Science as Applied to Color in Art

The use of color as a design element with the effective employment of design principles is worthy of lifetimes of experimentation. Color has a breadth and depth of expressive qualities which make it stand out among the other design elements. The psychological, symbolic and spiritual aspects of color are of great interest. According to Johannes Itten; yellow symbolizes piercing intellect, red is the heaviest of the three primaries which makes it the most earth-bound of the three and blue, because of its receding quality, in other words, its depth is the most spiritual of colors. Green is symbolic of burgeoning Spring and the Resurrection of Christ. White symbolizes purity. Violet is symbolic of royalty.

An orange environment induces hunger. Blackboards were changed to green boards because green is a psychologically neutral color allowing students to become more focused on the subject of study. A soft, muted pink is used in the dormitories of asylums because of its calming effect. Deep cobalt blue is the most spiritual of colors. It is a calming color but to some people, its intensity causes a feeling of agitation. The list goes on and on.

Below there is a color chart in which I have illustrated the intermixture of the three primary pigment colors, RYB (red, yellow and blue), using the three primary print colors CMY, (cyan, magenta and yellow) excluding black, (K). The addition of black, (K), is necessary in the printing process in order to equal out the contrast of value and add depth to the color range. I have excluded blacK from this color chart to illustrate the pure range of color mixtures. In this color chart, I have illustrated the intermixture of the complementary colors on the color wheel. This color chart combines both pigment complementary intermixtures with the compliments used in photolithographic printmaking. It also shows the percentage of intermixtures between each of two complementary colors and the grayscale gradating from 100% black to 100% white. I used this scale of measurement to illustrate that gray remains 50% whether you are analyzing light or pigment or ink. When working with light, black being the absence of light equals 0% and white equals 100% or 255 when working with Photoshop. When working with pigment the reverse is true. Black equals 100% and white equals 0%. Thus, light mixtures are additive and the mixture of pigment is subtractive simply because when you add colored light the result is more luminous but when you add colored pigment the result is always increasingly more muted. An equal mixture of all three primary pigments equals a very dark grey which is almost black while an equal mixture of all three primary colors in light equals a brilliant white light.

When working with pigments, yellow, especially when placed on a dark ground is the most luminous of colors. Because stained glass is actually colored light, RGB, (red, green and blue), its properties are quite different. Cobalt blue is the most luminous color in a stained glass window. Note how the black matrix of the epoxy holding the glass together surrounding the yellow in the window below is easily seen, and how the black matrix surrounding the intense blue is dissolved in its halation.

7 Contrasts of Color as put forth by Johannes Itten

1a). Hue Contrast;

- observed differences designated by name; Cadmium Yellow, Hansa Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Yellow-Orange, Lilly White, Salmon, etc. - Importance of Knowing our Subjective Timbre

2b). Value Contrast or Light to Dark;

- use of White is necessary but minimal use of Black is preferable - Do I lean toward the Dark, the Light or in-between? The Complementary pair of Violet & Yellow is the most intense Value Contrast.

3c). Temperature Contrast or Cool to Warm;

- Blue & Orange is the most intense Temperature Contrast and the pair is also Complimentary. (Picasso used such a palette during his blue period) but this same palette can be used to create an orange period, hypothetically; a predominantly orange painting...

4d). Complementary Contrast;

- Opposites on the color wheel and most intense color contrasts; - All color harmony hinges on this; ex. remove 1 of the 3 primary colors, Red, Blue, and Yellow, ex. (Red) isolated from the opposing complementary combination of remaining 2 primaries, (Blue & Yellow when mixed resulting in green, the complement of Red) and with intermixing of White into all of these color combinations results in a broad range of Color Hues, Values, Cool to Warm, Saturation and of course the Complementary Contrast, indeed, all of the main, applicable color contrasts. The Complements Blue - Orange is the most intense Temperature Contrast, the Complements Violet - Yellow is the most Extreme Value Contrast - the Complements Green - Red are, perhaps, the most intense Contrast in Vibrance.

5e). Saturation Contrast or Intense Color to Muted Color;

- Power and Depth, from the transient and mundane to the sublime - this is the progenitor of fine art - this is what the palette is for - a shadow of this principle/contrast has been achieved by a very few throughout history - no one has ever come close to a complete mastery of this color application of art with the possible exception of Claude Monet and notwithstanding the multitude of unknown masters.

6f). Simultaneous Contrast;

- when colors affect each other simultaneously - Relativity into Action; It is the psychological - physiological tendency within us to perceive 2 adjacent colors, in different regions of the color wheel, in such a way that they appear to become more pronounced, that their specific natures become more enhanced to the extent that a gray that leans toward a cool-blue takes on an increased intensity of blue when a dull, burnt sienna is placed next to it. And the dull burnt sienna takes on an enhanced appearance of being more orange simultaneously. A dull red will make an adjacent dark muted yellow seem lighter, brighter and greener; in turn, the former will appear darker, more intense and more blue-violet.

