Color Theory Exercises – How These Work:

color-aid paper and exacto knife

These studies are based on Joseph Albers work with the relativity or interaction of color. The same exact color, be it pigment, light or ink, will appear differently when viewed against other colors. Factors which may influence the perception of a particular color include the quantity of a color in relation to other colors, the quality of that color (the value or intensity and the hue), the form and placement of the color, and the type of boundaries between it and other colors (for example, soft and fuzzy or sharp and strong). The interaction of colors in a painting is much like the interaction of notes in music; much depends on what happens between the colors or notes, their placement and spacing.

There are three different color exercises included here:

  1. 4 colors from 3: to make the same color look different (2 small squares of the same color are placed against backgrounds of very different colors, making it look as though there are 4 colors when in fact there are only 3);
  2. 3 colors from 4: to make 2 colors look the same (2 small squares of different colors are placed against 2 different backgrounds carefully chosen to make the 2 small squares look identical, making it appear as though there are only 3 colors when in fact there are 4);
  3. simultaneous contrasts: to find the one color that is equally close to or equally distant from the 2 large backgrounds of complementary colors.

Joseph Albers - Interaction of ColorIf you’d like to read more about this, I recommend “The Interaction of Color” by Joseph Albers, Yale University Press, ©1963. If you’d like to try this yourself, the tools are a pack of ColorAid paper, some type of glue, a sharp cutting tool (such as an Exacto knife) and a metal straightedge, Joseph Albers’ book, a lot of patience and the desire to really see color interaction. Many thanks to my excellent teacher, Elizabeth Rupprecht at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for helping me and so many artists begin to learn color relativity.

By the way, the more of these you guess wrong, the better I did my job of trying to make different colors look the same or the same color look different.

Need to buy a copy of “Interaction of Color: Revised and Expanded Edition” (Paperback) by Josef Albers?

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