The 17th Century Book of Colour

Through our map design, we know all about the power of colour, so we were delighted to discover the “Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau” - a 17C “Treastise on How To Use Watercolours”.

Set in the golden age of Dutch painting, this 700 page hand-painted manuscript was created in 1692 by the simply named ‘A Boogert’ - a man we know nothing about other than his dedication to creating a work of staggering detail.



Believed to be designed as an educational tool, it “provides an unusual peek into the workshop of 17th-century painters and illustrators” showing hundreds of different gradings of colour alongside the instructions of how to create them by adding “one, two or three portions of water”. All this and a comprehensive index of colour that is as beautiful as it is detailed.


Now kept in the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France, you can see the entire manuscript where, by the magic of technology, it feels as though you are turning the pages with your own hand. Such access to a historical document would have been previously unheard of; scholars think only one copy of this manuscript was ever made making it criminally overlooked until now - and not much use as an educational tool! Much has been made of this being a Medieval , the colour matching system used by us, and designers the world over, and it’s easy to see why - it was clearly way ahead of its time in trying to standardize colour.
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At The Future Mapping Company, we love colour as much as we love maps so we thought we’d snatch five minutes with founder Marcus Kirby to find out more:

Your maps are always so beautifully coloured - why is colour so important to Future Mapping Company maps?

We like to make an impact with colour to give our maps a ‘wall art’ feel so colour is a massive part of the design process. The lithographic print process we use is a fantastic way to print as there is no need to compromise - you can use whatever colour you want, including special inks such as metallics and fluorescents.

How, or where, do you start when deciding the colours for a map?

We choose colours that we like and ones that we think work together, alas there is no formula as they develop organically - it's as much about a feeling of what is right for that particular map or projection. We do tend to use metallics for the seas to mimic a bit of fluidity but, apart from that, the colours are our artistic license – it’s the really fun bit of map making. 

We see you did a black and white map, why did you go monochrome?

Everybody knows somebody who loves black and will choose this colour over any other so the monochrome map was for them; somebody who likes our style but not necessarily our use of bold colours. It has been a real hit and compliments our other maps nicely.

It's probably a difficult question to answer but what is your favourite colour?

Yep you’re right, it’s impossible! Personally I love how colours work together, how one colour plays off another - particularly if at first you think it shouldn't, but strangely it does! All of our inks are mixed by hand at the printers so occasionally it can be really frustrating when a colour is out by a shade or two, but that's the nature of the way we print, it’s a real craft and it certainly adds to the fun (tension!) on printing days.