         6f.b). Successive Contrast;

- Similarly, after viewing a color, esp. a vivid color for an extended period of time; and then when we look away, the afterimage is the opposite in value, temperature, saturation and complement, and the cause is to restore the psychological - physiological balance within our means of perception.

7g). Extension Contrast;

- The playground of color fields, contrasts of proportion, area, space, value, complements, and color intensity optically inducing movement; (causing the eye to bounce around the page), causing the color contrasts to become more pronounced, etc., balancing saturated color with muted color.

The color chart below is an illustration of the intermixture between the three primary light colors and their opposites, (complements). A complement is simply an equal combination of the two primaries left over when one is isolated. On the top left, red has been isolated from the three. On the top right is shown the compliment of red which is an equal intermixture of green and blue. Green and blue produce cyan. When green is isolated, its complement is an equal intermixture of red and blue which produces magenta. And when blue is isolated, its complement is the result of an equal intermixture of red and green which produces yellow. An equal mixture of all three primaries produces white in the center.

The logic behind the use of cyan, magenta and yellow as the three primaries in the photo-lithographic printing process is that they are the compliments or (opposites) of the three primaries in light. Since the one primary color in pigment, (yellow) is substituted for its equivalent primary in light, (green), and since without yellow it is impossible to achieve the full range of color mixtures using ink or pigment, through many years of arduous experimentation the formula of cyan, magenta and yellow was devised.

Printing inks are translucent and lose their chroma when printed on anything but white paper. Because it is also impossible to achieve 100% black and in effect, anything beyond 70% gray, the addition of blacK, (K) has been introduced into the photolithographic printing process. Therefore the four color process of cyan, magenta, yellow and blacK, (CMYK) was developed.

Below are four grayscale charts illustrating the differences between the mixture of RGB, CMY, CMYK and blacK only. The first grayscale was done with blacK only in quantity of ascending order from left to right. The next grayscale was created using equal percentages of RGB color in descending order from left to right. Note how the blacK grayscale is equal in value only to the RGB grayscale. The CMY grayscale below that is pale in comparison and retains some color that leans towards magenta. The CMYK grayscale below that retains some color and the gradation is not in equal steps as are the blacK and RGB grayscales. The three grayscales below that are the same as the three above them except they have been converted from RGB mode to grayscale mode in photoshop.

Statement of Purpose:

My purpose is simply to share with those who are interested, my own personal views on the subject of art and design. While I am acutely aware that my opinions are not, by any means universal, I have had some modicum of hands-on experience with the subject.

It is my primary intention to shed some light on the complexities of artistic composition. Art doesn't just happen. The creation of a painting, sculpture, work in stained glass or print can be excruciatingly painful on mental, emotional and spiritual levels.

I remember some years ago having a frustrating conversation with a sales-person working at a stained glass studio about color. It was this person's fallacious contention that artists were simply born with an ability to put colors together in an harmonious manner. I suggested that it was important for the novice to study the science of color. The response was an indignant refutation of my claim.

M. E. Chevreul was a leading chemist during the 1800s in France and was the greatest living authority on animal fats. His chemical investigations also included research in coloring materials. At the age of 38 in 1824 he was named by King Louis XVIII, Director of Dyes for the Royal Manufactures at the Gobelins in France.

Michel Eugène Chevreul, (1839) wrote the seminal work on color theory: De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs et de l'assortiment des objets colorés (On the law of simultaneous contrast of colors and the assortment of colored objects). - translated into English by Charles Martel as The principles of harmony and contrast of colours (1854) Michel Eugène Chevreul, (1855). The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours, and Their Applications to the Arts (2 ed.).

In 1839 his first French Edition of "De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs et de l'assortiment des objets colorés" was published. This "scientific" study of color was studied by Claude Monet and all of the French Impressionists and Post Impressionists. It is safe to assume that the magnificent color palettes of these artists would not have been achieved without Chevreul's publication on color theory.

Although I continue my studies of scientific thought as well as theoretical ideas as they pertain to art, ultimately my primary concern is the expression of the human spirit and how we relate to our God. My personal experience has been that, although my use of color is based on what I have learned through scientific theory, while in the act of creating, my knowledge and understanding of the practical use of color is transcended by my inner longing for an ever-deepening relationship with my beloved best friend who is my God.

All images are Copyrighted © 2021 CurtisGraphics all rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Artist - Designer - Painter since 1977 - Curtis R Doll Jr began creating stained glass windows in 1979, cutting glass, assembling the windows including installation and various and sundry jobs that go along with making stained glass - began designing monumental architectural glass installations in 1983 for churches, storefronts, malls, etc., and continued to design small, residential & commercial projects - in addition, creating computer graphics, manipulating and restoring photographs - creating digital, limited edition fine art prints since 1998 but his passion continues to be painting abstracts in gouache.