Color in the visual arts

"Color aesthetics may be approached from these three directions: Impression (visually), Expression (emotionally), Construction (symbolically)." ~ Itten Johannes, The Elements of Color (1970)

Color is central to each of the visual arts. Selecting just the right shade can mean the difference between harmony and discord, between a satisfying design and going back to the drawing board. Discover some of the ways color can impact on your work and how creative practitioners incorporate it into their work.

Dining-room group in yellow, black and white, designed by Hayes Marshall for Fortnum & Mason Ltd., London', 1937

Color, psychology and interior design

Interior designers often use color theory to enhance both the physical and psychological properties of their work. Color can physically communicate how space is organized by highlighting spatial zones and areas of circulation; color through this process can clearly be used pragmatically as a visual marker. But color can also radically alter mood and be central to challenging our perception of a given space – this introduces color psychology into the realm of interior design.

A woman passes circles in a circle by russian painter Wassily Kandinsky on the wall of barbican centre

Kandinsky’s color theory in painting and cinema

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was hugely influential in developing an abstract art that invoked color as a major component. Having extensively studied the history of color theory (by writers ranging from scientist Sir Isaac Newton to the poet Goethe), Kandinsky explained how we experience color. Kandinsky was writing in 1910, before color film, but his impact can be seen in cinema as diverse as Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and Minority Report (2002).

Colorful sunrise on a foggy day over Tipperary mountains and fields

Painting with light

The word ‘photography’ has its source in two Greek words, phos meaning light and graphis meaning stylus or paintbrush. Thus photography is often described literally as painting or drawing with light. Learn how taking the time to look around and really notice the way light works can benefit your work. Study how it reflects from different surfaces, how it creeps in to the shadows and how it appears dressed in every color of the rainbow.

Full Rainbow of Paint Color Chart Fan Deck

Color palettes

Choosing a color palette requires a mixture of analysis, understanding basic principles of color theory, trial and error, and personal preference. For some projects it will be appropriate to create a palette using several different hues, but in other situations a limited color palette will be more successful. Designers often excel when working within specified constraints, so it can be helpful to limit the number of colors you will work with before you begin a project.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

Fashion and color trends

Color often appears in catwalks a few seasons before it tips over into mainstream, so the catwalk is a great place to understand the future direction of color trends, and retail is a perfect place to view mainstream color direction. Have a look at some of the most recent catwalks from different cities to see if there is a common color that appears in all of them. How long will it take before it appears on your high street?

Images above and on the homepage are courtesy of Getty Images.