Friday, June 9, 2017

300+ Years of Color Theory: Theory and Practice of Color

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the homepage for the series here.

Theory and Practice of Color: A Color Theory Based on Laws of Perception was originally published in 1975. I read the revised second edition published in 1983.

This is the final book in this reading list spanning over 300+ years of color theory! And it’s incredibly appropriate as this book is directly linked to the very first book in the list, Newton’s Opticks.

First, let me say that this book is totally amazing! It’s the most thorough book on the subject in this entire reading list as it includes the MOST up-to-date and scientifically correct information. In fact, THIS is the book that started the entire reading project! When I first found this book over a year ago, it blew my mind. The ideas were so different from what I was taught about color theory and what I thought I knew. That’s when I had the idea to go back and re-reading other color theory books that came before this one in order to try and better understand Gerritsen’s ideas.

And that brings us full circle all the way back to Newton. In his book Opticks, Newton describes his discovery of the visual spectrum, breaking white light into all the colors of the rainbow. Gerritsen explains how we see those colors and goes further to explain the one “true” color system based on how human beings are built to detect and perceive the visual spectrum.

Gerritsen has a masterful understanding of the long (and sometimes problematic) history of color theory going back even beyond Newton. He takes the first few chapters of his book to thoroughly review the human experience of color, how we have tried to explain and understand it, and how we’ve attempted to study and order colors through the ages.

Gerritsen’s theory is simple; humans are trichromats and perceive color through three different wavelength detectors. Short wavelength light detectors correspond to blue/violet light, medium wavelength detectors correspond to green light, and long wavelength detectors correspond to red light.

Therefore, to study color relationships the only true system to use is the one of human perception. Gerritsen’s color wheel not only represents the three primary colors of human vision (Red/Green/Blue) but also represents them alongside a color perception schema.

These little color perception illustrations represent how our trichromatic light receptors are being triggered to create the sensation of different colors.

For instance, look at the cyan blue section of the color above. The green and blue receptors are both triggered—therefore if your eye perceives short wavelengths of light (blue) and medium wavelengths (green) your brain reads this color as a bright cyan blue.

In addition to Gerritsen’s unique human perception color wheel, he further explains the differences between the Subtractive color system (AKA the Artist’s color wheel or RYB, the oldest system first recorded by J. C. LeBlon in 1720), the Additive color system (AKA the system of light or RGB), and the Partitive color system (AKA printer’s colors or CMY) with plenty of examples.

There are also excellent examples of color relationships in Gerritsen's book that have also been mentioned through countless of the other books in the reading list, such as simultaneous contrast, optical illusions of lines and colors, successive contrast, afterimages, and color constancy.

And, just as Newton tried to explain a series of other instances of colors perceived by humans in his book, Gerritsen also includes many of these same subjects like a reflection of light from different surfaces, interreflection, and interference. I haven’t checked, but I’m wondering if those mathematical equations worked out by Newton on angles of reflection and refraction have stood the test of time!

Gerritsen even includes at the very end of his book a short chapter on the Opponent theory, often referred to by earlier color theorists as the Psychological Colors. Cone opponent theory is something I'm still trying to wrap my mind around, and while I still don't totally get it, I appreciate the basics in Gerritsen's description and illustration.

As a companion to this book, Gerritsen has published a color workbook for students of color theory, Evolution in Color first published in 1982, which outlines the major color systems through human history. Gerritsen's comprehensive workbook includes illustrations of more than 50 historical color systems and allows you to punch out color chips to add to some of the pages.

I would recommend finding a copy of Theory and Practice of Color for any painter, quilter, designer or artist interested in learning more about color theory. Especially if you can also find a copy of Evolution in Color as a companion.

I hope you've enjoyed following along with my personal color theory reading project over the past year, I am a bit sad that I've reached the end. Theory and Practice of Color really is the last and most recent book of its kind—it includes everything scientists understand about optics and I can't see how it could be improved upon. It's been so motivating to finish one book while looking forward to reading the next one in the list, I kind of don't know what I'm going to read next! 


If you find any current books on the subject that you've read and enjoyed, or even if you think I might have missed reading a really important book along the way please leave a comment and let me know. And again, a big thank you for stopping by and visiting me at Miss Sews-it-all!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

300+ Years of Color Theory: Principles of Color

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the homepage for the series here.

Principles of Color, originally published in 1969 is an elementary book about color. The publisher writes in the Introduction that they hope (and even expect) this book to become fundamental for teaching artists and designers about color.

This book does include a very nice synopsis of the history of color circles beginning with Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 and progressing through Wilhelm Ostwald in 1916. Included is also a basic description of the subtractive, additive, and psychological (opponent theory) color systems.

In the chapter dedicated to the Harmony of Colors, Birren gives a synopsis of harmonies presented by M. E. Cheverul in his 1839 book, The Principles of Harmony and Color Contrasts. These are basic harmonies in a color wheel; analogous, complementary, split complementary, and various triads.

Birren uses the Ostwald system to base his simplified version which he calls the Color Triangle.

He explains many principles of color harmony using his Color Triangle, which is all taken directly from Ostwald’s color solid. These include making straight lines across any given Color Triangle to find naturally harmonious combinations. I think Birren created his Color Triangle as a simplified way to present theories of Ostwald, but I personally think in this case it’s better to just go to the source and learn how to use Ostwald’s system. The basic principles are the same, but there is infinitely more variety by using the Ostwald system, and the ability to see even more interesting color combinations.

