Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Decyphering Design: Part IV a – Color

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Countless books have been written and published on the subject of color, and it would take years to research this fascinating subject in depth. Let us keep this topic simple, fun and exciting! It is not only the artist/designer who deals with color on a daily basis. Everybody makes decisions concerning color. Our world today is marked by bold uses of color in every area of ordinary living. Therefore anyone can benefit from gathering some basic color facts.

The essential fact of color theory is that color is a property of light, not an object itself. As we may recall from science class or even art workshops: The property of light was first illustrated by Sir Isaac Newton during the seventeenth century, when he forced white light through a prism.

Color has a basic, instinctive, visual appeal. Great art has been created in black and white, but few artists have totally ignored the added visual interest that color provides. The uninhibited use of color has been a primary characteristic of art through the ages. For example: Cave paintings are packed with color through the use of mineral pigments. Woad, a relative to Indigo, has been used in textile dyeing and war paint from the beginning of time.

Some artists use color to emphasize the emotional element, and many artists use color in a strictly intuitive way. Others study color in depth and thereby have added immeasurably to our knowledge of color and its application.

Color changes throughout the day with light. For example: Grass is green, but is it really? At dawn it appears gray, in the bright sunshine mid-day it is yellow-green and as the sun nears the end of the day it becomes a deep green. Learning to observe subtle differences in color with the change of light is very helpful in understanding color characteristics.

When familiarizing yourself with the properties of color you will first learn about hue. Hue refers to the name of the color: red, yellow, blue and so on. Hue describes the visual sensation of the various parts of the color spectrum. One hue may be used to produce many colors. Example: Red is a hue from which pink, maroon, burgundy, scarlet, and rose are created.

The second property of color is value, which refers to the lightness and darkness of the hue. When using pigments, values will be altered by adding white or black paint to the color. Adding white will produce tints, adding black results in shades.

The third property of color is intensity, which refers to the brightness of color. A color is at its full intensity only when it is pure and unmixed creating a relationship between value and intensity.
Complementary colors are direct opposites in position on the color wheel as well as in character. Mixing complementary colors together will neutralize them, but placed next to one other they will intensify each others’ brightness. When blue and orange are side by side, each color appears brighter than in any other context. This effect is called simultaneous contrast, meaning that each complement simultaneously intensifies the visual brilliance of the other, so that the colors appear to vibrate. Artists use this visual effect when they wish to produce brilliant color.

We are all familiar with the terms warm colors/cool colors and continually refer to this terminology. Red and orange symbolize fire, yellow stands for sunshine and constitute warm colors. Blue is associated with water and sky, green
depicts grass, and they are thought of as the cool colors.

Colors are used for emphasis in artwork to create visual interest and, more likely than not, have been carefully planned by the artist. Color is very often the means chosen to provide this emphasis.

Unlike symmetrical balance, asymmetry is based on the concept of using differing objects on either side of the center axis. But to create visual balance, the objects must have equal weight or attraction. Color is often used to achieve this effect.
There is a direct relationship between color and space (a visual impression of depth or pictorial space) – Remember the points about positive/negative space from the last post? Colors have an innate advancing or receding quality because of slight muscular reactions in our eyes as we focus on different colors.

Intense, warm colors, such as red, orange or yellow seem to come forward; cool colors (blue/green) appear to move into the background. Additional topics on color include color schemes, covering monochromatic, analogues, complimentary and triadic color ways. I have decided to cover the topic of color schemes in more detail in the next post. It deserves more attention and may make color theory more user friendly…

Last but not least I want to mention the terms emotional color and color symbolism, which can play important roles in the composition of art. Emotional color is just that – employing color to evoke an emotion in the onlooker. Humans respond to color in various ways. Colors can bring out strong responses of like and dislike, usually depending on their preferences. When it comes to color symbolism the artists relies on specific colors, a very simple example would be using the color red for fire, love or passion.

This entry was published on October 23, 2012 at 6:14 am. It’s filed under Art, Creativity Update, Design, Special Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Decyphering Design: Part IV a – Color

  1. Pingback: A Thought About Evergreen Content | Anna Hergert, Art & Design

  2. Anna, you might like to read the NY Times article in the Science section from today, October 23, 2012 on the color blue. “True Blue Stands Out in an Earthy Crowd”.


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