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

Lesson 2 of 10

Natural Awareness of Color & Playing

Richard Mehl

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

Richard Mehl

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Lesson Info

2. Natural Awareness of Color & Playing

Lesson Info

Natural Awareness of Color & Playing

through observation, we develop a natural awareness of color and this is something that we all do. We start to see flowers and these pictures by the way were all taken out on the eastern end of Long Island during one of the wonderful summers out there. And we start to see these things uh and we become accustomed to certain kinds of color combinations. This beautiful reddish orange red, orange against the blue sky. One of my favorite color combinations is blue and orange and red orange like this and particularly with the blue sky. And look at how beautiful that is. And with the green coming in at the bottom over there with those great flowers. The petals are very, very light violet or a light purple and with the yellow inside the tomato, the tomato is really a fantastic representation of a segment of the color wheel. We see orange red, yellow, yellow, orange, green. So literally that's half of the color wheel there in that one tomato down here we have some yellow and some green. Really ...

beautiful over there with a jack by this beautiful purple, light purple with a little bit of green and yellow in the background. And then of course the monarch butterfly, which is our version of the orange is so beautiful. Sitting on that nice orange flower with experience, we learn the names and associations of colors. This is again something we all do. Fire trucks are red grass is green, barney is purple, school bus, banana, big bird water. These things are all very familiar to us and we all learned these associations and those associations become very important to us in terms of our identification with this color. So plain and learning. I did a book called playing with color. And it was really about this idea of understanding the process of learning through play and what do we mean by play. Play is really experimentation. It's not knowing what an outcome is going to be. If you think about a game, uh any kind of a game we might play, we don't know what's going to happen. We just know what the boundaries are, what the rules are, what the expectations might be. But we really don't know the outcome. And that's a good way to think about art and design is not to really have a sense of where it's going to end up. We have an idea of where it's going. We have ideas about boundaries and perhaps rules. I love this quote play is the highest form of research Einstein and that's really is true. How could you become more invested in a subject matter or in an idea than by playing with it by experimenting with it by opening yourself up to all the possibilities. I'm gonna be talking a lot about this guy paul rand some of you may know him. Uh he's uh Died in the mid 90's. I believe he was one of my teachers in graduate school and introduced me to this whole concept of playing and experimenting. And he listed all these ideas these factors that are part of play, but also part of the design process, motivation, competition, challenge, stimulus goal, promise, anticipation, interest, curiosity, curiosity, skill observation, analysis, perception, judgment, improvisation, improvisation, so important, coordination, timing, concentration, abstraction, discretion, discrimination, economy, very important, patients restraint, exploitation, excitement, enjoyment of discovery, reward and fulfillment. All ideas that are part of play. Also part of work. This wonderful quote without play, there would be no Picasso have capitalized his name without play. There is no experimentation, experimentation is the quest for answers. That's a quote from paul rand in an interview with steve Heller. When we work with grids and stripes, we're gonna be talking about color contrasts and this is the realm of johanna satan. And one of the things that it brings to us is this idea of the seven color contrast. And here we have five of those seven listed contrasts of light and dark, probably the most accessible of all color contrasts. We think about light colors. We think about dark colours. We think about light variants of a color and dark variants of a color and a variant is just a one particular idea of a color. So light green, dark green, warm and cool. A warm color, meaning that it's positioned on the color wheel in the area of the orange and reds and yellows, cool opposite side of the color wheel, blues, purples, some greens vivid and dull, that's really saturation color can be very strong, very vivid, can be dull de saturated complementary colors. We talked about that and proportion this idea that you can use colors in certain proportional relationships where you develop a sense of importance. So color can be something that stands out or blends in. This is an expression of contrasts of temperature of warm and cool. Sometimes people paint their grids with wet media an expression of light and dark. Another expression of light and dark by the way, black and white and grays are colors. We're gonna be talking about those as colors even though we don't necessarily associate these with the pure colors like red and green and blue. These are still expressions of color contrasts of light and dark. Sometimes we make them out of found materials. Another thing we're gonna be talking about in the workshop is found objects found materials. So here the colors are cut out of magazines. Little graze ring texture into it. You can create beautiful arrays and compositions just based on contrasts of light and dark with the addition here of contrast of texture. And look at the compositional strategy, we have this dark area and then a lighter area. So we create a gradation from dark to light as we move from this area out. Yeah, another example of contrasts of light and dark and here the compositional strategy is also very, very similar to the last one. The latest area in the centre darker around the outside contrast of light and dark also great. A very calculated, very strategic design strategy where the gradation moves from a medium green to a very light green and then progressing up to this corner to the darkest green contrast of light and dark. You were looking at proportion. It's actually a theory that color is used in certain proportional relationships, very specific relationships in the case of yellow and purple. It's 123. So one part yellow uh combined with three parts of purple will create a sense of balance. So here, when we look at this composition equal numbers of red and green squares and more blue And no one colour stands out there all kind of equally important. So I've looked at that and we're not really focusing too much in any one color. Sometimes we use found materials to make these grids, Turkish pieces of a lime, a leaf parts of a coconut skin, a beautiful contrasting grid with variations of saturation, painted grids made with a very very thin wash. These are expressions of opposites. Again, something we're going to be talking about later in the workshop, these are split complementary color. It's a very interesting color set. So usually when we're talking about complementary colors, we're talking about two colours, but we can also have a split complementary color where we're talking about three colors. They perform a very similar function. We'll be talking about this later as well, contrast of light and dark contrast of vivid and dull, complimentary contrast, yellow and purple contrast of light and dark, vivid and dull. These are dipped IX compositions that work together to form a single unit. And I love this idea of using colour chips made out of colored paper to create a grid, but then trying to replicate that with found materials and something we're going to be working on later contrast and saturation. So we look at each one of these colors, the primaries, red, yellow and blue and then this down here, this color of cool, chromatic gray. Down here in each one we have light and dark. We have a little bit of vivid and dull. These, what are called concert Enas, folded panels that work together to tell stories, narratives in a sense, journeys from one side to the other that begin to suggest changes in color stripes. So along with grids, we often work with stripes. It's a very different kind of compositional model but allows us to explore color in yet a different way. Warm and cool expressions of opposites. Those are actually the same colors just used differently in different proportions. one X is expression of warm was an expression of cool

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.