Research Task

Johannes Itten

I watched a video lecture on Johannes Itten and the use of colour. Itten was a Swiss painter and teacher who worked at the Bauhaus in 1919, where he taught his students about the basic concepts of colours, materials and compositions and he developed colour theories learning from theorists before him. Through his own research he identified seven fundamental categories of contrast which are hue, light-dark, cold-warm, complementary, simultaneous, saturation and extension. He encouraged exploration of colour through contrasts urging students to feel their own way into an exercise, which revealed different personalties and aesthetic choices. His education of colour using the 12 part colour circle that he constructed using the primary colours yellow, red and blue he then added mixed colours to the triangle in the centre that created secondary colours, thereafter comes the tertiary colours.

Fig. 1 – Johannes Itten’s colour wheel

He then would get his students to look at the 7 colour contrasts he identified; hue, light-dark, cold-warm, complementary, analogous, saturation, and extension. He constructed this in a careful specific way so that the colours didn’t lean towards either primary component and encouraged his students to mix specific colours together to strengthen their knowledge of the use of colour. This way of ordering colour set up a rule book that would then try to determine the exact effect of placing one colour next to another.

Fig. 2 – Johannes Itten’s colour contrasting

He believed that to become a master of colour you must see, feel and experience each colour in its many endless combinations. For interior design purposes it’s important to understand cold to warm contrast which suggests closeness and distance, as well as simultaneous contrast which shows the way in which two colours affect each other, the colours themselves don’t change but we see them alter. This lecture was interesting, I already had an understanding of how colours make me feel, I believe that colours play a part on our emotions but that we as humans, can also feel so differently towards the same colour. We have the colour theory fundamentals in place, we can learn to understand how colours compliment one another, how one colour may dominate another and how the psychology behind colour evoke all different emotions. When we use colour in our designs we are communicating how we would like that room to feel, people will have a direct impact when they first see the colour, which is why choosing the right colour, tone and shade is an important part of every design.

Josef Albers

Another colour theorist, Josef Albers, was taught by Itten at the Bauhaus and later became a teacher there too, before then going on to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1971. His approach was very much the same as Itten’s, he approached colour based on the human experience and encouraged his students to explore and analyse their own experience of colour around them. Colour is perceived differently by each person, an example of which is pictured below, the ochre squares are both the same colour but sat amongst different colours gives the idea they are both very different shades. Colour is very subjective and evokes all different types of feelings and emotions, so when we are discussing colour for a client or a design we must firstly understand how colour works and be specific and clear about our intentions, this will help the design become much more effective.

Fig. 3 – The cover of Interaction of Color. Published by Yale University Press in 1963


Fig. 1 – Johannes Itten’s colour wheel (accessed 2.7.22)

Fig. 2 – Johannes Itten’s colour contrasting—inter (accessed 2.7.22)

Fig. 3 – The cover of Interaction of Color. Published by Yale University Press in 1963 (accessed 27.7.22)

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