Developing An Eye For Color

first photograph by Tom Cox
all other photographs and text by Jessica Stammen

For the past few winters, during the weeks that are made of the dark cold days between holiday festivities and mud, I have been lucky enough to join a dozen or so eighth graders at the local middle school for a special class exploring color. In the bleak or blinding white of January¬†there is nothing better than playing with Peter Pan greens, blues you can swim in, No. 2 yellows, and suntan neutrals, to use the wonderfully descriptive words of my students. It is just so unexpected — the color, their imagination.

We work Joseph Albers style with the full spectrum of 314 Color Aid papers. The first assignment is a challenge: make one color look like two. See the photo below? The pair of small squares on each board are the same color purple and the same color green, respectively. By placing them on two differently colored backgrounds each pair is variously influenced and the foreground squares appear to change, to be two different colors. In the photo above a student successfully took this lesson one step further and made two different foreground colors (one an ultramarine, the other a dusty purple) appear to be one in the same, again by placing them on two different backgrounds. Context is everything.

And that’s just it; the white of my winter is never just white when I’m surrounded by the full palette of my students’ personalities and immersed in the ever surprising study of color.