Scientists, philosophers and artists have been working on colour theories since the beginning of time but the Swiss artist Johannes Itten is the one I keep returning to.
Itten, one of the first teachers at the Bauhaus school of design, approached colour theory not in a purely scientific way like Sir Isaac Newton but from an angle that incorporated a human element. Of course he studied the physics of light waves and the chemistry of how to mix and produce colours but he also acknowledged that “the deepest and truest secrets of color effect are, I know, invisible even in the eye, and are beheld by the heart alone”.
While teaching colour harmony to a class of students in 1928, Itten realised that what he found pleasing may not in fact be pleasing to his students. In fact some of them found his harmonies quite discordant. He realised that colours are subjective and individuals have their own personal harmonies.
Itten carried out an interesting experiment with his students. All the students had access to a large array of colours and he asked them to depict (in abstract form) the four seasons using whatever colours they wanted. To his astonishment all the students used completely different sets of colours from each other but everyone could easily depict which seasons their piers were expressing – I am sure you can figure out the seasons I am depicting above.
Following this revelation, he encouraged his students to paint using their own personal spectrum of colours from their four seasons and their paintings that followed were some of their most successful they had created.
Itten’s experiment is such a good example of why it is so important to work out which colours you alone are attracted to. A designer should not push their personal spectrum on to their clients because if the clients are not attracted to the colours they will never feel comfortable no matter how well the project is composed. A designer should encourage the client to find their own spectrum and from there help them to work with their colour palette. Or as Itten put it, “to help a student discover his subjective forms and colours is to help him discover himself”.
I rather liked this “test” Resene Paints have added to their site to help clients discover their colour personality (although I came out two seasonal….I always wanted a Winter and a Summer home……