Rocking Up In Red for the BHF – updated with thoughts about seeing one colour everywhere

I have always been drawn to colour, keen to explore the relationship between colours as well as shape in my drawings and paintings. I find that if I attend to or focus my mind on a particular colour, I begin to see it everywhere – this is a form of ‘perceptual acquisitioning’. The entomologist (studier of insects) George McGavin talks about this neurological process with respect to seeing spiders when looking for plant bug nymphs. As a student he worked on spiders for a while, and even after switching to immature plant bugs, for several collecting trips all he could ‘see’ were spiders.* McGavin talks about taking a some time to form the appropriate ‘search image’: in his case the form of a particular insect of interest, in mine a particular colour. It is plausible that the amount of time it takes to form a new search image will depend on the amount of time a previous search image has been in place. Just thinking about defining the search image – the numerous shades and tones of the colour red, or the sizes and angle of presentation of members of a single insect species – puts one in mind of how difficult it would be to train a computer to perform the same task.

On Friday 1st February 2013, members of the Bristol Heart Institute dressed up in red to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. A large majority of our research is sponsored by the BHF, as was my recent postdoc and PhD projects. Many of us paid £2 and donned red, and together we raised £89.10.

I found a few odds of ribbon in my sewing box at home for my hair and painted my nails bright red. During my cycle ride to work, my attraction to the colour red was heightened, my brain calculating the spatial relationships between the red coat on the cyclist in front, the red post box, the red in a shop sign. It was also a particularly muddy journey: I must have looked quite the picture turning up to work with red nails, my hair in bunches, tied with different shades of red ribbons, with the random splattering of mud and bicycle oil.

Bristol Heart Institute 'Rock Up In Red' day for the British Heart Foundation (1st February 2013). I'm in the middle, in black with red hair ribbons
Bristol Heart Institute Rock Up In Red for the British Heart Foundation. (I’m in the middle, in black with red hair ribbons.)

* Dead or Alive – Natural History Painting – Mark Fairnington (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2002), p. 10.

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