Notebook, 1993-


Design Principles - Color Principles - Color Design

[From: Wong, Wucius. Color Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1987]

Color Design


Tools & Materials

Designs with Value Gradations - Points as Lines in Value Gradations - Points as Planes in Value Gradations

Designs with Chroma Gradations - Lines as Bands in Chroma Gradations - Shapes as Patterns in Chroma Gradations

Designs with Hue Gradations - Lines in Hue Gradations - Lines and Planes in Hue Gradations

Designs with Hue Mixtures - Warn/Cool Sensations Generated by Hues - Overlapping Planes in Hue Gradations

Designs with Complementary Hues - Split-complementary Hues - Illusory Volumes Created with Complementary Hues - Creating Patterns with Complementary Hues - Complementary Hues with Hue Gradations - Complementary Hues with Value Gradations - Complementary Hues with Chroma Gradations

Designs with Unrelated Hues - Float Planes of Unrelated Hues - Unrelated Hues with A Dominant Tint

Developing a Color Scheme - A Color Scheme with Analogous Hues - A Color Scheme with Complementary Hues - A Color Scheme with Unrelated Hues - The Control of Value and Chroma in a Color Scheme

The information gathered in this Part has been taken from different periods of my teaching career. This is reflected in the illustrations, which were created by students in my color design course [Note: These splendid illustrations from the original text are not included here.] These illustrations include abstract designs with points, lines, and planes; geometrical designs with rigid structures; and organic designs based on natural forms. This variety, I believe offers the reader an opportunity to consider the alternatives and to compare different approaches.

By presenting formal and informal compositions and exploring analogy and contrast in hue, value, and chroma, design and color concepts are thus brought together in a variety of ways. Each illustration represents an attempt to create an effective color scheme, which is the principal aim of this text. [59]

Few tools are required to create color designs. In addition to the basics like pencils, erasers, rulers, and set squares, there are brushes, ruling pens, and bow compasses.

Red sable watercolor brushes with round points are recommended for applying paint to small areas. Wash brushes with flat points [made of soft animal hair] are good for applying paint to large areas. For rectilinear shapes, a ruling pen could be used with more liquefied colors to establish edges before brushes are used to fill in the color. A bow compass can similarly be used for the edges of circular shapes.

White bond paper is generally adequate for sketching, or for initial color visualizations with felt-tip markers. An illustration board of medium grain with a white surface is ideal at later stages of the design process.

The pigments to be used are poster colors that typically come in glass or plastic jars. DesignersÍ colors or gouache colors, which come in tubes, can also be used. The colors must be of a good grade, brilliant enough to express hues of strong chroma, and able to be smoothly applied. [p. 59]

The following is a recommended list of brand name poster colors [the same color produced by two manufacturers might bear different names]:

The list is rather long, but certain colors should be priorities. We should begin with white, black, and the three scientific primaries [magenta-red, yellow, and cyan-blue]. Rose Transparent is probably the closest poster color to magenta-red; Cerulean Blue might replace cyan-blue; Cadmium Lemon matches the primary yellow; Cadmium Yellow Pale is not far off. These colors can be mixed to obtain secondary hues.

The next color to acquire is a traditional orange-biased red, such as Vermilion or Flame Red. You should then get a purple-biased blue-Ultramarine Pale

For hue gradations that maintain strong chroma, secondaries can be useful--Cadmium Orange and Cyprus Green. Purple can be added last, or not at all, as a mixture of Rose Transparent and Ultramarine Pale produces an adequate substitute.

Many people like to include such colors as brown and yellow ochre. Brown is a combination of orange and black; introducing a bit of purple to yellow produces yellow ochre. These are therefore not essential. [pp. 59-60]

The neutral colors are not necessary for color design exercises, as the manipulation of values with minimum chroma in a design create the same effects as designing with neutral colors.

The faint tint of color in designs with minimum chroma can lend a sense of warmth or coolness to a composition . The presence of such a tint of a hue is more noticeable when there are other hues with which to compare it. For instance, one may have a yellowish cast, whereas another may appear brownish, because an orange hue is present. Both designs show value gradations with minimum chroma.

Value gradations maintaining maximum chroma emphasize the hue. When value steps in a design cover a wide range, the value step with the hue at its strongest chroma is most prominent. This is less apparent in one [example] because the light background tends to darken the hue as a result of simultaneous contrast. Another [example] features the hue purple-red [which is already a middle value] as the lightest value step. This shortens the value range, reduces value contrast, and enhances chroma contrast, establishing a low-key effect with hue shining in the dark.

