Color Exercises

Color Theory Exercises – How These Work:

These studies are based on Joseph Albers’ work with the relativity or interaction of color. The same exact color, be it pigment, light, or ink, will appear differently when viewed against other colors. Factors which may influence the perception of a particular color include the quantity of a color in relation to other colors, the quality of that color (the value or intensity and the hue), the form and placement of the color, and the type of boundaries between it and other colors (for example, soft and fuzzy or sharp and strong). The interaction of colors in a painting is much like the interaction of notes in music; much depends on what happens between the colors or notes, their placement, and spacing.

There are six different color exercises included on this page, and below is the explanation for how each of the exercises works:*

  1. 4 colors from 3: to make the same color look different (2 small squares of the same color are placed against backgrounds of very different colors, making it look as though there are 4 colors when in fact there are only 3);
  2. 3 colors from 4: to make 2 colors look the same (2 small squares of different colors are placed against 2 different backgrounds carefully chosen to make the 2 small squares look identical, making it appear as though there are only 3 colors when in fact there are 4);
  3. simultaneous contrasts: to find the one color that is equally close to or equally distant from the 2 large backgrounds of complementary colors.
  4. transparency (1): using large and small rectangles of 8 different colors, 4 of which are laid atop the larger 4 colors, to appear as though there is a single transparent colored sheet placed on top of the four bottom rectangles.
  5. transparency (2): using 5 colors to appear as though a colored transparent sheet is placed in front of the same colored rectangle in 3 orientations, so that the left-most one has more light shining on it, the middle one has the normal amount of light, and the third one has less light shining on it.
  6. vibrating colors: various designs in dark, full, and light hues to show which two colors interact in a way that causes the most visual vibration between them.**

If you’d like to read more about this, I recommend “The Interaction of Color” by Joseph Albers, Yale University Press, ©1963. If you’d like to try this yourself, the tools are a pack of ColorAid paper, some type of glue, a sharp cutting tool (such as an Exacto knife) and a metal straightedge, Joseph Albers’ book, a lot of patience, and the desire to really see color interaction. Many thanks to my excellent teacher, Elizabeth Rupprecht at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, for helping me and so many artists begin to learn color relativity.

Need to buy a copy of “Interaction of Color: Revised and Expanded Edition” (Paperback) by Josef Albers?

Click on this link to view purchase options from

Interaction of Color: Revised and Expanded Edition

Or the newer edition:

Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition Paperback – Illustrated, June 28, 2013

*Some of these exercises used to be interactive, but are no longer due to the fact that the technology I had used to make the interactions is obsolete (after 21 years!  Who-da-thunk?).