Illusion of Transparency


Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, & Application


Lesson Info

Illusion of Transparency

So we're continuing along with albert's exercises were moving away from a very difficult first exercise of trying to make one call it was like to try to make two colors look like one and just for everyone who's at home don't get just to discourage because it takes a long time to assimilate that information it takes a long time a lot of practice to get it right just carry on with it I think this next thing we're gonna do is a little bit more fun uh immediate for me immediate fund and it's the illusion of transparency and this's my book by the way a little plug for this playing with color um so we see what's going on here and again this is direct from albers he kind of invented this idea and what we're looking at are two parent colors and in between color and it's all about illusion there's no transparent colors here at all it's not about this being a transparent ink and this being a transparent even them somehow mixing is truly is seeing colors with your eyes closed trying to find that ...

middle color now you've already done that you've tried to find the middle color but here we're working with something else it's more of a dimensional experience so when we see these two colors together against a background we're trying to create this illusion of transparency by finding a middle color that gives us at illusion right from there, we're going to move on to something a little bit different um something where there's spatial delusion, where we use the transparency effect to create the appearance of things emerging and receding. So for example, when I look at this, I don't really get a sense of one color being in front of another, but they're intersecting somehow they're just against this black background kind of equally important this's that and this being somewhat in the middle now I look at that and do you others agree that it kind of looks a ziff itt's ambiguous as to what's in front and what's in back? So what were you, khun when you're working with the illusion of transparency, you're trying to find this middle color if you want to create that effect where the middle color doesn't create this a spatial illusion that is this being in front of this being a back or this being in front of this being a back, then you look for equal contrast on these edges that's really the key let's try to find equal contrast between these two colors and between these two colors. When we get to this effect is a little bit different here, we're actually going for colors that seemed to emerge and colors that received so when you look at this, what part of the cube do you think is emerging blue, red and blue everyone agree wth the other way you can actually shift your eyes right? So there's actually, you can bounce back and forth depending on how you look at it, right? But the key is these two colors over here again, these are mixture colors. Right now, we all know that if you mix red and yellow, the other get orange, if you mix these blue, green and blue together to get something in between another variant of blue green, and to get to that point, we start with this, and we're going to be doing this. We'll experiment with these ideas of just pushing colors in a way that creates a spatial illusion it's kind of interesting that way, and then eventually you might actually get to this level of complexity where you've got several colors overlapping. I don't know if we'll get there today because this is pretty complex actually call this transparency and visual narrative, because when you get with this many colors, when you have this many colors going, you actually create a little drama between the colors and you have to control every single color. So there's many, many, many variations and mayor variables in something like this, so today we'll probably be sticking to these things, so we're gonna be working on something like this, and this is really it's pretty much right out of albert's book, more or less it's, my own color scheme, but again, picking up on the same colors I've been using along to demonstrate these illusions. But I think we're all agreed that the top band is on top and that on the bottom it's a little bit more ambiguous, although it looks like that pink band is going behind and then in the middle, we're not quite sure where it is, maybe infront, maybe in back. So that's, what we're really talking about was spatial illusion, and we can flip it another green on top. Banfi feels like its front. The pig looks like from the back. And then as we move down to the bottom, the pink definitely emerges forward. The green goes the background and that's all accomplished by changing these colors, right? That's what we'll be doing and again, this is something you can do on the ipad with the elders up poor with colored paper. We're just gonna be working with color paper right now. Okay, so, let's, get this started. Um, I think initially we're going to try this experiment. So maybe christine, why don't you sit there? And you could just choose two colors will call parent colors, yeah. To contrast in colors if you want you can choose colors every similar but maybe something a little bit different you guys concern lee chime in at any time is going to be a bit of a collaborative project up here and you can work on a white ground or background I'd say work on a white ground first it's going to give you a little bit more effective transparency so I'll try copy the colors that you have on the book okay to thing sure something similar something that's really quite blue something blue let's go with something different let's go with I read about a red and a green perhaps the screen right here okay so when you go to see these colors what do you think the middle color should be? What do you think the mixture of those way sort of have compliments there right complementary colors so let's look for something that would resemble the middle color so it's going to be some kind of a chromatic gray something that's a mixture of those two colors and if we just put these things at an angle and perhaps cut a corner and again we're just going toe quickly do this so that's the effect we want but that's not the right color so let's try to find another color but basically we're just doing this let's give this a try it literally is trial and error I'm cutting in a lot of this has to do with the arrangement colors need to look at the two background colors need to look like the intersecting. So now this middle color needs to be somewhere in between these two, so typically what's happening is that it's darker than one and lighter than the other? Somewhere in between? This is still not quite doing it. This is actually