Value gradations are effective for creating spatial illusions. Low values against a very dark background fade into the distance, but high values seem to move forward. Against a very light background, dark values seem to move forward, and light values fade into the background

Another [example] shows a background of middle value, making both light and dark values stand out. The spatial effects are ambiguous, which is the aim in this design. [p. 61]

Points as Lines in Value Gradations
Value gradations can be effected with a sequence of points arranged in lines. The size of points, either round or oval, has to be uniform within one design.

A single round point has no direction, but in a sequence, points become lines that must have an inclination. Overlapping points enhance a sense of depth, particularly in [an example], where the rows of points seem to laterally penetrate the space behind. [p. 62]

Points as Planes in Value Gradations
When points are arranged in adjacent lines, they form planes. Points are the textural components of planes. [An example] features a ribbon-like plane that curves in space; its light values create a metallic glow.

The value gradations of the oval points arranged as square planes in another [example] suggest diagonals, which do not actually exist in the design. [p. 62]

Differences in chroma among colors of the same hue are best expressed with minimum variations in value. There are fewer gradations of chroma than of value in color, and the clarity of shapes should be maintained when manipulating chroma. Therefore designs that stress the effects of chroma should not be overly complicated, and chroma gradations should have apparent steps and simple rhythms. A dark background is effective, because the colors are heightened by contrast, appearing more luminous.

The illustration included herein may not show all colors with uniform values, because colors are slightly distorted when reproduced. [Examples], however, maintain values that are closely related more successfully than the others.

[Examples] use a lighter value for the chroma gradations. The strongest chroma step is therefore weaker than that of the other examples, producing a soft image.

[Example] contains a dark background as well as several dark planes of slightly lighter value than the background. Values vary here more than in the other designs.

Two hues instead of one were used to create the design in [another example.] Because one hue is darker than the other, the design shows considerable value as well as hue contrast in addition to gradations of chroma. [p. 65]

Lines as Bands in Chroma Gradations
Sequential lines can form ribbonlike bands that bend, fold, twist, or knot. One example shows only straight bands. Another shows a band in disarray at one end and intercepted with solid planes.

Chroma gradations cannot be easily manipulated to create illusions of depth as can value gradations. We might expect the strongest chroma to advance and the weakest chroma to recede in space, but if the chroma gradations vary slightly in value, the darker values recede and the lighter values advance on a dark background regardless of the chroma strength. Bands of color, however, can suggest a tubular shape, especially in one example, where the strongest chromasis at the center of the band. [p. 66]

Shapes as Patterns in Chroma Gradations
{Examples] demonstrate how shapes can be used to create patterns in chroma gradations. The shapes are actually birds that appear as planes in one example and as line and plane combinations in another.

The shapes in the first are first rotated and then translated. The rotation consists of six birds, which together become a super-unit form that is then translated in a staggered grid. There is little depth illusion except that the strong orange advances slightly.

The other also features a super-unit form in translation--four birds arranged in two groups. Each group has two overlapping birds and is rotated 180 degrees from the other group within the super-unit form. The pattern emphasizes a diagonal arrangement. [p. 66]

In value gradations, only one hue is introduced with chroma either in maximum or minimum expression. In chroma gradations, one or two hues can be used with slight changes in value. In hue gradations, a wide range of hues allows for a fuller expression of color. When effecting hue gradations, we can either maintain consistent value or chroma, but not both. Hues at full chroma strength differ considerably in value [see discussion of the color solid in Part II]. When all the hues are confined to one value step, value-adjusted hues normally show a weakening of chroma.

To establish a range of hue gradations, it is necessary to determine the following:

a. the first hue in the range

b. the last hue in the range

c. the number of steps in the gradation

Fixing the first and last hues in the range determines whether the range will be narrow or wide. A narrow range comprises analogous hues, as in an example which contains hues that are within 60 degrees of each other on the color circle. When a design contains a wide range of hues, these can encompass half of the color circle, or even the whole color circle in exceptional cases.

The number of steps in the gradation depends on the design. More steps of gradation effect slow changes in hue and produce a smooth design. Fewer steps of gradation effect rapid changes, which quicken the rhythm and increase the contrast in the final image.

