About me

With Santiago de la Cruz in Mexico, learning about the ancient purpura dyeing methods, with caracola, or sea snails.

I studied Social Anthropology at St Andrews University in Scotland and William & Mary College in Virginia, after spending time in Himalayan India, teaching in a Tibetan refugee camp and realising how amazing it was to learn about different cultures. My first job was as a management trainee with Reuters. I worked in London and Scandinavia, and it was a wonderful training in useful things like working with people and complex project management, but I had a dream to be a news journalist, writing about people’s lives at times of drama and trauma. So I left to study journalism for a three month diploma at the London College of Printing.

When I was there, while we were all being told just how hard it would be to find a job, a fellow student asked me where, if I could choose any newspaper or magazine in the world, I would most like to work. I still remember the street we were walking along in south London, as my answer, quite unplanned, would change my life. I said: “Hong Kong, South China Morning Post, during the handover”. At that time I had neither visited Hong Kong nor ever read The South China Morning Post. However, I had spoken my wish, so I applied as an intern, and spent the next 12 years in Hong Kong writing for The Hong Kong Standard, RTHK (briefly) and finally The South China Morning Post, as news reporter, then arts editor.

It felt like the best job in the world, but I left to fulfil another wish, which was to write a book about where colours came from – a subject that had interested me ever since I was eight years old and heard that we could no longer make the beautiful blue glass of Chartres Cathedral. Two years later, in 2002, that book was published as Colour, Travels through the Paintbox, by Sceptre (and Color: the Natural History of the Palette, by Ballantine in the US). My second book, Jewels: A Secret History, followed in 2004. Since then I have returned to the UK, got married (the two were connected), and have spent the next 15 years working on development programmes (another wish) with my husband, through his charity, ARC for which I was head of communications.

In 2014 my book The Brilliant History of Color in Art was published by Getty Publications in LA, and was named the Huffington Post’s top art book for that year.

And seven years later my most recent book, Fabric: the Hidden history of the Material World was published by Profile Books.

One of the surprising things that writing the books led me to was being invited onto the BBC Radio 4 programme The Museum of Curiosities a couple of years ago. On the pilot I talked about purple, and then in the first series I was asked to propose Pliny the Elder (I have a thing about Pliny the Elder) to be one of the first entries into the Museum of Curiosity. I give lots of talks, and write for several publications including Orion, ApolloThe Independent, The Smithsonian Magazine, BBC History Magazine, and The South China Morning Post.

14 thoughts on “About me

  1. Janey Pugh

    I was wondering if you had images of all the fascinating textiles you mention.

    The Mixtec skirts etc.

    Will you ever post them on your blog.

    I am loving the book COLOR.

    Kind regards, Janey.

  2. Amishki

    My book group has just finished reading Colors (the American edition). We spent a bit of time talking about the cover illustration. Some of us thought it was a door panel from a Moorish tradition, while others thought it might be an altar screen. One member of the group suggested it is a paint box. Can you clarify what it is?

  3. Harry Emberson

    I would be fascinated to know how you coordinated and obtained access to all the countries and locations for the book “Jewels”, which, by the way, so fascinated me that I sent a copy to my mother, a rare and highly selective thing for me to do. I love gemstones for all the reasons you so neatly summed up in that startlingly important little book. It is a must read for any connoisseur of gems.

  4. Dennis Ruud

    You might try your hand at documentary film making. Write a screenplay. I would love to see the result of such a project! ,Any actress would die to play you in a movie. Idea for future book : gold. From supernova to bicuspids, and everything in between. Gold was until recently pounded by hand into sheets 1/200,000 of an inch thick to make gold leaf. Now, of course it’s mostly done by machine…but maybe in India….!

  5. ruth marten

    Dear Ms. Finlay,
    In response to all I learned from reading your wonderful book, I made a large drawing, “The History of Color”, which is about to be exhibited at my April 12- June 16 show, “Strange Bedfellows” at Hosfelt Gallery, 531 west 36th st., NYC. It is also on my site: ruthmarten.com
    I invite you to look at it. Your book is my favorite gift to my artist friends and anecdotes told to my students continuously open their eyes. Many Thanks, Ruth Marten

  6. Pingback: Going deeper with color | Musings From The Studio

  7. Lut Gielen

    Your wonderful book Color (I`m reading in Dutch) is so fascinating. I love it very, very much!
    Thank you for your courage travelling around the world, to study the subject so well and to write it down so beautifuly in this piece of work!! Friendly Your`s, Lut Gielen

  8. joy starratt

    I am just rereading Color and love it more…I am a weaver, and lover of color..have grown my own indigo and dyed my weaving..please write more..the world needs writers like you. Thanks

  9. fairypoppinz

    Hello Victoria,
    I dont attempt to contact authors very often-if ever…but this time…I was compelled to.
    Nearly 6 years ago I was diagnosed with a rare cancer whilst Pregnant with our (now 5 year old son) It nearly cost me my life-and our son was born at 27 weeks gestation. He now has cerebral palsy- A ‘global learning delay’, and virtually no speech- I can no longer walk more than 3/4 metres due to lymphodema-as a result of “treatment”…
    I’m getting to the good part. I have collected a few Kramer Rhinestone brooches over the past few years on Ebay-something nice for me- If I know that something lively is coming in the mail-it makes the really black days more bearable- I bought your book ‘Jewels’ a couple of weeks ago-and from the very first sentence- I was hooked-and travelled the journey with you- the most FREE and mobile I have felt in years! You made treatment for lymphodema THAT much more bearable too- I just took my book…umm…your book…and it was fantastic-because it really was SO easy to pick up again and again-read the same bit over and over again-and never tire of the whole magical gem encrusted journey- I “tweeted” you too- but in case you dont receive it- I hope you get to read this-

  10. cliffmanningcliff

    just reading your book Colour and loving it – thank you for making a great book.
    I was telling my colleague from Afghanistan about the lapis mines and your travels and he told me how his grandmother always wore lots of lapis lazuli jewelry and how as a kid it fascinated him to see it for sale – but he only knew it came from some mysterious place in the mountains in the north 🙂 – so was great to discuss and share with him and to learn more about his life in Afghanistan – thanks to your book.
    keep on keeping on with whatever you are doing now

  11. J Dermauw

    Muchas gracias Victoria por su libro “kleur”
    Ya tenia su libro algunos años.
    Ayer empecé a leerlo.
    Me encanta. Es fascinante y lleno de alegría.

    (disculpeme:escribrir en español me cae más facil que escribir en inglès)

  12. Christel

    Dear Victoria,
    I am preparing a little guided tour about colours in our small town on the edge of the black forest area due to the official heritage day on september 14th this year. Many historical essays, books and encyclopedia could not bring so much thrilling information as your fascinanting book! How brave of you to travel to all those places. Thank you for writing this and letting me take part in this forgotten ancient world and knowledge. I read it in german, an english version will follow (its never the same to read a translation :-). History is so very interesting if one can immagine and feel the past.
    All the best for you!
    Kind regards,

  13. sueptacek

    I just came across “Color An Natural History…” Reading it each day is my reward for all the mundane things we must do each day. Opening the book each evening is like opening a box of the world’s best chocolates! Only part way through and the book is highlighted, margin noted and dog eared. I am so anxious to get my hands in your new book when it is available. As a quilter the word FABRIC written on any book piques my interest but after reading Color I know it is going to be wonderful.


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