- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is predominately green with a sizable strip of yellow thanks to mentions of Emerald City and the yellow brick road. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- Parkinson pulled data from direct mentions of color but also more abstract sources like metaphors, imagery and actual illustrations like with The Little Prince. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- Cormac McCarthy's The Road is appropriately dark. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- A Clockwork Orange is mostly red, despite its title. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- Parkison tallied each reference to color on an Excel sheet. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- She then used that data as units to build her visualizations in Photoshop. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men has a softer hue to it because of all of the references to nature. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- The Book of Revelation is full of gold, jewels, blood and fire. Image: Jaz Parkinson
- The Color Purple's signature is an interesting look at how the issue of race was addressed in the book.Image: Jaz Parkinson
- Parkinson chose to not make the signatures chronological to keep the focus on the color. Image: Jaz Parkinson
In the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the colors emerald and yellow are mentioned a countless number of times. Considering the book centers around taking the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City, that makes a lot of sense. But L. Frank Baum’s novel is full of references to color that are not quite so obvious (Tin Man, ruby slippers, the “great gray prairie”). Jaz Parkinson, an art student from England, was curious about how the written imagery in the work would translate into color, so she decided to chart the color signatures of some of her favorite books.
Using the color-related data pulled from novels, Parkinson visualized how famous books would look if you could only read them through a visual signature. “I think the charts are beautiful and informative, which is a very special mix of the subjective and the objective,” she says. “They reveal a new dataset which hasn’t been associated with the book before.”
Parkinson’s images are a fascinating look at an author’s use of description and color and how that relates to the themes in a novel. For books like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Parkinson used the accompanying watercolor illustrations as data, which made for a gorgeous array of colored bands. And while the ominous mood of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is reflected in the predominantly dark visual signature, there are still mentions of color like “glistening peaches” and “iridescent orange fire.” Interestingly, the title often had little impact on the book’s signatures, with novels like The Color Purple barely registering purple on the spectrum, and A Clockwork Orange being mostly red.
When I first saw Parkinson’s visualizations, I just assumed she used an algorithm to gather all of the color data in a book. Surely, she didn’t go through each novel line by line, marking down every time the author referenced or evoked the idea of a color. I was wrong. “I just read through the book, a physical copy or an ebook, and just note in MS Excel in a table whenever a color is evoked in the mind,” she says.
Parkinson explains that for a book like The Color Purple, any direct mentioned of a color, like yellow, blue or brown, will get a tally. More obscure references like “hair the color of silver and dry grass” and even imagery that evokes a color like “sunshine,” “smoke” and “blood” get tallies in Parkinson’s Excel form, too. “I am interested in the precise moment when reading a word or phrase converts from shapes on a page to a definite, almost tangible color in the mind,” she says. “This human connection to the colors is much more effective than using an algorithm or a program.”
Once Parkinson has all of the color data from a book, she organizes the colors into a spectrum of horizontal bars. “I find it absolutely irresistible to order them into a spectrum. It is kind of like when you have coloring pencils when you’re little, and they come in color order — they just look right,” she says. Charting them by color allows the visualizations to hint at the dominating mood and overarching themes in a book. She toyed with the idea of organizing the colors into a grid, and she often hears that she should consider organizing the colors chronologically, sort of like a book version of movie barcodes. “However, I’m interested in color, and I want this to be the only factor in the charts, making them as minimal and color-based as possible,” she says.