The way chroma strength is maintained or changed affects the transition between hues. ....Hues that are a great distance form each other on the color circle can be mixed directly to produce a range of hue gradations with a marked reduction of chroma strength. [p. 69]

Lines in Hue Gradations
[Examples] are composed of sequences of lines that form bands.... In hue gradations, yellow, the hue with the lightest value, is the most visible, particularly on dark backgrounds. Value still plays an important role in the creation of spatial illusions.

[Examples] feature lines floating in space. One has two sets of parallel lines which are at right angles to each other, with one vertical line bisecting the angle. Analogous colors appear on the left side of the design, but proceed toward complementary contrast, clearly represented by the green vertical line on the red background.

The lines in another gradually change direction, creating a loop in space. The lines in another change direction as if being pulled by gravity. [p. 70]

Lines and Planes in Hue Gradations
The design area was divided into flat planes before the lines were position in two examples. The planes tend to impose a pattern, confining the movements of the lines and restricting the play of illusory space by limiting depth. Both figures also show changes in chroma strength in the hue gradations, particularly noticeable in the weaker chroma of the green hues.

One features parallel lines in two directions; thy yellow lines stand out more than others. Hue gradations are not orderly arranged.

The lines in the other go in all directions. The progress of hue gradations in the planes is the reverse of that in the lines, and hue contrast is the least prominent among the central planes. [p. 70]

Any two hues can be mixed to form a range of hue gradations. If they are analogous and are correctly biased, the hue gradations that result maintain considerable chroma strength. If they are not analogous and/or not correctly biased, the result will show weaker chroma in the mixtures. When complementary hues are mixed, chroma weakens to a significant degree.

The presence of weakened chroma in the range of hue gradations enhances chroma contrast, because the two original hues stand out distinctly from their mixtures.

Warm/Cool Sensations Generated by Hues
Our knowledge of hue is incomplete without an understanding of warm/cool sensations generated by hues. A warm sensation is created with the presence of the hue associated with fire--orange [a mixture of red and yellow]. Any hue containing red, yellow, or both expresses warmth. A cool sensation is generated by the presence of the hue associated with water or sky--blue. A hue containing blue expresses coolness.

The warmth or coolness of a hue, however, is relative; a hue may seem warm when compared with a cooler hue and cool when compared with a warmer hue. The greater the amount of red or yellow in a hue, the warmer it appears. Likewise, the more blue present in a hue, the cooler it seems. Green, for instance, has an equal amount of yellow and blue. It seems warm when compared with blue-green, which contains more blue, but appears cool when compared with yellow-green, which contains more yellow. The hues between red and yellow are all warm; it is difficult to compare warm and cool effects among these, though hues closer to the standard orange are generally considered warmer.

Warm/cool sensations also affect spatial illusion in a design. Because warm hues seem to advance whereas cool hues seem to recede, the warmth or coolness of elements in a design can effectively express space. The way a [p. 73] hue relates to its background is also important. It tends to stand out if contrast with the background is great, and to fade when it blends into the background.

Hues can be mixed to establish a smooth transition between warm and cool sensations. At a certain stage in the mixture, the color may exhibit no inclination toward warmth or coolness.

Simultaneous contrast resulting in a change of chroma significantly affects the warm/cool sensations. A strong warm color can make a weaker color of the same hue look cool, and conversely, a strong cool color can make a weaker color of the same hue look warm. [pp. 73-74]

Overlapping Planes in Hue Gradations
A sequence of overlapping planes expresses an illusion of depth that is further enhanced with hue gradations. This illusion works especially well if the colors at one end of the range blend into the background.

Most of the examples here display ambiguous spatial effects.... Two examples feature flat curvilinear planes; others are rectilinear shapes that are rotated and/or translated into stacked, bent, folded, or torn configurations. In two examples, the hues that are mixed are also given value variations or gradations. [p. 74]

Complementary hues lie on opposite sides of the color circle. They produce the greatest hue contrast, especially when value differences are minimal. Eye-catching designs are therefore generally created using complementary hues.

Hues that are not exactly 180 degrees apart on the color circle are considered near-complementary hues and have effects similar to complementary hues. [p. 77]

Split-complementary Hues
Split-complimentary hues establish a multicolored scheme with analogous and contrasting color relationships. Split-complementary hues are obtained by replacing one of the complementary hues with the hues adjacent to it on the color circle. Red and green thus become red and yellow-green, green-blue; or, purple-red, red-orange, and green.