pretty good. And we could start changing this background color to maybe try to suit that very closed, but it might get us in the right direction. So it's like this just made it. Yeah. Do you think of that? You think this is believable? Can you see that sort of believable? That's what we're doing is trying to create the illusion of transparency by finding that middle color again, this is all about developing your awareness of color, trial and error. So for this one for the doll that's great, really nice for the shade. Are you actually? Are you actually trying to find the lighter darkness is in between the two colors? Or are you trying to find something that's actually darker than both, like they're transparent and stacked on top of each other kind of like that, yeah, um, you're trying to find the middle color. As if they're stacked on top of each other over right the illusion of transparency we should also try that on a white time it's gonna walk over here and get one of these white boards try putting that on white that's pretty good yeah it's beautiful it's really well done and that was too very good okay so let's use these two that's good and we know that the mixture is going to be somewhere in this range so just go ahead and hack away literally do this place that little thing over one of those trips maybe like that in a corner and then like you're just trying to find that middle yeah actually we're not not bad it's getting closer now this is obviously clearly a great exercise to do with paper just because you imagine you could do this online with some tool but anything you'd rather your your I wouldn't be doing the work the software will be doing the work from not exactly when I learned about that yeah when I've done this uh an illustrator for example I still have to make variations of that center color and use three pieces right? So you're still doing the same exact thing you'd be doing with cut paper adjusting that middle color until it looks transparent but they're your justin with sliders as opposed to going through paper like this and cutting pieces out in trial and error you're just basically doing sliders so it eliminates the cutting part of it but you still have to make a decision this's helping your training your eye and understanding how the colors work together. This is probably too maybe something like that maybe something that has a little bit more of ah orange to it could be like that way just cut a sliver off this that bad it's pretty good. So, richard one of the basic approaches you would take to choosing your color scheme here I think that was coming from four people online. Start with complementary colors um two variants of compliments orange and blue, red and green uh, purple and yellow I think that's a good place his heart can also work with a monochromatic palette like this and that's a little bit going back to the very first albert's exercise we did when you tried to find that center color. This is nice. Actually, this is good, right? So here we know that yellow and blue combined together make screen, but what cream? We're actually finding something very nice here. That's beautiful. So what would you say in this one? Do you think one color is on top and one's below feel the green is on? You think the greens on top? Yeah oh, yeah the shadow throws us off a little bit, but we definitely see it happening otherwise but actually that's a really good example look transparent perfect it looks as if you're working with film yeah but you're not so you're working with your own sensory experience of seeing color trying to find that middle color how can you cheat and use tissue paper where you really can see through that that's actually a good idea we've done that too and you you could do that if you want to get the effects of but that's it does not helping you try and you know that's not really cheating it's just a different thing okay yeah but you can see results that way for sure sam is asking richard how would the color subtraction appear with a graduated tint like a single hugh background with the foreground solid color appear graduated we have to try it I think with a great asian color of color that changes the effect is going to change as it moves across the gradation it's theater adds complexity when you're using a variety of uh changes within the background colors it's significantly more complex and more difficult but I think it's another experiment that's worthwhile trying so as you can see what's happening here there's a clear distinction as to what's in front and what's in back and that's the next thing I like you to do it's two to two sets using the same color but changing the middle color so that these spatial relationship change yeah. So in one case, the red looks like it's in front of the other case. The blue looks like it's in front and all you're doing is changing the middle color to achieve that effect. But this is a model for the composition. Essentially, you could look at the bottom part of this and just try to do this effect. Transparency effects have been used for a long time. Uh, painters have always used transparent glazes to achieve certain color effects. Certain colors in in classical painting were achieved by putting a transparent glaze over something else. Actually, one of our students was talking about you're talking about a dress right? That you modified with cholera. Um uh, I was using a white silk shar moose, which is a very like, lightweight fabric. Um, so it has a transparency to it. Naturally on dh the woman I was making the dress for the white was too harsh for her skin tone. So I put a hot pink fabric underneath it, which made the white just enough warmer that she could wear the dress so it's a great application of transparency in that particular context. Getting back to your question, you want to sit in for sure um okay, another bajos teacher did some really interesting things with transparency. So when you're doing this spatial illusion exercise, you really have to think about creating that effect of one color being dramatically in front of one color me, dramatically and back, yeah, it's, pretty good, that's going to friends sure about this, one like this, definitely. To me, it looks like the yellows on top, so I'm trying to get the purple look like it's on top of this. But, you know, one of the problems with this is that the black background is really influencing how we read those colors, so you might want to change to a white ground. Take one of these sports. You could try that on black, go ahead, fresh, too that's looking good. You're getting something going here. Yeah, once you get a little, you know, bored with this particular thing. Think about more of a free study experience.

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!