For this episode, we contemplate the colour orange and its association with caution.

Let’s talk about Orpiment, a yellow-to-orange mineral that was once used to decorate Egyptian scrolls and Medieval manuscripts. It was once even used as medicine in China. However, like many pigments of the past, the sulphuric mineral is extremely toxic.

Adding to its deadly reputation, producers of the pigment went to risky lengths to find the raw minerals that they would later refine into an amber powder. For centuries, orpiment had to be collected from dangerous fumaroles located near active volcanoes. Not only are these surface vents extremely hot, but noxious arsenic gasses could erupt unpredictably and kill a human in a matter of minutes.

Perhaps it’s one reason why the colour orange is associated with warning signs, traffic cones, and safety gear. Its high visibility is also used on bright jumpsuits worn by prison inmates during transport, making them easy to spot should they attempt an escape.

And yet the colour is much more versatile than for alerting us of potential harm. Even after non-toxic orange pigments were developed, it remained a popular colour with artists, using the colour to pull our attention and appearing in many famous works throughout history, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Today’s designers also see its attention-grabbing value as many major brands continue to rely on orange to stand out in a crowded marketplace.