Intro to color theory

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  • Color is a microconsciousness. Like our senses of taste and smell, color helps us to understand the world around us. What is real is that objects emit light in various mixtures of wavelengths. Our minds perceive those wavelength mixtures as a phenomenon we call color, and this perception creates questions that color theory tries to explain.
  • We perceive color just as we perceive taste. When we eat, our taste buds sense four attributes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Similarly, when we look at a scene, our visual nerves register color in terms of the attributes of color: the amount of green-or-red; the amount of blue-or-yellow; and the brightness.
  • Note that these attributes are opposites , like hot and cold. Color nerves sense green or red — but never both; and blue or yellow — but never both. Thus, we never see bluish-yellows or reddish-greens. The opposition of these colors forms the basis of color vision.
  • Opticks is a book by English natural philosopher Isaac Newton that was published in English in 1704
  • Until Johann Wolfgang von Goethe came along, no one had questioned the validity of Newton’s ideas about light and color. Newton used math to explain light and color; Goethe used experience to explain. Goethe reformulates the topic of color in an entirely new way. Newton had viewed color as a physical problem, involving light striking objects and entering our eyes. Goethe realizes that the sensations of color reaching our brain are also shaped by our perception — by the mechanics of human vision and by the way our brains process information. Goethe seeks to derive laws of color harmony, ways of characterizing physiological colors (how colors affect us) and subjective visual phenomena in general
  • After being named director of the dye works at the Gobelins Manufactory in Paris, he received many complaints about the dyes being used there. In particular, the blacks appeared different when used next to blues. He determined that the yarn's perceived color was influenced by other surrounding yarns. This led to a concept known as simultaneous contrast .
  • here are approximately 6 million cones in our retina, and they are sensitive to a wide range of brightness. The three different types of cones are sensitive to short, medium and long wavelengths, respectively, shown in the figure below. (Additionally, we have approximately 125 million rods on the retina, which are used only in dim light, and are monochromatic – black and white.) The result of these steps for color vision is a signal that is sent to the brain. There are three signals, corresponding to the three color attributes. These are: the amount of green-or-red; the amount of blue-or-yellow; and the brightness.
  • The amount of light of any given wavelength reflected from a surface constantly changes, depending upon the type of light, or illuminant, in which it is viewed. We perceive the color of a surface to be the same, even though there are changes in shade. The world would be a confusing place if the color of a surface changed with every change in the wavelength composition of the light reflected from it. We would be unable to categorize color-related properties in the same way, and color would cease to be an efficient biological signaling mechanism. The brain is able to discount the effect of the continual change in the wavelength composition of the light reflected from a surface. This stability in color as we perceive it allows the brain to obtain knowledge about the properties of surfaces, despite continual variations in what reaches the eye from those surfaces.
  • Ewald Hering (1834-1918) devised the first accurate theory of color vision. He theorized the “opponent” nature of green/red and blue/yellow. Hering expanded on the ideas of Goethe and Schoepenauer. Beginning of RGB model
  • He arrived at the concept of the color sphere sometime in 1807, as indicated in his letter to Goethe of November 21 of that year, by expanding the hue circle into a sphere, with white and black forming the two opposing poles.
  • If you mix red, green, and blue light, you get white light . Red, green, and blue (RGB) are referred to as the primary colors of light. Mixing the colors generates new colors. This is additive color . As more colors are added, the result becomes lighter, heading towards white. RGB is used to generate color on a computer screen, a TV, and any colored electronic display device.
  • When you mix colors using paint , or through the printing process, you are using the subtractive color method. The primary colors of light are red, green, and blue. If you subtract these from white you get cyan, magenta, and yellow. Mixing the colors generates new colors as shown on the color wheel. Mixing these three primary colors generates black. As you mix colors, they tend to get darker, ending up as black. The CMYK color system (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is the color system used for printing.


  • 1. introduction to color ART 251
  • 2. Color Color is the visual effect that is caused by the spectral composition of the light emitted, transmitted, or reflected by objects.
  • 3. The Garden, by Brecht Evens
  • 4. Pablo Picasso said, "Colors are only symbols. Reality is to be found in luminance alone." He also said, "When I run out of blue, I use red."
