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The Mystery Of Colour

Colour is a very personal and subjective subject!   Colours can make you laugh, cry, sing out loud, remember pivotal moments and bring so much joy into our lives.  As an artist, it helps to set the tone and deliver the message of your painting – so an understanding not only of the technical aspects of colour but also the emotional implications of colour are vital to producing good art….. let me explain.

In the early 20th Century, Johannes Itten’s  theories on colour changed the way artists and scientists viewed the spectrum of colours in the world around them. The following outlines some of Itten’s basic tenets—many of which are still employed by artists today.

 Swiss painter and teacher Johannes Itten was a pivotal member of the Bauhaus, Germany’s most influential art and design school. Founded in 1919 and closed in 1933 under the threat of the Fascist party, the Bauhaus School primarily focused on expressionist art, design, and architecture.  From 1919 to 1923, Itten was the main painter at the institution and taught a required intro­ductory course that focused on form and colour. The theories developed and taught in this class are still practiced by artists today and are very useful for artists as they learn to create rich, realistic, and dynamic colours.

Itten’s colour wheel was a departure from the colour wheels employed at his time. Many contained too few or too many colours, making it either difficult to find the connections between hues, or too complicated and rigid to facilitate instruction. Itten’s wheel contained twelve colours: the three primary colours, the three secondary, and the six tertiary colours.

Primary Colours are the building blocks for all other hues, and cannot be created by mixing any other pigments. They are blue, yellow, and red.

Secondary Colours are each created from two of the primaries. They are orange, green, and violet. Like the pri­mary colours, they are equidistant from one another on the colour wheel.

Tertiary Colours are formed by mix­ing a primary and secondary colour. They are yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, and blue-green.

This artist’s most notable impact on present-day colour theory was the asso­ciation of certain colours with specific emotions.  His book The Art of Colour was a synopsis of his teachings at the Bauhaus, and was groundbreaking in its study of colours’ impact on the viewer. Like other artists and theorists before him, Itten studied colours scien­tifically as well as artistically. What set him apart from his contemporaries was the use of psychoanalysis to inform his theories. He looked at the way colours impacted a person, as well as individu­als’ perceptions of colour.

To the artist-educator, there were four “qualities” of a colour: hue, inten­sity, value, and temperature.

Hue is generally defined as a source colour, one of the twelve basic colours on the colour wheel.  Knowing the root hue allows one to mix the colour that he or she sees using a basic palette.

Value is the light­ness or darkness of the colour relative to white, black, and gray.

Intensity is the brightness or dullness of a colour, often determined by the amount of white or complement that has been mixed with it. It is measured relative to the brightest colour wheel hue that is closest to the colour. Often the words chroma and saturation are used interchangeably with intensity.

Temperature, to Itten, was the idea of a colour being “warm” or “cool”—terminology still used by artists.

Itten was also one of the first to develop successful methods of creat­ing striking colour contrasts. His seven methods were the contrast of satura­tion, contrast of light and dark, contrast of extension, complementary contrast, simultaneous contrast, contrast of hue, and the contrast of warm and cool.

Contrast of light and dark is created when, as the name suggests, light and dark values of a colour are juxtaposed.

The contrast of extension, also known as a contrast of proportion, is based on the relative areas of two or more areas of colour, such as large and small, or much and little.

A complementary contrast exists when two complementary colours (col­ours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel) are placed side-by-side.

Simultaneous contrast occurs when opposing colours are placed next to each other, creating the illusion of vibrations or shadows.

I hope this gives you a little insight into the world of colour. I will be following this post with a little more on colour soon –  keep watch!




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