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Color & The Cycle of Life- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Color & The Cycle of Life—Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD. This is a new edition of a post that ran previously.

Color & The Cycle of Life 2023


Spring into Summer is hitting us full force, the air is redolent with a wild mix of perfume as everything blooms in a hurry. To a plant, it’s always late. They’re all trying to be first with the result that they’re all pretty much blooming at the same time.


California blooming landscape


We are fortunate to live in a place where something blooms every month of the year, but April and May this particular year is the crescendo in the annually performed Symphony of Life.

By June things are already drying up, heading towards a universal color of golden brown, tawny hillsides under a ringing dome of cobalt blue sky with ultramarine elements, wisps of torn fog like cotton candy.

Ever so much more so in this year of unprecedented rains. The drought here has experienced tremendous relief via an incredibly stormy, raw winter. What wasn’t washed away is blooming profusely.


Flowery Words


We are linguaphiles, people who love words and language. When we walk around and look at the flowering profusion, we wonder how plants got their names. 

Many of the specimens that we see have “overloaded” names.  That means that their names are also colors, like rose or lavender or heather or fuchsia or lilac or violet.


A rose by any other name is still colorful



It is an honor that few human-made objects can aspire to, becoming a generic noun. Xerox and Kleenex come to mind.

But unlike a Xerox, flowers can copy themselves.



Copier, aka ‘Xerox’



Color is inextricably linked with the cycle of life. Like many human activities, flowers use color to attract attention, principally from pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. 



Hummingbird and flower



In a previous blog post, we discussed the perception of color and its uniqueness to both where we live (the third planet out from a modest star) and how our perception apparatus has evolved (rods and cones and all that).

Color is an evolved concept, but it is clear from the profusion of flowers and their use of color to distinguish themselves that color is more than just a human concept. 


Hard-Won Capabilities


Evolution and reproduction are costly in an abstract sense—it takes everything you’ve got, as an individual and as a species.

Just about any capability a creature has is hard-won, refined in the fire of competition and selection, the mark of a survivor.

It is costly for a plant to manage multiple colors, it requires the synthesis of a greater number of chemical compounds than just being one color all the time.

Flowers are tangible evidence of an organism giving its all.



Owl displaying highly evolved characteristics



I believe that knowing color deepens one’s knowledge of life.

It is an important component of how organisms communicate with each other and find their way in the world. 

Since Art is about creating worlds within the world, doesn’t color have a place there, too?


With gratitude from my studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. Exciting News! We have a tradition to honor the arrival of Spring into Summer by exploring the explosion of color all around. On that note, we’re running a Special Offer on our Experimenting With Color Course until the end of May. The tuition is the lowest ever. Check it out HERE. 









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