  • 5. Sir Isaac Newton (1643- 1727), English mathematician and physicist observed the phenomenon of light refracted by a glass prism and concluded that white light is a mixture of varied color rays.
  • 6. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), poet and author of Faust, published Theory of Colours in 1810. As a color theorist, he was more interested in how we perceive color.
  • 7. Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786- 1889) wrote The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours and Their Applications to the Arts. He observed that the colors we perceive are influenced by surrounding colors leading to the idea of simultaneous contrast.
  • 8. Color originates in light. Sunlight, as we perceive it, looks colorless. In reality, all the colors of the spectrum are present in white light.
  • 9. 1. All the" invisible" colors of sunlight shine on the apple. 2. The surface of a red apple absorbs all the colored light rays, except for those corresponding to red, and reflects this color to the human eye. Environment & Perception also play into our interpretation of this color. 3. The eye receives the reflected red light and sends a message to the brain.
  • 10. When light hits the surface, the BLUE paint ABSORBS all the light EXCEPT the blue part of the spectrum.
  • 11. Color Constancy
  • 12. Properties of Color • HUE • VALUE • INTENSITY (or saturation) (Hate Videogames Immensely)
  • 13. Properties of Color HUE - the name of the color, the part of the color spectrum that the color belongs to: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet.
  • 14. There is no pure blue.
  • 15. . ... ..... . . .... . .. ... . .. .... . . . .. .... . . .. . .... . ... . . . . .... . .. .. . . . ... .... .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . .. .. . . . ... ... . .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . .. .. . . . ... ... . .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . .. .. . . . ... ... . .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . .. .. . . . ... .... .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . . .. . . . ... .... .... .. .. .. ... .. .. . . If colored paints were actually pure color- every time any two “pure” colors of paint were mixed you would get black. The bits of blue in the blue paint would absorb the red and yellow light. The bits of yellow paint would absorb the red and blue light. No light would escape from the paint, and you’d see a perfectly black surface.
  • 16. Basic Color Wheel… but it is flawed!
  • 17. Color Bias Wheel
  • 18. How to use the color bias wheel to mix colors...
  • 19. What happens when you mix complementary colors? + + +
  • 20. What happens when you mix complementary colors? + + + = a neutral grey or brown
  • 21. Color Bias Wheel
  • 22. Make brightest purple
  • 23. Make duller purple because some blue and orange are mixed
  • 24. Make dullest purple, because blue is mixed with orange and red is mixed with green.
  • 25. Understand this Color Wheel & you will be more successful in color mixing!
  • 26. Itten’s Color Wheel
  • 27. Ewald Hering (1834-1918)
  • 28. Properties of Color VALUE - lightness or darkness of the hue. Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black on Gray), 1969/1970.
  • 30. Inherent Value: “Normal” hues have different values.
  • 31. Grayscale Chart Low Key High Key
  • 32. Shadows in black and white... 7-8 6 3 4-5 2-3 1 3 3
  • 33. Chromatic Gray Vs. Achromatic Gray
  • 34. Properties of Color VALUE—lightness or darkness of the hue. – Adding white produces a TINT – Adding black produces a SHADE
  • 35. “ “
  • 36. Painting with a limited number of values
  • 37. David Hockney, Mist, 1973. From The Weather Series. Lithograph, 37 X 32 in. Painting with a limited number of values
  • 38. Properties of Color INTENSITY—The brightness of a color. Not to be confused with lightness, which is value. – Also called“chroma” or“saturation.
  • 39. Phillip Otto Runge
  • 40. Adding a color’s complement will make that color LESS INTENSE.
  • 41. Giorgio Morandi, Still Life, 1962. Low intensity painting.
  • 42. Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 16 1968 Contrast in intensity.
  • 43. Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 54 1972
  • 44. Color Bias Wheel
  • 45. SHADOWS of COLORS are made by adding that color’s COMPLEMENT. The cube’s SHADOWED side must be LESS INTENSE than the cube’s brightly-lit side.
  • 47. “Color obtains in the light” -Thomas Lovell