Thai artist and graphic designer Pairoj Pittayamatee has been working on Thaitone, his project that involves cataloguing Thai traditional colours, for the last ten years. He has spent much of this time researching the colours that have been used in ancient textiles, khon masks, traditional paintings and even hues discussed in old literature and dictionaries – such as the works of Siam’s vicar apostolic in 1854, Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, and an American Protestant missionary in Thailand, Dan Beach Bradley, 20 years later.
Pairoj’s analysis has resulted in what is now known as ‘Thaitone’, an opulent palette featuring 150 tropical shades – each of which are marked with CMYK colour codes that are used for standard printing. Every colour has been given a title, or named after old Thai artisans, which the majority of Thai youth wouldn’t recognise.
His Thaitone schemes have further been developed by SME and industrial entrepreneurs in order to be used in exterior and interior paints, acrylic colours, ceramics and the silk industry. Pairoj’s own tempera pigment prototypes have been displayed in various fairs, such as The Ministry of Culture’s Cultural Fair, which took place in Bangkok earlier this year (2016), as well as various products that he was involved and partnered in.
Pairoj, a Silpakorn Univeristy graduate with a degree in applied arts, stated, ‘Traditional Thai colours are obtained from natural pigments – plants, minerals and animals. The shades are not too vivid, but soft and muted. They are also unique. In producing them, I have combined local “recipes” for the “cooking” of Thai colours and set the tone that is as close as possible to the original. These colours can be easily used both in industry and in fine art and will help promote the uniqueness of our culture.’
Pairoj started studying and focusing on Thai traditional tones ten years ago, when preparing his thesis for his master’s degree in visual communication design on an analysis of graphic design elements that reflect Thai identity. He was able to find around 70 shades at the time, by simply focusing on old dictionaries, khon masks and ancient mural paintings. His attraction to Thai shades led him to continue his research for his doctorate degree, which focuses on the aesthetic experiences of Thai colours, and was completed this month.
He states, ‘Noted textile expert Weeratham Trakulngernthai later shared his knowledge with me of another 30 shades he made himself from natural pigments. So far, I’ve collected more than 200 shades. However, only 150 shades can be adapted to the CMYK model. The rest require more development time.’
Pairoj’s Thaitone colour chart, complete with CMYK colour codes, can be downloaded for free on the ‘Thaitone’ Facebook page, in both PDF and Adobe Illustrator formats. Over 15,000 copies of the chart have been downloaded. ‘I don’t want to keep my research project on paper,’ said Pairoj. ‘I’d far rather extend it to anyone who thinks it’s useful. These traditional colours are part of our identity and echo our strong culture as well as reflect our ties with other Southeast Asian countries.’
For more information about Thaitone, visit the Thaitone page on Facebook.