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A Color Theory Reference

May 15, 2009

Almost 20 years ago, while in college, I was required to read ITTEN, The Elements of Color. It wasn’t until recently that I pulled it off my shelf again to brush up on his version of color theory systems. 


Itten explored color use all through art and its history.  From Egyptians colored symbols, Byzantines polychrome mosaics, early medieval illuminations (noteworthy leaves in the Book of Kells), Middle Ages stained glass (Chartes Cathedral  Rose Window), Early Gothic murals, and the list germinates through time emphasizing the growth and the power of color use by contemporary  Masters of art.


Reaching for knowledge of color and how color effects and differs for Impressions (visual), Expressions (emotions) and Constructions (symbols) can be found in Ittens contribution to the art of color — “The Seven Color Contrasts”.


  1. Contrast of Hue
  2. Light-dark contrast
  3. Cold-warm contrast
  4. Complementary contrast
  5. Simultaneous contrast
  6. Contrast of Saturation
  7. Contrast of Extension



Each of the seven contrast theories is broken down and explained in Itten, The Elements of Color with a visual representation of mixing and matching colors to exemplify 1-7.


I could re-write a color theory book here for you but I won’t.  This worthy reference should suffice and bring you to study color aesthetics along with noting valuable information for your design career.

– Kristine,

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