Pantone’s Color of the Year Has a Unique, Local Tie

Pantone colors of the year for 2021 are Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. (Image: Pantone)

Every year, folks around the globe look to the start of a new year with a fresh perspective. And leading that change, is the often highly anticipated Pantone Color of the Year. For two decades running, that color is chosen by experts at the Pantone Color Institute, but you might be surprised to learn that this influential decision is made right here in our backyard.

Local island resident Leatrice (Lee) Eiseman has been leading the influential group since the beginning. How special is that? Seattle Refined sat down with Leatrice to get the scoop on this year’s colors, how they were chosen, and what they mean.

Leatrice (Lee) Eiseman is the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute. (Image: Lee Eiseman)

Seattle Refined: Lee Eiseman from the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training – you are literally a global color guru, and you live right here in our area on Bainbridge Island. You wear many hats, including one with Pantone, and we all know Pantone are the color experts!

Lee Eiseman: I’m the Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute. I’m the leader of the group who does their Color of the Year.

How did this start?

We started this back in 1999 because people would call Pantone, and they would say, “So tell us about the color for the Millennium?” There were two things going on at the time. One was the millennium bug, where the clocks were gonna stop, and all the computers were gonna go down. But at the same time, it was looking forward to a new century. We chose a color called Cerulean Blue. The color of the sky, the color of what lies beyond us. That represents a bit of peace and tranquility. We had such an amazing response to doing the Color of the Millennium. We decided that maybe we needed to do Color of the Year.

For 2021 there is something really unique happening.

We chose two colors this time, which is unusual for us. The two colors of the year are Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, which is a yellow.

What do these colors mean in terms of 2021?

We felt that with 2021 (and goodness knows what’s happening in the world around us and the stresses that people are under), gray would give us the solid, resilient color that is something you can depend on. It’s the color of rock and stone and granite and those sorts of things that are very substantive. Yellow, the Illuminating Yellow. What can we aspire to? What can we look forward to in the future? We know that in every country all over the world, people respond to sunshine on a very positive level. It’s cheer. It’s happiness. So we have two disparate colors coming together, which then gives us a feeling of connective-ness. We feel that that’s a very important word as far as the future is concerned.

What goes into this process of choosing these colors?

The biggest part of how we get that messaging is to examine the “Zeitgeist.” What’s going on in the world around us? What is it people are aspiring to, that they’re hoping for, and how does color best serve that? We look at fashion because fashion is always a forerunner. We look at the world of entertainment. We also look at the world of art. We look at industrial design. In addition to that, we look at big events.

Lee, you have written ten books on color – you are a teacher, you’ve taught many classes and you’ve dealt with some very big clients around the globe. Some people might feel intimidated by the idea of color and not know where to start.

I think that some people just have a skill like an artist does, but others can still learn how to enjoy color and use it in their everyday lives. I mean, when you set the table, you want to make the table look wonderful, you want to pick the colors that are right, the flowers, the stemware, you want to create a beautiful atmosphere. It is something that we take for granted – yes, that is a form of creativity! Why are we picking that color, what is it saying to us? I always tell people; each of us has that artistic ability within is. It’s something you can spend time and learn about and enjoy because it gets your creative juices going.

Lee Eiseman, it’s just so much fun talking to you. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing the colors of the year.

You’re very welcome.

For more about Lee Eiseman, including her color training programs, check out the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training. You can also follow Lee Eiseman on Instagram and Facebook.