In the last section of the book, Birren describes how to use color to create different “effects” and includes detailed color illustrations.

As a student of the fine arts, we learned about light effects by completing multiple exercises to train our powers of perception and draw (or paint, or sketch, etc.) the subjects we were studying. The two main color theory books I read at the time also included many concrete assignments, exercises and experiments to help the student learn and discover how to use color in art and design (Josef AlbersInteraction of Color and Johannes Itten The Art of Color).

It seems strange to me that Birren gives such a formulaic approach on how to attain effects such as luster, iridescence, and transparency with color. In fact, it seems strange to author a book meant to be the foremost introductory and fundamental book on color for artists and designers and not to include any hands-on assignments or experiments to help the student learn how to use these principles to the fullest.

I’m also surprised that we didn’t use this book when I was studying fine arts, as the original publication date of 1969 is right in line with Itten and Albers books published in 1961 and 1963 respectively. But here it is 20+ years after graduating with my BFA and I’m just reading this book for the first time!

The strength of Birren’s Principles of Color is the concise history of the color wheel and thorough, condensed explanation of Chevreul’s historic harmonies of color. My personal feeling is the lack of practical experience through exercises for students to follow and really learn the principles of color is the downfall of this book. It’s what makes Itten and Albers books ultimately superior—although they are not as thorough on the history of the color wheel, they both give students the tools needed to really discover and understand the principles of color.

There are copies of Principles of Color still floating around out there (some still in libraries) and if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the color wheel it’s a must read.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

300+ Years of Color Theory: Interaction of Color

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the homepage for the series here.

Interaction of Color is probably one of the best known and most loved books about color theory, first published in 1963 and still in print today. Artist and educator Josef Albers taught at the infamous Bauhaus until the school closed in 1933. He then immigrated to the United States to teach at Black Mountain College. Albers left Black Mountain College in 1949 to serve as the chairman of the Design Department at Yale University, where he began work on the Homage to the Square series.

The concepts presented in this book are not new, revolutionary, or groundbreaking; they are the very same concepts and theories published by Chevreul 100 years earlier. What is revolutionary about Albers approach to explaining the contrast of colors is his method, which you might say was "backwards" from the standard approach.

Most color theory books pre-dating Albers seem to follow the same formula, presenting scientific research, theories, and color systems before attempting to let the reader in on color contrasts and harmonies. It’s as if you must first understand the physiology of human vision and the physics of light before you can understand how colors contrast or harmonize together.

Albers approach is totally different. He understands that just as you don’t need to know exactly how the human ear or sound waves work to listen to music (or form musical likes and dislikes), you also don’t need to know exactly how the human eye or light works to see or appreciate colors.

Students are presented with color riddles and experiments to complete in the classroom using colored papers. For example, is it possible to make one color look like two different colors?

Can this be accomplished using various colored papers in more ways than one?

What did you discover from this exercise?

Only after completing these kinds of assignments based solely on perception does Albers introduce the science and theory behind the interaction of colors. His book is a synopsis of these practical exercises and theories presented in his classes.

If you are interested in color and don't already own this book, it's a must-read! I also recommend the Josef Albers Interaction of Color app from Yale University - it's free through iTunes and leads you through several of Albers' exercises in a very creative and entertaining way.

Albers work was a huge influence on many American abstract artists like Donald Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly. You can still see the influence of Albers work on contemporary modern quilters like Heather Jones, Jacquie Gering, Callie Works-Leary, and Eliza Kenan & Claire Oswalt. I'd say you can even see the influence of Albers in the recent works of artist LUKE Haynes in his series Log Cabins of Donald Judd. A very amazing legacy for a book half a century old!

If you sew or quilt, you can play around with some of Albers exercises using fabrics in my Contrasting Colors Patchwork Blocks post at BERNINA's WeAllSew blog.

And if you do make a bunch of contrasting color patchwork blocks, when you're finished playing around with your blocks follow this tutorial to turn them into a little square zip pouch!

Up next in the big Color Theory reading list is yet another book by our proliferous friend Faber Birren, Principles of Color. I don't know for sure how many books Birren published about color, but it's got to be over 30, the man was OBSESSED!

Until next time, keep your eyes open to the colors all around you!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Zipper Pouch Features Contrasting Colors

After playing around with contrasting fabric colors by making some contrasting color blocks, I started sewing them into these handy zipper pouches.

They finish at 6" x 6" square with a zipper closure, a small pocket inside, and a D-ring to hold a pair of snips on a ribbon.

I love them! Find the Color Block Zipper Pouch tutorial posted at the BERNINA WeAllSew blog, and let me know if you stitch any up!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Make Your Own Color Wheel Pincushion

Good news, everyone! As part of my Color Wheel Series for the BERNINA WeAllSew Blog, I've designed this fun little paper pieced color wheel pincushion for you! Click over to WeAllSew to find the free pattern and tutorial. You can use the colors from your favorite color wheel, or you can create a new color wheel with your favorite hues. If you're already a paper piecing pro, you can probably whip one of these up in less than an hour. I made three in one evening!

Be sure to check out the other posts in the series as well. In the Color Wheel Basics post, you can learn what a color wheel is and get a free downloadable set of Color Cards to learn basic color theory terms.

In the Color Harmony Basics post, you can learn about color combinations on a color wheel and get a free downloadable set of Color Cards to remember 10 common color harmonies.

Thanks for visiting me at Miss Sews-it-all! Please let me know if you make one of the pincushions, and definitely, share a pic or two—I would love to see your version of the color wheel.