It is also possible to split hues without replacing any of the complements. For instance, the complements of red and green can become split complements by including yellow-green and blue-green, or purple-red and red-orange.

Splitting one of the complementary hues in a pair produced three or four hues, and splitting both produces even more. A multicolored scheme with analogous and contrasting hues is thus created. Near-complementary hues are split in a similar way. [p. 77]

Illusory Volumes Created with Complementary Hues
[Examples] all feature illusions of volume using complementary hues. Blue, red-orange, and orange-yellow form a split complementary color scheme in two examples. With the blue hue slightly heightened in value, the three hues are seen roughly in the value steps of 4, 6, and 8, adding visual clarification to the three-dimensional illusions.

Two examples explore ambiguous representations of volume and space with the direct mixing of complementary hues. One also incorporates value variations in the process of hue intermixing.

The compositions display a wide expanse of background, which tends to emphasize depth. [p. 78]

Creating Patterns with Complementary Hues
[Examples] have overall patterns created with invisible lines that form a grid made up of numerous spatial cells [subdivisions of space]. Shapes are generally confined to the spatial cells, but sometimes introduce variations and accentuations that keep the designs from becoming monotonous patterns.

Split-complementary hues are used in both illustrations. A scintillating effect results from hues of closely related value, which is particularly obvious in the reds and greens of one design. [p. 78]

Complementary Hues with Hue Gradations
Either or both of the complementary hues in a color scheme can, instead of splitting into its adjacent hues, mix with these to produce a range of color gradations. Dissolving effects are achieved if the gradations are smooth.

[Example] demonstrates the same effect, although the hue gradations actually extend to cover half the colors in the color circle. The large planes, however, are of complementary hues and therefore dominate the color scheme. The edges of the planes are softened with sequential lines forming hue gradations. [p. 81]

Complementary Hues with Value Gradations
[Examples] explore complementary hues with value gradations. One also shows a bit of hue intermixing. The value effects in these illustrations are more apparent than the contrast between the complementary hues, which rarely exhibit strong chroma when they are adjacent.

The informal composition in one is divided into three parts by invisible lines, which interrupt only slightly the continuity of shapes.

One is a formal composition with bilateral symmetry; dissecting invisible straight lines form four rectangular panels in the lower-middle portion of the design. The image is reflected along a central axis, but one hue sometimes changes to the other on the opposite side of the axis.

The design area in one is formally divided into regular spatial cells, and there are concentric dilations. The image is based on a kind of flower, which is not presented as a regular shape with repetitive, symmetrical elements. The regular and irregular aspects, however, make the design interesting The complementary hues in their full chroma are more loosely related here than they are in other examples. Because red and green are at the same value step, there is strong contrast between hues and the design scintillates.

When the design are is divided, it becomes spatially transformed; it [p. 81] seems as if something transparent, or with refracting or reflecting properties, were superimposed on the design. Each part of the design might be spatially autonomous, with shapes and background only indirectly related to adjacent parts. [pp. 81-82]

Complementary Hues with Chroma Gradations
..... complementary hues provide strong accentuation when colors have full chroma. [p. 82]

We can systematically choose hues for a particular color scheme that exhibit certain relationships--either analogous or complementary hues, for instance. Three hues 120 degrees apart on the color circle are called triads and these are often combined in a color scheme. It is also possible that any number of hues can be chosen from the color circle at random to create an effective color scheme, provided that value and chroma are suitably manipulated.

Unusual color schemes can result from these unrelated hues, which are sometimes the product of an intuitive choice from among available colors. The dissimilarities of hues in varying degrees of hue contrast are thus emphasized.

Several unrelated hues of considerable chroma strength lead to multicolored effects. Unity can be achieved by using either warm or cool colors and by providing stronger hue contrast at the center of interest. Valued can be manipulated by mixing the pigments, but if these are not mixed, the value of each color must be considered separately. The color scheme might also be expanded to include black and white.

Tint all of its colors with a common hue also unifies a color scheme. This softens hue contrasts and establishes some analogy between dissimilar hues. This softens hue contrasts and establishes some analogy between dissimilar hues [see Part II, Hue Harmony]. It is almost as if the colors are seen through a transparent colored filter, or under a colored light. [p. 85]

Flat Planes of Unrelated Hues
A Chinese character or components of the character are arranged on a dissected background in example. Character shapes are sometimes dissected as well, creating more areas for color application.

