Thursday, January 31, 2013


A Celebration of Color Theory

The most difficult part of putting a piece of art on a printed surface is making sure it translates successfully. This design came about after I created a presentation for my co-workers on color theory. A lot of studying went into the lecture, and because I was presenting to deviantART staff, I wanted to make sure everything I was saying was on point. Color theory has everything to do with association -- in other words, how the colors live next to each other on the color wheel in the visual spectrum. When looking at your screen, it takes the three colors – red, green, and blue added together on a black canvas -- to make all of the colors you are seeing. But in traditional media and print technologies, it takes three other colors starting from the white canvas to make the infinitely wide gamut of hues: cyan, magenta, and yellow. In theory, mixing the three colors (referred to collectively as “CMY”) will make black, but in most cases, it makes an organic dark grey. For this reason, we add black (K) to the mix to get a robust spectrum. 

Starting with a sketch, I knew I wanted to make a piece that only used the three hues -- C, M, and Y -- to make an interesting piece of art. Having a light bulb in the center of the spectrum was a primary thought, but I kept going back to the three main colors. 

There are many theories on how to think about colors and how to artistically use them. Color wheels (like the ones below) show different and exciting examples. The Color Bias wheel on the left (painted from an art lecture) shows how neighboring hues react together when the same color's temperature is warm or cool. On the right is Grumbacher brand art materials' color wheel, which is a much more dynamic illustration of the three-dimensional interaction between opposing colors on the wheel and how they make neutral grey when added together. It also shows examples of how colors react when black and white are added. These are only two examples of many ways color theory can be visually explained, but they're some of my personal favorites -- simple and thorough. Isn't color theory fascinating? 

The color wheel inspired me to pull out the traditional media and mess around with limited colors. Even in simplicity, there are some beautiful and playful moments. 

Watercolor, markers, colored pencils, and hard crayons all use the same hues, but have different features on the media. It’s really fun to mess around and just experiment to find interesting outcomes

These colors are everywhere in nature, and I found examples of them just by looking around outside. Sometimes the best way to find a color scheme for a piece is simply to look at Mother Nature. Beautiful.

If only I could paint as well as this tree does!

Traditional media was an insightful adventure, but my creative intention was to represent the color much cleaner with crisp levels of transparency. I knew I liked the concept of the hues with some graphic splashes of black and white. You can see here that I even pulled in some found objects to conceptualize with. 

Fully inspired, I jumped back into the digital space where RGB is king…usually. First I made a wheel of CMY divided into thirds and cut it into many pizza wedges. Those were turned transparent and, while trying to keep them pointed toward the center, I overlapped and scattered them, which created subtle color changes of secondary colors orange, green, and violet.

A really tricky part was translating these little pizza slices of color into solid, printable screens. After I had mocked the piece with transparent layers, I got word that the printer didn't print transparencies, so I had to figure out a way to fake it so it appeared transparent. Sometimes the creative process throws you a loop -- POW! – and you gotta go with the flow and get real tricky to make your vision work!

This was a totally successful experiment.  I used the halftone tool to make different value frequencies with tiny dots, so the forced “transparency” would still interact with the neighboring color. It worked! Here is a close-up of the detailed halftone dots. I really learned a lot on this piece!

For some graphic accompaniment, I added some white and black shapes and did some hand-written letters. This was definitely the piece in the collection that was furthest from my comfort zone, and it’s one of my favorites printed in those strong hues. 

The models looked great in the piece as well. 

Lesson learned. Allow yourself to push your boundaries, because you will always learn from these experiences. Whether outside your comfort zone or within the confines of something that appears to be a roadblock, seeing a project through to completion can yield beauty you didn’t even know you were capable of.

Visit the deviantART T-Shirts & Gear Shop to shop CMY and the rest of the Holiday 2012 Collection. Click here to shop now.