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FAST CLASS: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application

Lesson 3 of 10

Colors and Their Relationships

Richard Mehl

FAST CLASS: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application

Richard Mehl

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Lesson Info

3. Colors and Their Relationships


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:06:29
5 Color Illusion in Practice Duration:03:14
6 Illusion of Transparency Duration:04:34
7 Color in Design: Tangrams Duration:07:34
9 Learning from the Masters Duration:05:02
10 Everyday Found Color Duration:04:12

Lesson Info

Colors and Their Relationships

colour illusion. This is something we're gonna be talking about. This is the realm of joseph Albert. So we've moved from you wanna sit now to joseph Albers, another great quote colors present themselves in continuous flux relative constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions. So this is a very typical Albers exercise. And you guys are going to be working on this both with paper and also on the computer. On an app, actually on an ipad. Okay, so we look at this and we say that the screen looks a lot brighter than that green over there. Right? But in fact, it's one color. So again, this is about relativity how color changes based on its neighbors. So up here we see these two colours and they look different. This looks darker. This looks lighter. It's in fact all the same color. So what's happening here is the process of color subtraction. The outside color is subtracting itself from the inside color in this case this dark color is subtracting itself, making this look l...

ighter over here. Late, subtracting yourself, making that look a little darker. You actually see that these are two different colors, right? So that's over there, that's over there. It's actually a challenge to study color mixture in our imagination. That is to say with our eyes closed or with closed eyes. This is the illusion of transparency. So we all know if we've worked on the computers that we can do this by dialing. Opacity. Well, if you try to do it with cut paper, you really are mixing colors with your eyes closed. So this color, this mixture color is a single piece of paper. This is three pieces of paper, 123. And as a designer, as the artist coming up with this, you're saying we have these two colors pink and green. What is the intersection of these are the parents? What's the child? The child is the in between color. We're trying to imagine that color with our eyes closed, the playfulness and humor in no way detracts from the end result of a serious work of art paul rand. So collage is something if you've ever done scrapbooking, uh, perhaps just played around with something maybe made a birthday card for someone, you probably have done collage usually with found materials and collage began with Picasso and braque Back at the beginning of the 20th century, they decided to glue pieces of paper to their paintings. Well, at that time, this was pretty revolutionary because paintings are paintings, they did not have anything glued to the surface. Right? So as soon as Picasso decided to glue a piece of paper to his painting, he invented collage and that word collage has to do with this idea of gluing. Um and so we see here an example of a collage, beautiful use of color, beautiful use of materials, all based on foul materials. So when we get to collage, then we're deciding on what kind of materials to put together. So here just like a color grid, it's in the range of greens. We have break greens, we have dog greens, warm greens and cool greens, light greens and dark greens, all with found materials, samples of paint, little pieces of foam, sometimes pieces of newspapers. I also teach typography at the School of Visual Arts and these are actually from my type classes and where we're still focusing on color, colorful leaves suit always a play and imagination for all kinds of order emplacement. Therefore they remain a favorite means of study. This is joseph Albers. Now albers came from Germany. His first teaching gig in the United States was at Black Mountain College and he discovered leaves the fact that in the fall right now in other parts of the United States here too, I suspect not familiar so much here. More familiar with New England in the east, but leaves provide us with a means of material and I love it because leaves are free. They are widely available. No one can say they don't have any money to buy leaves, which is great. You can just go out and pick them up. Now you have to dry them, put them in a book and flatten them out and then you look like this. This is a leaf collage that I made 2004 and this is what it looked like when I made it and it's a simple expression of complementary colors green and red. And you can see how when I chose this is actually colored paper. The same stuff that's on the table here. So we have a green in the background and this red orange on top and the greens of the leaf are actually assimilating into the green ground. So you really don't see the edge of the leaf down here or at the very top. But then there's a lot of contrast against the red. So down here, low contrast, a pure high contrast. This is what it looks like. Now. It's one of the great things about leaf collage is is that they change, we can actually see them change over the course of all these years, that leaf has actually become the color of this background, which I put in later. It's a piece of cardboard. We're not actually going to be doing physical color wheels in the workshop, although you will always be referring to color wheels. It's one of the things I enjoy most in my teaching. And so I'm gonna show you a lot of examples. Color wheel is made with found objects. These are all caps and pencils. And if you remember back to the color wheel I showed at the top of the segment, um you can follow the colors around. So from yellow to yellow, green to green to blue, green to blue in the background, two blue violet to violet to red, violet, two Orange, Yellow, Orange Back to Yellow. Mhm This is great quote from within von Eggert who is, by the way, a philosopher and a poet but also a colour theorist From the 19th century and back then people weren't so specialized they could do all kinds of things. Oftentimes we combine color wheels with gray scales and so here we have contrast of light and dark expressed in a monochromatic way from light to dark. Over here we have the color wheel also expressing contrasts of light and dark. So we have lighter colors, darker colors from cave paintings to color wheels. The K painters right. And there's recently been in some interesting cave paintings in the news, some interesting things found out, you know, 40,000 years ago, 50,000 years ago when the first cave paintings were made, those people were playing. They were playing with color. Now they were getting their colors from the earth and they were projecting them on the wall. Sometimes you'll see if you go to uh say Wikipedia citing, you just google K paintings, go to Wikipedia, you'll see some great examples. One of the favorite things for K painters is to put your hand on the wall and then to spray paint around your hand. So you have a stencil and you'll see these things and their handprints all over and some handprints are light, some dark, sometimes the background is dark and the hand is light, sometimes the reverse