The character strokes are joined as flat planes that do not overlap. Space in these designs is either occupied or unoccupied, and dissection introduces some ambiguity. The illusion of depth is not effected by the shapes, but more by the advance of warm colors and the recession of cool colors, particularly in one example, where yellow and pink become the center of interest, standing out from the cool colors that make up most of the design.

Unrelated Hues with a Dominant Tint
The unrelated hues [in an example] all have a greenish-brown tint, which creates a sense of warmth, though blue is present. The tint generally weakens the chroma of all the hues, keeping hue contrast to a minimum. The overall pattern has slightly overlapping shapes, which do not lend a great sense of depth to the design.

Other examples have a dominant orange-yellow tint, which unifies unrelated hues. The gradation of hue is used to soften the rotated, overlapping shapes. The effect of value gradations is even more significant than the effect of hue gradations, as the yellow-orange hue, lightest in value and strongest in chroma makes distinct highlights. [p. 86]

Innumerable options are available for developing a color scheme. A color circle is not limited to six basic hues, although color thinking is based on the simple six-hue device. Deviations from these basic hues can be regarded as hue adjustments, which moves a hue to one of its adjacent hues on the color circle. There are also value and chroma adjustments. The various adjustments offer thousands of colors that can be chosen and combined in a particular design.

A color scheme refers to the colors that are selected for a design; a group of colors that works well in one design may not be effective in another. This is because the positions of colors, the size of color areas, and the effects of simultaneous contrast must all be considered. Quick color sketches with a large assortment of felt-tip markers can be used to visualize these effects before a final decision is reached.

When developing a color scheme, we should begin by choosing a dominant hue and consider variations in value and chroma as well as additional hues. If a color scheme is restricted to only one hue, it is monochromatic, allowing value and chroma changes but no changes in hue. In most cases a color scheme includes more than just one hue. The chosen hue can be accompanied by its adjacent hues to form a range of analogous colors. The wider the range, the more varied is the color sensation created by the design.

A dominant hue might be accompanied by a subordinate hue to provide necessary contrasts and occasional accents. The two hues may have a complementary or near-complementary relationship and can be extended to become split-complementaries. Hue adjustments sometimes obscure analogous or complementary relationships., which lead to a color scheme of unrelated hues.

When the hues have been determined, value and chroma adjustments and variations should be considered. We might, alternatively, decide whether the composition will be of high key, intermediate key, low key, uniform value, maximum chroma, or minimum chroma, before choosing the hues for the color scheme. [p. 89]

A Color Scheme with Analogous Hues
Analogous hues generally express a soft harmony, stressing similarities rather than differences between the hues. Hue contrast still exists, however, when the beginning and end hues in a range of analogous hues are compared.... [p. 90]

A Color Scheme with Complementary Hues
[Examples] have color schemes with split-complementary hues. One has intermixed complementary hues and others feature complementary hues with value adjustments.

None of the designs here exhibits very strong hue contrast. Strong value contrast is apparent in two; scintillation occurs in the lightened blue adjacent to the darkened orange shapes. In several most of the hues are of weaker chroma strength, which reduces the harshness of complementary contrast. [p. 90]

A Color Scheme with Unrelated Hues
Deviations from analogous or complementary relationships establish color schemes of unrelated hues [these can include triads or near-triads].

A color scheme of unrelated hues is multicolored if most of the hues have strong chroma.... It may not be easy to identify a color scheme of unrelated colors.... This does not really matter. Most important is that we arrive at an effective and interesting color scheme. [p. 93]

The Control of Value and Chroma in a Color Scheme
After hue adjustments are made to a color scheme, the value and chroma of colors are manipulated. A hue is either heightened or lowered in value, strengthened or weakened in chroma. The value and chroma of a hue are related, so a change in one can easily affect the other. Values might be closely related to enhance chroma contrast. It is also possible to weaken chroma without changing the values of hues if these are mixed with grays of the same value . . . . [p. 93]

In Search of a Color Scheme
It is useful to experiment with a wide variety of color schemes for a single composition. One example explores thirty-six variations, yet the composition remains almost unchanged.

The range includes monochromes, analogous hues, complementary hues, unrelated hues, and colors of closely related values. These five different approaches can be seen as the basic directions we might head in our search for an effective color scheme. [p. 94]

[Wong, Wucius. Color Design. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 1987.]



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