How Color Theory Came About

Throughout history, color theorists have attempted to explain how the scientific and psychological aspects of colors operate. They devised systems using supporting frameworks that have evolved. Our current perceptions and understandings of color are based on the accomplishments of these great thinkers. The concepts of color vision, color interactions, and color systems were some of the most important contributions to color education.

Theorist’s concepts at a glance…

Seeing Color
Putting Color Into Systems
Understanding How Colors Interact

Seeing Color

English physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) made the most significant scientific discovery related to color when he began experimenting with light rays. He discovered that sunlight is composed of all colors in the visible spectrum; and that light could bend or refract when directed at a prism resulting in an array of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, each with different ranges and wavelengths. This led to Newton becoming the first to understand the rainbow and provide our modern ideas about how we ‘see’ color.

How Color Theory Came About

Putting Color Into Systems

Although Leonardo Da Vinci was the first to arrange colors, Sir Isaac Newton was the first to arrange them in a circular shape becoming the model for many future color systems including the current designers color wheel.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832) designed a numbering system for each hue according to its luminosity: 10 for white through 0 for black. This later inspired Albert Munsell’s value (or gray) scale where white is 10 and black is 0.

Albert Munsell, American color theorist (1858-1918) created the first color system accepted by the US Bureau of Standards for use in standardizing pigment specification. He was able to translate the 2-D wheel into a 3-D color tree complete with hue, value, and chroma.

How Color Theory Came About

Understanding How Colors Interact

Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889) was a French chemist whose findings led to psychological concepts of color harmonies. He researched and recorded human reactions to adjacent colors and founded the laws of simultaneous contrast: the effect on a color when placed next to or upon another color.

Albert Munsell incorporated the complementary (opposites) combinations and allowed them to be viewed across from each other.

Josef Albers (1888-1976) experimented with how monochromatic colors of different values interact through his abstract series, Homage to the Square.

How Color Theory Came About

Faber Birren, American educator (1900-1988) compiled and added to the elements of harmony: adjacent, opposite, split-complementary, and triad. He also went on to include color interactions with effects of luster, iridescence, luminosity, and transparency.

Comments

  1. I want to use the tin color in the living room, art deco style. How can I incorporate a berry and gold color?

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