Color in Design: Tangrams


Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application


Lesson Info

Color in Design: Tangrams

We're going to be working with some interesting concepts tan grams we're starting out with this and some of you may have worked with hang grounds before those of you who are at home maybe you have a tan graham laying around someplace kids tend to work with him a lot. My first experience with hannah graham's was not when I was a kid I was twenty six I was in graduate school and I was introduced to this by a guy I mentioned before paul rand it was one of my teachers and it's kind of an interesting idea uh tan graham is a geometric form and it starts with a square and it's divided into seven pieces five triangles eh diamond shape in a parallelogram and the idea is to move these shapes around and to create designs using these shapes it's a wonderful way to explore geometry, geometric forms and also to think about compositional concepts like figure ground, which is really the idea that when you design something two dimensionally that you're thinking not just of the shapes themselves the fig...

ures but also the spaces between the shapes and the spaces around the shapes. So in typography we've heard too this is form and counter form in drawing we call it figure ground in composition we might call it positive and negative space there are many different names for this the important thing is that we're considering all aspects of a composition from corner to corner side to side top to bottom edge to edge and so you can kind of see that from the diagram here how a tan graham is constructed it's a square divided into these pieces and the points that are very critical are the corners obviously but also these halfway points here in here in here this is halfway between this this is halfway between that this's halfway halfway so it's very very mathematical but very easy a mathematical um and totally based on geometry as we go through these examples will see these various expressions and when I say an expression I'm really talking about a way of thinking about the composition in kind of uh human terms so stability and balance so we might see something like this where the pieces are locked together and they're all in alignment now when we look at this we're aware of the white space around this shape because it's very very grouped but we're also aware of the shape in the center the white shape sees me so the town graham itself is made up not just of the seven pieces of the original square but also the spaces beyond and that's what we really think of when we talk about figure ground relationships the relationships of all these forms together because they all come together to make the composition is one of the most important ideas in visual competition in two dimensional design three dimensional design to but here we're dealing with two dimensional design now you notice the colors primary colors you learnt this yesterday red, yellow, blue so today, when you're working with tang grams, you're going to be interested not only in putting the shapes together but also in putting colors together in interesting ways and you can think about these colors and the color combinations perhaps using some of the pallets you explored yesterday but also just kind of going back to color theory primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors, the various color contrasts, contrast of light and dark contrasts of warm and cool contrast so vivid and dull complimentary contrasts as well. So here we have secondary colors purple, green and orange, another expression of stability and structure. Here we have a kind of a monochromatic palette. All one hugh variations of light and dark and visual hierarchy comes into play that's another term we used when we were talking about some of the ideas yesterday look how this one shape the parallelogram really stands out is being different from everything else and has to do with contrast of light and dark so you can use color contrast to create visual hierarchies yes, higher kegan ok, good question so we're talking about creating a visual structure of a new order in which we look at elements within the composition parts of the composition and directing the viewer's eye to those parts using contrast so being aware of the various positions now the tan graham is great because it offers us on lee these seven shapes but also the shapes in between the figure in the ground so it's kind of limited you can't use any more you can't use any less the rules basically are the shapes don't overlap it's okay to maybe believe the shapes outside but keep the shapes hole so we recognize them another expression of stability but that means that stability doesn't necessarily mean locked to the edges or perfectly horizontal and vertical so you can have an angled competition like this where you might have a point here in a point down here that lakhs to the edges of composition but still expresses this idea of structure expressions of movement this is one of the most interesting things how can a static composition express movement we can do that typically with an expression of movement there's some part of the composition that is very structural and then other parts where the pieces seem to be moving or flowing in a way? So if you have part of the composition that feels very tight structure to the edge other elements that are not structured to the edge there's a contrast it's a compositional contrast it's a great expression of movement also contrast of large and small you know, the compositional contracts that we have one element down here and then the other elements are grouped at the top. Notice how you can put these pieces together and actually form larger pieces. Well, you call compound shapes so your compositions can be a simple is this a background color? A foreground color? Yeah. Figure color in a ground color. Notice how the yellow plays against the red. Very different from the black. The white is kind of similar to the yellow. So in a way, the black calls attention to itself differently than those other colors. Some of the ideas you exploring another expression of movement. Now, when we're talking about a figure ground, look at thes red shapes in between the town graham shapes they're very important, and so your design is dependent on all of these elements. Look at this little red triangle up here that exists between the black and white, so those three shapes are framing this shade. These three shapes are framing this shape. These two shapes are framing that shape, so I want you to be aware of these is your working with the ten grams shapes now the great expression of movement, primary colors plus white and black, and then finally, symbolic expressions, compositions that actually look like things that we can recognise a person sitting down, perhaps reading something in a very sort of determined way over here a structure of a chair something like this maybe a laptop or a computer the head of this form is called out in red so I really close to that point but the yellow is clearly the most important element person sitting in the background is very dominant right? Very, very powerful but then you have all these other shapes that kind of move together so when we talk about symbolic expression were really thinking about an abstraction of something that we can recognize you do this on the computer christine's gonna be working on the computer uh, and again those of you at home you can work with cut paper you can work with the computer cut paper takes a bit longer says you have to cut out all the pieces were pre done that pretty finished out so we have all these pieces cut out here on the table and the students will be working with those in class you'll be doing this on the computer and actually when you're working on the computer feel free to apply some background effects it doesn't have to be a solid form contrast of light and dark yeah within the