The role of color in art and in general design composition is explicit. Color is one of the most expressive qualities of art, which is used to communicate a variety of moods, attitudes and themes. Various characteristics are associated with color, key of which include the value and hue of color. The hue in this regard is defined as the pure color spectrum. Value on the other hand refers to the relative lightness or darkness associated with a particular color. These attributes of color form and create spatial differentiations. The value of color for instance, can be described through other attributes such as the contrast and gradation, which help in separating items in space. For color to have its described qualities and to be able to perform the functions it is associated with, it has to be composed of elements that give distinctive attributes upon exposure to different environmental aspects.
The Composition of Color
Color can either exist in pure hues or subtractive mixtures. The composition of light is the key determinant of color composition. Light in its entirety, is composed of a mixture of white light and colored light. Theoretically, all the color hues can be obtained through mixing different pure hues described as the primaries. When all the pigment primaries are combined, the result is described as the black color. Other colors come in wavelengths depending on the mixing ratio and type of primaries mixed up (Makin and Wuerger 616). Colored light therefore, is essentially a mixture of different wavelengths with a dominant hue. The lightness of the dominant hue increases with exposure to white light. This increase in lightness eventually results in the fading of the dominant hue.
While there is a general agreement that primaries can be mixed to form other colors, there is a clear distinction between the painters’ primaries and the printer’s primaries. The painters’ primaries are the traditional definitions of primaries and include red, blue and green. These colors do not mix to clear hues such as yellow and green as opposed to the contemporary printers’ primaries definition. The printers’ primaries consist of magenta, cyan and yellow, which can be mixed into clear colors across the entire spectrum (Jirousek par. 3). The hypothesis that all colors can be created from the primaries is therefore disparate from the traditional perception of primary colors. While the printers’ primaries are the basis for color printing, the computer screen does not give clear hues due to the differences between the color mixture in light and actual pigment color mixtures.
While mixing colors to create other hues, the dominant hues can be saturated or de-saturated. Saturation occurs when a dominant hue is mixed with black to darken or with grey to lighten or darken the value of the color. De-saturation on the other hand, is achieved by mixing the dominant hues with white to lighten (Jirousek par. 4). In composing colors, there is also the concept of light primaries which consist of red, blue and green. This definition is activated when there is an overlap of theoretical spot lights casted on a white wall or when colored light is mixed. A mixture of the three light primaries forms white light, which is different from the conventional mixture that results in black color. According to Jirousek (par. 3), this difference is due to the fact that light primaries are mostly composed of color mixes as light, that is common in computers.
The Color Circle and Color Theories
The perception of color depends on how the eye receives color wavelengths. Common occurrences in the development of color through eye receptors were the basis of the formation of different approaches to color classification. The two most common practices in color description include the use of the color triangle and the color circle. The color triangle represents the three primaries as three apexes of the triangle. The edges define the colors composed by mixtures of the two colors at the apexes. The triangle and the color circle are some of the systems used in communicating color ideas through spatial differences. Each of the two is based on the measure and definition of color mixes as described by researchers. The color circle represents the total range of hues available to color and how they are interrelated. According to Jirousek (par. 2), the color circle shows complementary colors opposite each other. Complementary colors in this regard are those which when mixed, have the impact of dulling the hue.
Besides the color circle, there are other factors that are used in the description and composition of color. Color theories describe the role of different color features in the development of hues and values of color. Wool and others (2) suggested that the unique hues, which are described by others as the primaries form the uniform language of color construction across languages. They also provide important mental images for the construction of color hues. Red, Yellow and green hues are described as linguistically salient and useful in the organization of color concepts. In any color formation activity, the phenomenological experience of color is based on the combination of at least two of the primaries to create a two dimensional color space where each of the color hues can be described based on its reflected color combinations. While most studies recognize the importance of primaries in color construction, there are reports indicating that there is no uniqueness to the primaries. For instance, the unique hues have no relevance to the minima of wavelength discrimination curves. Wavelength discrimination curves correspond to the hue discrimination thresholds in the color circle (Algar and others 163). Moreover, in the color circle, color axes cannot be deduced from the color induction which occurs along two privileged axes. This means that colors comprising of more than two of the primaries cannot be depicted two dimensionally. Any two dimensional linear space would therefore be unsuited for representing a multi hue color system due to the hue- discrimination thresholds on the color wheel.
The primacy of the unique hues was due to the combination of cone components. Color component mechanisms are represented as linear combinations through the use of cone signals. The combination of trichromacy and opponency in color formation, a chromaticity diagram can be used to represent cone signals as straight lines which join opponent primary hues in uniqueness (Jirousek par. 5). Each pair of unique hues is non- linear with neutral white light. The nonlinearity has also been confirmed with other methods such as the development of the complementary system. Through research on complementary colors however, it has been shown that the findings on complementary colors correspond to what was earlier known. For instance, blue and orange are complementary, same as yellow and violet. In terms of opponency relations, Krantz (305) describes the concept of opponent cancellation in color descriptions. According to Krantz (305), opponent cancellation results in the analysis of color equivalence relations which is based on the matching of hue characteristics, There is the aspect of additive whiteness matching which helps in developing a color description extension related to the representation theorem. The theorem itself describes color in terms of three coordinates namely luminance, hue and value as represented by Makin and Wuerger (616). It also reflects a perfect representation of nonlinear phenomena in hue shifts.
Effective use of color in print and in painting requires an understanding of the color composition. The conventional perception is that all colors are combinations of two or more colors and that the basis of each color composition is the primary colors. The description of primary colors differs from painting to printing, and the results of mixing any primary colors from any of the definitive approaches are different. On the one hand, the painting primaries do not produce clear hues of some colors such as purple and violet. On the other hand, the printing primaries produce clear hues which can somewhat be represented in the linear two dimensional space. The color wheel perfectly represents the complementary characteristic of colors, as confirmed by various past researches. Color theories help to explain the relationships between colors in an even better perspective through the clarification that any combination of more than two primaries surpasses the hue discrimination thresholds and thus cannot be represented two dimensionally. By understanding this, artists can be able to use different color schemes depending on the type of art to be produced.
Algar, W. Russ, de Jong, Caitlin A.G., Maxwell, E. Jane and Atkins, Chad G. Demonstration of the spectrophotometric complementary color wheel using LEDs and indicator dyes. Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 93, no. 1, (2016), 162- 165. Retrieved from pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00665
Jirousek, Charlotte. Color, value and hue. Art, Design and Visual Thinking, 1995. Retrieved from char.txa.cornell.edu/language/element/color/color.htm
Krantz, David H. Color measurement and color theory: II opponent –colors theory. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, vol. 12, no. 3, (1975), 305- 327. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022249675900279
Makin, Alexis D.J. and Wuerger, Sophie M. The IAT shows no evidence for Kandinsky’s color-shape associations. Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 4, (2013), 616. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3769683/
Wool, Lauren E., Komban, Stanley J., Kremkow, Jens, Jansen, Michael, Li, Xiaobing and Alonso, Jose- Manuel. Salience of unique hues and implications for color theory. Journal of Vision, vol. 15, no. 10, (2015). Retrieved from jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2213251