the hand is dark and the background is light. So they were clearly playing. Now we don't know, it may have been ceremonial. I don't know if you guys have any experience with K opinions or not her. I've ever seen them. I've actually never seen them in person. I'd love to um but idea of using color to distinguish a form and to think about color contrast as a way of distinguishing forms was clear to these people back then. So all the way from cave paintings to color wheels. It's the continuum of color and I just put together a few things here about the history of color. To an ancient Egypt. We had all this symbolism. So white was the symbol of purity and sacredness and simplicity. Black, fertility, resurrection, regeneration, silver, the dawn, sun, moon and stars, blue um on the creative the world, the God green for healing and wellness and read the opposite of black and white chaos disorder. Also the symbol for life. Just in a way if you think about chaos and disorder, that's pretty much my life. Mhm. In ancient china, yellow was the symbolic color of emperors, but colors were also associated with elements. So gold, earth, center of life. Black water, the color of heaven, the sky, black, fire, good fortune, enjoy would nature and renewal. Blue, green and gold purity. So white was a symbol of gold and purity. So they were thinking about colours as symbolic things Aristotle who knew he devised a system of colors based on the colors that we see during the day from white to yellow or gold to red, purple, green, blue from the morning till the night, Da Vinci took that idea and reduce it to six colors and a spectral order. So we're getting closer to the idea of a color wheel. This is the renaissance. Now keep in mind that each time we talk about the history of color were also talking about technology. So the cave painters had the colors of the earth, right? The elements to work with. So their colors are mainly browns, yellows. We get into Egypt and china. They're again, they're working with colors based on what was available to them. Same thing with the narrow, not all the colours had been stabilized in some kind of a pigment yet. So we don't see any purple. There. Isaac Newton most of us know Isaac Newton for other reasons. But Isaac Newton was a colorist. He was the guy who projected light through a prism based on his observations of the rainbow and discovered basically that light is color and that we can actually see colors based on lighting conditions. He toes seven so 1234567, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. And he did this in order to make a relationship to an octave. And again, back then people are always trying to find associations between things. So colour and music again, kind of going forward something I'm interested in. There's his diagram. And if you follow it around on the outside, you see orange associated with the note e yellow, green, blue, there's indigo and violet and red and the musical notation that follows that dear to devise a color wheel composed of the primary and secondary colors. And this came a few decades later and it was kind of in a response to Newton. He was one of the first, although not the first to arrange to make a color wheel that had the primaries and the secondaries arranged opposite of each other. So there's a complementary relationship like this. This is the color wheel. We're all very used to and it comes to us through the heart and there we see the rainbow, beautiful photograph taken by my niece up in Oregon. But we see this all the time. And that's the color spectrum. That's the color wheel. So we have Isaac Newton, we have to we have written, brings us to this. It's the continuum of color and that's kind of where we're at now. And there's just a Wikipedia site. If you want to try doing a little research on your own. It's always a good example. You can go to Wikipedia research color wheels and you'll get some really good ideas. And then quickly just a colour design glossary. And these are terms that we're going to be using throughout the day. So very quickly, this is not elaborate. You can just start to think about these things. These words Hugh Probably one of the most misunderstood terms that is associated with color. Ah And computer technology has a little bit to do with that but a hue is really the identity of the color. So when we talk about a hue we say a red hue and uh red hue has many variants, many colours of red. So we have light reds and dark reds and warm reds and cool reds. They're all the same hue but different colors. And that's true for all colors. All colors have a hue, green hue of blue hue and orange hue. But they're going to be light or dark, warm or cool, sometimes vivid and dull tint, A light variant of color shade, a dark variant of color. So if I say shade, it means dark. If I say tint it means light. And actually that's color aids. Way of talking about color but it's a pretty good one, temperature warm and cool. We've talked about that saturation, vivid and dull and value. Value is a tricky one. Uh It's important though. And what value is is the intensity of the color. The importance of a color. The effect of a color and a composition. Right, So a color can have a very strong value but it's always based on its association, its neighbors. But when I talk about when we start to look at your color grids and your compositions. I might say that color has more value than this color. And I'm really talking about its importance relative to its other colors. Mm And here this is actually just the color spectrum from illustrator. That's what we see when we see the color palette and illustrator. And it's a great demonstration of those color contrasts. So first of all we have Hughes red hues, see all the different reds. These are all the hue of red, right? And also right over here on the edge. So a red can be dark or light. It can be vivid, condole, dollar reds, greenish yellow greens. So this is the hue of green. The hue of blue. The hue of violet light variants, dark variants, tints and shades warm and cool. So as you pass through from warm to cool back to warm. Yeah. And there's the color contrast again contrast of Hugh light and dark, warm and cool, vivid and dull, complimentary contrast. The color wheel proportion. Now johanna sit and uses the word extension to talk about proportion. I'll explain that more when we get to the color grids. And then we have this thing simultaneous contrast which is again kind of a tricky thing. It has to do with colour illusion how one colour can look different based on its surrounding neighbors

Class Description


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Full-length class: Color for Designers: Exploration, Theory, and Application with Richard Mehl

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  • Effectively select and apply color to enhance your design projects
  • Utilize color theory language to justify your design decisions
  • Expand beyond preconceptions and your comfort zone in working with color


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; 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.

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

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.


This class is for designers and color aficionados of all levels working across various media, ranging from floral design to user experience design. It is also an appropriate refresher in color theory for experienced designers.