Twenty years later I can appreciate my color theory professor

I was coordinating fabrics and the color of one looked completely different depending on what I put around it. It took me a minute but I recalled this is referred to as simultaneous contrast. It was one of the theories covered in Color Class, a mandatory course for Interior Design students. The theory is that one color can change how we perceive another color when the two are placed side by side.

The video above demonstrates the simultaneous contrast color theory. The color in the center remains the same the whole time but appears different at times depending on the colors surrounding it.

With that thought, a rush of memories from design school came flooding in. “Color” was supposed to be my “easy class” to balance out a second class I registered for, which had a reputation for being challenging.

Having previously studied Fine Art, why wouldn’t I have expected this Color class to be easy for me? I knew the color wheel, and how to mix colors, etc. This class was going to be a piece of cake.

The professor was new so my classmates and I had no idea what to expect. My first impression of him was young, handsome and charming. I remember thinking, I’m going to love this class!

Never Assume

About an hour into the first class, somewhere between going over the syllabus and discussing his grading rubric, the realization that the class was not what I assumed it to be, began to set in. In fact, it was going to kick my butt! Forget about having a life. I was going to eat, sleep and drink “color” for the next 12 weeks if was going to pass the class. It didn’t take long for the professor to be nicknamed “The Color Nazi”.

The assignments were challenging, but that was not what earned him his title. It was his “my way or the highway” attitude mixed with the level of perfectionism that he expected of us. My classmates and I were terrified to get our assignments back because the rubric would be all marked up with comments such as; pencil smudge minus 5 points, excess rubber cement minus 10 points, imperfect edges on the mat (cut with an Exacto knife) to frame our assignment minus 15 points. He was brutal. Back then I thought he was too picky with unrealistic standards.

Life Lessons

Twenty years later, I realize I learned much more than Color Theory from that course. I also learned discipline, attention to detail, never to assume and not to judge a book by its cover.

Interior Design and Color

Those are valuable life lessons, but as far as design goes, remember when you are selecting items for a room, view your selections together. They may appear differently as part of a group than they do when they are viewed alone, just as the fabrics I was working with did.

If you would like to learn more about Simultaneous Contrast and other color theories, 7 color contrast by Johannes Itten is a great resource. I hope you were able to read last week’s post The Interior Designer/Client relationship and how to make sure it’s awesome. If you are enjoying my posts, please subscribe.

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