Category Archives: _Reading Assignments

Vanessa Rodriguez Esparza |Color Theory History, Psychology of Color

Color theory History, psychology of color


I was interested to see Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s contribution to color theory since I know of his work as a playwright but had no idea that he also strongly disagreed with Newtons conclusions about light and color. His experimentation pushed color theory to another level past just the physical properties of light. This than opened new ways to represent and explain the emotional and physical response that humans have when interacting with color.

This concept was explored further by Johannes Itten at Bauhaus, he began to study color for the psychological effect its presence had on people.


His student Joseph Albers developed developed a new organization method to explain balance in color for color combinations by using mathematical proportions to create these new combinations. His book “Interaction of Color” became a staple for color theory as it is a deep investigation on what happens as colors interact with one another. Munsell’s color tree introduced a “tree” styled graph to see color in all three dimensions  based on Hue, Value and Chroma (HV/C) this new form of organizing color became the norm for industrialized systems.


The six basic color relationship concepts are :


Split complementary

Double complementary




Color Perception

I found it interesting that 8% of men experience visual color impairment, as opposed to .5% of women. The difference seemed surprisingly large to me. I also found it intriguing to learn that other organisms’ color spectrum varies quite a bit from a human’s. Some may be able to see less colors like dogs, but some have a spectrum that is much wider than a humans. I would be curious to see how the world would look through the eyes of different organisms.

Jason Sage_color contrast and optical illusion

In is interesting how the placement of hues have such a large effect on all the surrounding hues. A couple examples are, one the human perception mixes colors that are next to each other and usually sees a color that is not really there because they see it as a composition and the mixing of the colors.  And how the perception of a hue can be effected by the positing of it on the color wheel.

In experimentation with color it is interesting to learn that in a composition of light color with just the addition of a little dark color will completely dominate. Just as a small amount of warm color can dominate a large amount of light color.



Jason Sage_color perception

We see color due to three types of light receptors located in the retina of the eye called cones and receptors that don’t pick up wavelengths called rods.  One interesting thing about this is that cones don’t work so well at night time which is when the rods kick in.  This is why it is hard for us to distinguish color in the dark.

The three cone receptors that pick up the wavelengths are known as the L-cone, M-cone and S-cone.  These are the Long red wavelengths, Medium green wavelengths and Short blue wavelengths.  The absents of any of these results in some level of color blindness.

Color blindness affect more males then females with 8% being male .5% being female.  People that lack cone receptors cannot see color.  Another way color is received differently by the human eye is in technology.  In this format we read color in two different formats RGB which is printed ink and CMYK which is lightwaves as seen in television screens.

People with impaired vision have a hard time perceiving color contrast when having the contrasting colors the same value.  One effect way to get this across is making the light color lighter and dark color darker.


Color Perception


1. Males tend to have more problems with color, like color blindness.

2. 8% of men and .5% of females have some kind of color deficiency.

3.  Every human has three types of cones in their eyes, this is why we are able to see color. (S-Cone, L-Cone, M-Cone)

4. S-Cones are connected with the color blue, L-Cones are connect with red, and M-Cones are connected with the color green.

5. Cones are more active during the day or an bright place, and at night since cones aren’t very functional in the dark are taken over by rods.

Color Optical Illusions

This talks a lot about Partitive mixing.

Partitive mixing is different from actually mixing together pigments in order to create a new color. Partitive mixing is when you use two different shapes (dots or lines) and carefully put them next to each other, making it look like it formed a new color.  This kind of partitive mixing is called a Pseudoadditive; eye is mixing the light reflected off the pigments.

Michel Chevreul  also confirmed the effects that a color can have when put on top of a different colored background. An example of this is Red on white and black.

The Red on White seems to be more fuller since the white is already bright to the eye. However, the Red on black makes the red look brighter and “hotter” because black is already a dark color.  This is called iridescence.

Color Perception

  • About eight percent of all men have some sort of color deficiency, however women only have about half of a percent.
  • There are three cones within the eye called the following, the L-cone, M-cone and S-cone, all which acknowledge red wavelengths, green wavelengths and blue wavelengths.
  • Any color deficiencies occur in the L-cones or M-cones.
  • If there is low light, cones do not detect them. However this is when the rods in our eyes kick in and since they do not determine different wavelengths it creates a blue-gray vision that is called nighttime.
  • Color blindness affects more males than females.

Color Perceptions

Although everyone discriminates between colors differently, designers can make certain color choices to increase visual accessibility. Color contrasts must sometimes be exaggerated to ensure that even those with color deficiencies are able to distinguish between different hues and values.

Artists and designers choose colors carefully, sometimes altering the natural color of things to incite a specific reaction. Local color refers to the actual and expected hue, whereas occult color means a hue that is unexpected and abnormal for a specific object or scene.

The rods and cones in our eyes work differently under different light conditions. Cones do not function well at night so rods take over to help distinguish forms when our ability to separate between colors is lost.

Color perceptions vary between species. Some animals, like dogs, have a heightened nocturnal vision in order to compensate for their low color vision.

Color Contrasts and Optical Illusions

I found it interesting how many factors affect how we perceive color. Different contrasts, lighting, patterns, etc can all change how we see a color. It was intriguing to learn that our brains are better at keeping colors constant through different lighting than when colors are simply paired with certain other colors. Another aspect of color that I found compelling dealt with Seurat’s experimentation with pointilist painting. Although complementary colors next to each other create a vibrancy, when used as small dots to cover larger areas, their color instead visually mix together to create more grayish colors.

With regards to optical illusions, I was most surprised to learn that your eyes could be tricked into seeing color with only black and white via different patterns.

Color Theory History, Psychology of Color

The reading about Geothe and Johannes Itten was interesting. I agree to what Geothe believed in which colors have a connection to peoples emotions and color has a psychological impact on people. When I look at different designs and artworks, color does have a huge impact on how I see the piece of work and how that piece of work interacts with my feelings and thoughts. I really feel that Itten’s triangular diagram shows a good representation of the different hues each color has.