Have you heard of Emily Noyes Vanderpoel? For many people the name doesn't ring a bell, but the American artist, collector and scholar is an important figure in the history of colour theory (opens in new tab). And while her prominent book on the subject, Color Problems: A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color, has languished in antiquity for years, a new Kickstarter (opens in new tab) looks set to put Vanderpoel's name back on the map.

Published in 1901, Color Problems provides a tantalising look at the core principles of colour theory and analysis as they were understood at the time. With the benefit of hindsight it can also be argued that with her book, Vanderpole broaches the design movements such as minimalism decades before her more famous successors.

Within its pages, Color Problems analyses the proportions of colours found on objects in Vanderpoel's collection. These studies include meticulous and inventive grids of colour that predate similar work by the likes of Josef Albers. As historian and science blogger John Ptak puts it, Vanderpoel "sought not so much to analyse the components of colour itself, but rather to quantify the overall interpretative effect of colour on the imagination."

Cover of Color Problems

Thanks to this Kickstarter, the work of Emily Noyes Vanderpoel will reach the audience it deserves

Yes despite the importance of her studies, Color Problems has been neglected by history, relegated to being traded around niche book markets for prohibitive sums – in the past people could expect to fork out upwards of $500 for a copy.

All this is about to change thanks to a Kickstarter by The Circadian Press with Sacred Bones which will restore the manual to its former glory. Having gone to great lengths to reproduce the book as closely as possible with digital printing methods, this project will come as a relief to academics who have had to put up with PDF copies that were bafflingly printed in black and white.

The new edition comes complete with an introduction by design scholar and Vanderpole researcher Alan P. Bruton. Having smashed its Kickstarter pledge by hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can preorder it now for delivery this month on the campaign page. And while the generous amount of funds raised means an extended print run, we'd recommend ordering as soon as possible to prevent this amazing book slipping through your fingers again.

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Dom Carter
Dom Carter

Dom Carter is a freelance writer who specialises in art and design. Formerly a staff writer for Creative Bloq, his work has also appeared on Creative Boom and in the pages of ImagineFX, Computer Arts, 3D World, and .net. He has been a D&AD New Blood judge, and has a particular interest in picture books.