For centuries artists and natural scientists have been captivated by the colour changing effects of iridescence. Producing brilliant flashes of colour in the natural world, the phenomenon is best known in the displays of ‘living jewels’, e.g. tropical birds and butterflies, where the colour perceived changes with viewing angle. Such striking effects are not produced by chemical pigments but by complex physical structures interplaying with light. Until now, artists have tried to capture these luminous, oscillating colours with varying degrees of success. However, for the first time, latest advances in ‘pigment’ technology offer artists the exciting, but challenging, potential to introduce the full spectacle of iridescence into painting. These ‘pigments’ (developed with lucrative industrial applications in mind) currently remain restricted to commercial usage. The major drawback seriously impeding their advancement in art is that they do not adhere to colour theory as applied in painting. Having worked on adapting iridescent technology from its inception, gradual emergence and now rapid expansion, the author traces the sustained effort necessary on her part to overcome the many inherent challenges. Interweaving the findings of art theory, physics and personal studio practice, an attempt is made to position the new technology within the wider discourse on colour. And readers are furnished with an increased understanding of the scientific and aesthetic principles governing iridescence.
colour theory, interference fl akes, iridescence, optical physics, painting
 Parker, A., In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Kick-started the Big Band of Evolution, Free Press: London, p. 109, subsequent quotation is from p. 91, 2003.
 Simon, H., The Splendor of Iridescence, Dodd, Mead & Company: New York, p. 172, subsequent quotations are from p. 236 and the preface, 1971.
 Pfaff, G., Optical principles, manufacture, properties and types of special effect pigments (Chapter 2). Special Effect Pigments, ed. G. Pfaff, 2nd edn, Vincentz Network: Hannover, pp. 72–83, 2008.
 Von Weizsäcker, C.F., forword to Heimendahl, E., Licht und Farbe: Ordnung und Funktion der Farbwelt, Walter de Groyter: Berlin, 1961, quoted in Simon , p. 237.
 Batchelor, D., Chromophobia, Reaktion: London, p. 23, subsequent quotation is from p. 74, 2000.
 Gage, J., Colour in Art, Thames and Hudson: London, p. 15, 2006.
 Richter, G., The Daily Practice of Painting, Thames and Hudson: London, p. 22, subsequent quotations are from p. 58, 82, 73 and 80, 1995.
 Barthes, R., Camera Lucida: Refl ections on Photography, Hill and Wang: New York, p. 81, 1981.
 Weinberg, S., A Fish Caught in Time, Fourth Estate: London, 1999.
 Holder, M.T., Erdmann, M.V., Wilcox, P., Caldwell, R.L. & Hillis, D.M., Two living species of coelacanths? PNAS, 96(22), pp. 12616–12620, 1999. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.22.12616  Gage, J., Colour and Culture, Thames and Hudson: London, p. 139, 1993.
 Schenk, F. & Harvey, J., Refl ections on the natural history museum: the art of iridescence and nature’s jewels. Int. J. of the Arts in Society, 3(5), pp. 133–144, 2009.
 Parker, A., ‘Simple’ optical refl ectors in animals. Structural Color in Biological Systems, eds S. Kinoshita & S. Yoshioka, Osaka University Press: Osaka, p. 46, 2005.
 Greenstein, L.M., Nacreous (Pearlescent) Pigments and Interference Pigments. The Pigment Handbook, 2nd edn, Vol. 1, Wiley: New York, pp. 829–857, 1988.
 Blank, C., The Grammar of Painting and Engraving, 1867. Colour, ed. D. Batchelor, Whitechapel: London, and MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 32–34, 2008.
 Hanlon, T.R. & Messenger, J.H., Cephalopod Behaviour, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 120–131, 1996.
 Klots, A.B., Living Insects of the World, Doubleday: New York, 1959, quoted in Simon , p. 198.
 Vukusic, P., Structural colour effects in Lepidoptera. Structural Color in Biological Systems, eds S. Kinoshita & S.Yoshioka, Osaka University Press: Osaka, p. 107, 2005.
 Ball, P., Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, Vintage Books: London, p. 265, subsequent quote is from p. 384, 2008.
 Bomford, D., The history of colour in art, Colour: Art & Science, eds T. Lamb & J. Bourriau, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, p. 20, 1995.
 Berthier, S., Iridescences: The Physical Colors of Insects, Springer: London, p. 88, 2007.
 Schenk, F. & Parker, A., Iridescent Colour: From Nature to the Painter’s Palette, Leonardo, in press.
 Portmann, A., The Beauty of Butterfl ies, B.T. Batsford: London, 1951, quoted in Simon , p. 238.
 Koolhaas, R., The Future of Colours is Looking Bright, 1999. Colour, ed. D. Batchelor, Whitechapel: London, and MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 219–220, 2008.