background from red to black and finally work hard to make the composition looks simple, right? Okay um keep in mind and especially the audience at home if you want teo google ten grams and do an image search you'll see lots and lots of these things people have been making ten grams forever I think the history of the tang graham goes back perhaps several thousand years it's another chinese invention but you can also go to a toy store and buy these things made out of wood very interesting um so I think we can get started they're just starting with the board don't push things to the side for now we have all these pre cut shapes great we have the overhead camera fantastic so it looks like each one of these little groupings is the seven shapes so there you see the seven shapes a square a parallelogram too small triangles a middle size strangle and into large triangles and the idea here is to put these shapes together in ways that express stability movement oh are some kind of an abstraction so you can choose which one of those three ideas you khun you want to work with and I'm just going to start pushing these around actually since it's yellow I might start with black a little bit more contrast you see how much contrast here is that the yellow against the black and if I'm thinking about structure and we'll start by locking one of these shapes to the edge I began to think about the spaces in between the shapes and again I want to emphasize the idea of play I don't know what this is going to be just starting out and I'm improvising as I go no, I've made not a million of these things but many so I might have a slight advantage look at that it's it's kind of sometimes you get these moments of serendipity and if you see that you definitely want to go with it shapes khun touch or not touch like that kind of relationship where there's an alignment of an angle is kind of interesting now I have this one of the piece but maybe I'll try a different color just to see what happens and I'm gonna go back to that small triangle keep in mind that you never want more than the seven shapes uh you always want to just work with those particular things and then think about some kind of contrast so soon as I put that element in there starts to change the composition but this is a good example of stability structure again kind of accidentally I have is very strong central axis that runs right up the center measured here to here things kind of floating off of that very aware of the figure and ground the yellow forms, the red forms and the black forms resigning all of these things and it's a good idea tio take pictures along the way so good expression of structure I'm thinking about movement I can maybe work off of this so part of the composition has a very strong structure to it other parts of the competition don't they're more free form of course even also express move inches by pushing all the pieces in some kind of ah array or an arrangement where they're not locked it all into place and there's a sense of ah kind of a dynamic energy to the composition because of that and thinking about the spaces in between the shapes as well as the shapes themselves what happens if I bring in another piece? I think this is be the bigger piece that's krakatoa so you see how different the expression of movement is from an expression of structure yeah, that makes sense so far and then some kind of abstract symbolism and the easy thing to start with his perhaps the human form again, if you do an image search you'll see complete almost like fonts uh tan gramps in different human forms almost like olympic symbols for runners and staters and you have these shapes that really kind of lend themselves very well two human forms and maybe that was the original idea tan graham who knows you ever seen the color forms box which is something again we played with his kids the logo looks like it was made out of ten grams, so when you get teo say a human form it can be very structural can express movement it actually doesn't look like a human and maybe a little bit more like the birds something like that with that black space on the inside is kind of interesting and if you want to bleed off the edge that's perfectly fine too. So the nice thing about this is that it gets very close to say symbols and logos and actually this is a great exercise if you're designing a logo or symbol do something like this just is a warm up and it'll give you some ideas you may not be the end thing that you end up with the end design, but it'll get you places. So is that enough to get you guys started any questions before we begin? Well, you mentioned local design, I was going to ask the question related to that, um I think it's called the golden circle, but are you familiar with the golden circle golden section? Maybe but used similar shapes, but they used some circles instead for local creation. So I was just wondering how this compares to that or if it does it's another structural system here it's based on a square so you start off with a square so it's very, very structured perhaps like the system you're talking about, I'm not familiar specifically with what you're talking about, but like the golden rectangle is an old uh, proportional system the greeks used it. It's been used by architects and designers throughout all these kinds of systems are very interesting to explore. And this is another one of them. A very simple one. So, christine, when you get on the computer, you're gonna start working with these shapes. And I've designed this in a way so that all the all the shapes are in different layers. And you, khun again, just push them around in different ways and then assign each of them a color can be very aware of the shapes in between thinking about structure, movement, symbolism. Okay, let's, get started. Sorry. From an p and she's asking the number of shapes is set at seven. Yes. Can you mix the colors and mix the shapes? Do they vary or do you have to use the one square? Two large triangles? You have to use those shapes. You can mix the colors, so feel free to use any color you want again thinking about color. Contrast the color ideas we talked about yesterday but definitely keep these seven shapes and don't mix up the shapes. We should always have the exact ideas of these shapes otherwise, it's. Not a ten grand, right?

Class Description

Our response to color comes from the place in our brain where trust, loyalty, behavior, and decision occur – every successful project relies on a designer making smart choices about color.

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application, Richard Mehl will give you a foundational understanding of color theory principles and demonstrate how to apply them. Richard has studied alongside design legends, Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson and Herbert Matter and in this class he’ll share insights gleaned from 12 years of teaching and writing about color in design.

Richard takes an accessible approach to the serious study of color theory for designers. You’ll be exposed to a relevant series of ideas and skills by exploring a range of analog and digital projects. Richard will discuss:

  • Color terminology and meaning
  • How to view color in context
  • Contrast grids and color illusion
  • Tips for creating harmonious color palettes

In Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application you’ll develop a new awareness and sensitivity to color that will bolster your confidence in your personal and professional design work.



How wonderful to have such an experienced, thoughtful teacher, who takes educating others so seriously. The depth and breadth of his teaching skill is matched by his knowledge of the subject. I studied art in school, own some of the color books he recommends, and learned far more than I thought possible. And he does it all in such a kind, affirming, supportive way. What a calm guide. How lucky are we to have access to a class with him!