Education Article :: Chapter 04 :: Color Theory

Color Theory Development
1 warm, 3 cool,
1 neutral gray
3 warm, 1 cool,
1 neutral gray
1 warm, 3 cool,
1 neutral gray
1 warm, 3 cool,
1 neutral gray
3 warm, 1 cool,
1 neutral gray

It is important for a student to have a working color theory at the beginning of a design career. I use a value/hue matching system to begin. The first step is to chose a gray value from color paper. This should be as neutral as possible using a black/white neutral gray. The student then match a warm, cool, cool, and cool hue to this base value. The other option is cool, warm, warm, and warm. Some examples can be seen above using computer generated RGB colors to simulate this process. (See examples above)

Josef Albers ('Interaction of Color' Yale University Press, New Haven and London; 1963, 1977), Gordon Salchow, and Armin Hofmann ('His Work, Quest and Philosophy' Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, Boston, and Berlin; 1989) have very interesting color theories. Thomas Detrie wrote an interesting article on color in the AIGA Arizona Chapter Journal ('Roses are red, Violets are kyanos -- Some Fundamentals of Digital Color Technology' Phoenix; Fall 1996)

Project analysis
Students are permitted various color theories during their studies. The first part is a simple value matching exercise. Color paper is use initially for quick color selection. A packet of over 200 six by nine colors papers are used.

Painting with color gouache is the next step in color development. Using a wet medium is important as it relates to ink technology used in printing.

Finally, the students are introduced to electronic color (RGB) on the computer. This step completes their exposure to theory with practical application to follow.

warm | cool warm | cool warm | cool


Color :: in the original sense, as a covering, from celare, to cover, hide.
1. the sensation resulting from stimulation of the retina of the eye by light waves of certain lengths.
2. the property of reflecting light waves of particular length: the primary colors of the spectrum are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
3. any coloring matter; dye; pigment; paint: in painting, etc., red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors, which, when mixed in various ways, produce the secondary colors (green, orange, violet, etc.); black, white, and gray are often called colors (achromatic colors), although black is caused by the complete absorption of light rays, white by the reflection of all the rays that produce color, and gray by an imperfect absorption of all these rays (i.e., a mixture of black and white pigments).
4. any color other than black, white, and gray (achromatic colors); chromatic color

Hue :: the names of colors
(primary) red, yellow, blue
(secondary) orange,green, violet
(tertiary) red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, green-blue, blue-violet, red-violet
tint = add white
shade = add black

Value :: lightness or darkness (achromatic)
black -- the complete absorption of light rays
white -- reflection of all the rays that produce color
gray -- imperfect absorption of these rays

Intensity :: brightness or dullness; brilliant, vivid, shining, radiant; not bright, not vivid

Temperature :: relative warmth or coolness; degree of hotness or coldness of anything

Design education must become more transformative; teachers should connect with students, with their experiences and cultures. Teachers must give them a more expansive view. I don't think the master/apprentice relationship is appropriate for the designer.
Sharon Poggenpohl 'Looking Closer'
(Chicago, 1988; New York, 1994; pg. 215)

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Copyright © 1996-2005 MK Graphic Design. All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be copied, reproduced, or electronically reused without written permission from Michael Kroeger at MK Graphic Design. (06.19.05)