At no time within my teaching career was I afforded the opportunity
to teach the Albers color course as a separate class.
The best I could do was to steal an hour a week from the design
course and teach a class with very restricted content. The
color principles I selected to work with were color interaction,
how much to how much, color mixture, color boundaries and
Color interaction used three colors to appear as four using
two small squares with each centered on a larger square. A
variation of the exercise using the same format was to make
four colors appear as three. The most common difficulty for
students with this problem was confusing color with value
change. Sometimes Albers would have students use the same
format but work with values, i.e., make three values of gray
appear as four, etc. I would sometimes have students do a
twenty-step value scale for them to better understand that
color also has value as well as density and hue, and value
change is not the same as color changer.
Albers told students that when one color is laid next to another
and nothing happens, color is not being used. The color change
problems forced students into extensive exploration of color
on color and helped them to better understand color interaction.
The how much to how much problem always began by Albers
asking the class what two colors did not go together? After
a few minutes listening to student responses, he informed
them that there was no such thing as two colors that did not
go together. It was really a question of how much of one to
how much of the other.
chose two colors that they thought to be ugly in combination.
First they put down an equal amount of each butted up to one
another; using the same format, they searched for a quantity
relationship that was pleasing or, at the least, less offensive.
next part of the problem was identified as color climate where
students chose four colors and did four small compositions.
By varying amounts in each composition, the objective was
to disguise the fact that the same four colors were used.
Sometimes the compositions were done as vertical stripes.
found the how much to how much problem to be especially good
for awakening latent student sensitivities. The exercise required
a great deal of experimentation and refinement. The concept
applied to other areas of design such as how much type to
a page, how much drawing to how much white of the paper, how
much line to how much shape and so on. I found this exercise
very effective in terms of students grasping its significance
and using it in a wide variety of applications.
Color mixture was most often done as a stripe problem.
Students selected three colors and attempted to create as
wide a range of colors as they could using the optical mixture
principle. Each of the three colors were included as a wider
band to identify the base colors. This problem required a
high degree of craft to assemble.
color boundary problem was of extreme importance as
it allows designers to be precise in controlling depth of
elements in the picture plane. When one color butts another
color, it forms a line. The line may be soft or hard according
to values. Colors that are far apart in value create a hard
line; colors that are close in value create a soft line. A
traditional belief was that cool colors recede and warm colors
advance. With the boundary theory, students discovered this
was not trueit was really the boundary lines that determined
spatial relationships and not hues.
first problem involved selecting six squares with three in
one color and three in another and an illusion of transparency.
One set of squares over-lapped the other. The area of overlap
was done in another color creating a smaller square with two
boundary lines in each of the large squares. If the boundaries
of the overlap that were within the top square were softer
than the boundaries in the lower square, the reading was that
of transparency with the large top square in front of the
bottom square. If the boundaries of the overlap within the
lower large square were softer than the boundaries in the
large upper square, the reading was that of transparency with
the lower large square in front of the square above it. The
last step was to find a value that would make the boundaries
of the overlap equal in hardness or softness in both the large
squares. The reading would be of colors merging, and both
the large squares would appear to be on the same spatial plane.
second part of the problem called for the selection of four
colors of different intensities and butt them against one
another forming one large square. A small square was selected
arbitrarily and positioned in the lower right corner of the
top left block. Another color was selected that had the same
boundary value as the first square. The process was repeated
twice more. The objective was to create a boundary line around
all four of the small squares that had the same degree of
hardness or softness. Needless to say, finding the first three
were relatively easy but finding the fourth small square that
had a boundary which was equal to both the square behind and
the one above was nearly impossible. If you were successful,
the integrity of a square formed by the four small squares
was established. The square formed by four small ones appeared
as a transparency. The check on this problem was to reverse
the sizes of the large and small squares and see if the boundary
around the four small squares was consistent. I believe that
Albers was much more concerned with students exploration
of this problem than with their success in finding the solution.
boundary concepts were another example of principles with
broad application. Hard and soft edges to place elements in
spaceincluding pencil lines in drawingwere a tremendous
tool for the designer.
students did each of the four principles, if I thought they
were not understanding, students were required to repeat the
problems until it was evident that the majority understood
the objectives. As a check of student understanding, I often
asked them do a free-study demonstrating the principle.
the theoretical problems, students did free-studies without
any teacher imposed conditions. Application of the principles
are evident with some regularity in the free compositions.
An interesting aspect of the free-studies came near the end
of the course when students had used all the colors of first
choice and they did not want to buy another color pack. They
began using colors that they would probably never have used,
and the results were often stunning. I firmly believe that
students working with the color pack were exposed to, and
used, many color relationships that they would never have
tried if they had been using brushes and pigments. I believe
that Albers color course truly broadened the students
knowledge and use of color.
the end of the course, most students had tremendous self-confidence
regarding color. With the knowledge and experience gained
from the color course, students were prepared to move into
mixing pigment, using the brush and applying color to any
am convinced that students realizing the relativity
of color and understanding definition of problem objectives
and criteria; combined with the ease of exploration using
cut and torn color paper; plus the flexibility of the color
course which could be absorbed into personal terms by a wide
range of individuals with different tastes and objectives
reflects the genius of Albers as a teacher.
individuals who were never students of Albers or actually
did the exercises within a classroom context cannot possibly
understand the value of Albers pedagogy through reading
a book or simply looking at the illustrations in Interaction
of Color. Albers teaching has to be experienced to be
appreciated. This how I remember Josef Albers, the man and