Three Shades of Color: Color Theories and Perceptions

Color is basically a characteristic of visual perception, a manipulation, it is all the trickeries that light plays with our eyes. Color theory is also described as a branch of science and art that tries to explain how humans perceive colors. Color is a deep and difficult-to-understand subject that a five-letter word cannot represent. Because actually none of us know what the true color is. We can only perceive as far as light permits and choose the most accurate words from general definitions; red, green, blue, magenta, cyan, orange-like dark brown, turquoise-like smoke gray…

The color theory uses diagrams expand from black and white to understand colors. These diagrams, starting with three colors, can extend to an infinite number. It integrates these diagrams with the color wheel. The first known color wheel was developed in 1666 by Sir Isaac Newton. Since then, scientists and artists have studied and developed different variations of the color wheels. 


There are two known methods for obtaining color. We can define them as the additive color mixing model (RGB:) and the subtractive color mixing model (CMYK). The additive color mixing model defines and creates colors over wavelengths. There are three basic colors: red, green, and blue. The mixture of these three colors forms white. It is created using different variations of these three primary colors in all the colors you can think of. All colors are created digitally with natural and artificial light sources and accordingly are obtained by the additive color mixing method. The subtractive color mixing model is a method we are more familiar with. This is the method we learned by mixing different crayons at school. CMYK, namely Cyan, magenta, yellow and black color based. All the colors we see are printed or physically created with this method. 

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We can mention a dynamic balance between colors; harmony. In visual experience, it allows colors to interact with the audience and create a sense of balance. If the image is not harmonic, it is either chaotic or boring. The human brain will reject non-alert signals or signals that it cannot organize/understand. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure maximum harmony between colors in order to interact. 

We understood how color is formed and why harmony between colors is important; Now it is time to link them with our environment. Think of the most magnificent scenery you have ever seen… A shining sea image, a mystical forest, snow-covered mountains, or a volcano that has just erupted. It tries to imitate the colors and color harmonies that nature teaches by conditioning people by creating symbolic or psychological or mystical beings and variations by imitating the same people in their own structures. 

If we examine the approaches of some pioneers’ names in the history of architecture, we can reveal the nature and its conditioned effects more clearly. While color is considered as a spatial purity in Luis Barragán’s works, Siza Vieira circulates on the foundations of achromatism (colorlessness). In addition, Lina Bo Bardi aims to reveal flame dances using reds, Ricardo Legorreta feeds himself on ancient Mexican culture and traditions. 

Colors directly affect the mental and physical development of children in schools, the stabilization of the psychological state of patients and patients’ relatives in hospitals, increasing efficiency in offices, and even define identity on an urban scale. But it is not enough to paint the walls blue in nursing homes. As Israel Pedrosa says in his book Da Cor à Cor Inexistente, “color has no material existence: it is only the sensation produced by certain nervous organizations under the action of light, with more precision, the action provoked by the action of the light on the organ of vision.” 

As can be seen, light occurs as a prior condition for the existence of color. Only through light, can colors be created or perceived. Therefore, painting the hospital walls in blue is not sufficient for the targeted psychological and physical stabilization. The light must allow this effect. Remember what the sunshine could do. Light is a more effective tool than you think; it has both predictable and unpredictable potential. It is necessary to be a little more creative and rational when using it, perhaps pushing the limits a bit. Remember that wisdom begins with curiosity…