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These lessons are applicable to a number of fields, including graphic design, photography, and illustration, and both traditional and digital media. Dive in and get a fresh look at color that is sure to revitalize your creativity and your work.
- Understanding why color is essential for you as an artist, designer, or human being
- Storytelling with color
- Understanding brand identity and color language
- Reviewing the history of color usage, from print to digital
- Working with the color wheel
- Understanding value, saturation, and temperature
- Seeing through color: opaque, translucent, and transparent
- Creating contrast
- Exploring depth of field
- Seeing complementary relationships in light
- Achieving harmony and discord in a palette
- Understanding color blindness
Skill Level Beginner
The compulsion to make images that tell stories, document history, or communicate something is part of being human. We have language. But before language we had pictures. How we translated our thoughts into pictures plays into our conversation about color. Because our ability to communicate through imagery has changed drastically through time, and our use of color has changed right along with it. When the first images were created, at least the ones we know about, the medium was limited to the blackness of charcoal and the tone of a caved wall.
Using what was available made sense. As time marched on, natural pigmentation became a part of visual language. Using dyes and stains in a multitude of cultures, and on a variety of surfaces. Pigments were made with colored powders, derived from such natural sources, as mango leaves, cuttle fish, metallic salts. Coke meal beetles and even ash from the bones of mummies. The medium of communication shifted from walls, to pottery, caskets, paper, and every day objects.
Using a variety of surfaces made the application of color more about the surface it needed to cling to, and the limitations inherent in it, than color as a source of meaning. Binders have been used and still are used to help powders adhere the surfaces. In Egypt, the primary medium used was water color which combined natural pigments with gum arabic to hold the color to the surface. Water color was the primary medium used on paper scrolls and silk in ancient China.
The works of art were shown and then tucked away from the light. Exposure to light has always been an issue for this medium, as the light makes the color less permanent. Color permanence has been a source of concern for artists through the ages. And was modified by the introduction of oil paints and egg tempera. During the Renaissance, when more complex painting techniques and styles were being developed. The yolk of an egg binds the color to the surface and the medium of egg tempera, and produces a color that lends itself to durability over time.
Vegetable and linseed oil in oil paints allowed for glazing and rich color combinations. With the chemical formulas being perfected for vibrancy and permanence. Talented color mixers, known as color men were the apprentices who blended the perfect combination of colors by mulling or mixing the pigments and binders in the 17th and 18th centuries. The industrial age in the 19th century changed the equation by blending science and art to produce color in massive quantities, allowing the amateur artists access to readily available art materials.
The introduction of new chemically developed colors in the 20th century, and materials such as alkyds and acrylics, extended the permanence and durability of works of art. But the most dramatic change happened with the introduction of the personal computer in the late 1980s and Adobe Photoshop in the early 1990s. For the first time, mixing, layering, designing with color, lay at the fingertips of anyone able to type on a keyboard or click a mouse, changing everything about the application of color.
Having access to so many ways to make color expands the language of images, and gives rise to new cross pollinations of materials and methods of combining traditional and digital techniques. Unlike the limitations of cavemen and women, we've more ways than ever to play, speak, and revel in color.