Monday, April 16, 2012

From the Desk: Interaction of Color Book Review

Book title: Interaction of Color
Author: Josef Albers

Written almost 50 years ago, this book really caught me off-guard. It is written with a very practical mindset of experimentation and observation. Unlike other color theory books I've read, this book's studies utilize color paper to create plates for study purposes, rather than allow for the blending of two colors via mixable pigments. The result is a number of very scientific-like observations about the perception of color, and more specifically, the interaction of multiple colors when placed next to each other in various ways and combinations.

What I learned:

The perception of color is unique to each person, and there is no way to actually know how another person perceives color. Albers puts this forward early on in what seems like a statement to undermine the rest of the book, but he's very right. Color blindness is a perfect example of how we know that some people definitely do not perceive color in the same way.

The perception of one color is influenced by colors that are surrounding it. The amount and type of influence obviously depends on the colors. Some examples of this are after-image effects, hue shifts, value shifts, and vibrating boundaries. This is particularly valuable in painting miniatures, especially when thinking about what colors are bordering each other. One such summation of this is the Bezold Effect.

In addition to looking at colors as warm or cool (traditionally yellow-orange-red vs blue), it was also mentioned schools of thoughts that look at scales of light/dark (blue-violet vs yellow-orange), and wet/dry (green vs violet-red-orange). It had never really occurred to me to think of all these comparisons, but having it pointed out makes it obvious. I suspect I'll be incorporating this into my upcoming P3 color wheel project.

Honestly, I learned a lot more from this book. I've added a whole extra section to this review at the bottom with a bunch of other highlights of those items.

What I liked:

Color plates - These were awesome. Printed with great color accuracy, these color plates did an incredible job of demonstrating the various color interactions described by Albers. Some of them were so vivid in their demonstrations that it was hard not to stare at them for several minutes.

Short but sweet - The book is concise and to the point. About half of the book was the actual text content and the other half was color plates with annotations. I didn't skip a single word of this book, and that's really saying something because most "educational" books end up with some amount of content that I lightly skim read because there's too much repetition or over-explanation.

What I didn't care for:

Two books put together - Having the color plates in the second half of the book was a little disjointed. I ended up with two bookmarks as I worked my way through the whole thing. Not necessarily a huge issue and I get why it was done, but still a little frustrating.

A little too concise - I could have actually stood to have this work be a bit longer. Some items in it barely get a one line treatment and then he moves on. There's sort of an assumption of plenty of prior art training I think. Both a plus and a minus on this one.

What I would have liked to have:

More color plates! Even though there were a number of (obviously) carefully chosen plates, I could have used even more examples. Certainly I can make some of my own, but having more would have been great.

Beyond that, the book really felt complete. Probably because it was the output of the classes that Albers taught. And with that, I'll leave you with a quote I found incredibly appropriate both from and for this book:

... good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.

Glossary of a bunch of other stuff I learned:
  • Scotopic vs Photopic vision - Scotopic is "low light" vision which is predominantly from the rods of the eye. Those are more sensitive to the blue-green range of wavelengths, which is why things appear more blue at night. Photopic is at the higher light, supported more by cones in the eye, and obviously more sensitive to red-yellow ranges of light.
  • The Weber-Fechner Law - Perception of an arithmetic progression of color darkness depends on a geometric physical progression of the application of that color. That is to say, to have a range of colors look like they are equal darkness steps apart requires a geometrically increasing application of paint (1, 2, 4, 8, 16 layers of paint to create a progression of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
  • The Munsell Color Tree - A 3 dimensional charting of colors. The first color system that broke down color qualities into hue, value, and chroma. Ironically, the color wheel I purchased not too long ago us a representation of the Munsell system.
  • Ostwald Color System - Similar to Munsell system, but organizes by dominant wavelength, purity, and luminance.
  • Faber Birren Color System - I'm still not entirely clear on this one since it was mentioned in half a sentence, but I've already ordered a book.

1 comment:

Muskie said...

Not your usual miniature painting article. ;-)