Introduction to Color Theory


Cost: $425.00

REGISTER ONLINE (Registration opens May 3, 2022)

6 In-Person Sessions (Important: please read policies below) 

Thursdays, June 9–July 14, 2022

6:30PM to 9:30PM 

LOCATION: 41 Cooper Square, NY, NY 10003

IMPORTANT: to participate in classes on campus

  • Please be prepared to arrive up to 30 minutes early on the first class to present proof of vaccination, booster and a state issued picture ID in the lobby of 41 Cooper Square.
  • You must wear a mask at all times inside the school.
  • A school ID will be issued so you can enter all subsequent weeks by showing it to the guards. A photo will be taken on the first evening of your class for the ID card.
  • Unvaccinated individuals will not be allowed access to campus buildings. 
  • If you are not able to arrive up to 30 minutes before class on the first session or within 1 hour of the start of the first class session, please request to withdraw from class by email. Policies apply


In the mid- 20th century, two influential artists, Joseph Albers and Johannes Itten, independently developed courses for teaching color theory. Eventually, they went on to publish books on the subject that continue to profoundly influence artists and art students today. Their teachings are practical guidance to seeing and understanding visual effects. In his *book “The Interaction of Color” Albers wrote “In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” In his *book "The Elements of Color", Itten introduces 7 possible color contrasts: "each is unique in character and artistic value, in visual, expressive, and symbolic effect; and together they constitute the fundamental resource of color design".

*It is not necessary to purchase the books used in this workshop. Instructional PDFs including images will be provided.


Required Materials

Other materials and necessities include:

  • clean paper towels and/or 15-20 sheets of inexpensive 8.5" x 11" printer paper
  • a pencil sharpener and eraser
  • good internet connection
  • a well-lit environment free from distractions
  • clean table space to work


Class #1 Intro: The What, Why, and How of Color Theory

  • What is color theory?
    • The study of color and its effects; the study of color’s relationship ...but first, what is color? The refraction of white light into different wavelengths
    • How do we see color? Eye chart / rods and cones
    • We all see color differently; perception is personal and subjective / color blindness /
    • Ishihara test / color fatigue / lighting / computer monitors / color accuracy
  • Why study color theory?
    • To understand these effects and apply them in artwork in dynamic and expressive ways (image examples of artworks that show dynamic relationships of color)
  • How to study color theory?
    • By working with the exercises outlined in “Interaction of Color” by theorist Joseph Albers, which engage direct exploration using Color-Aid paper (classes #1-3)
    • By working with the concepts of color theorist Johannes Itten, who defined color in terms of color contrasts (classes #4-6)
  • Technical Demo: How-tos of cutting and gluing
    • X-acto blade safety / use / disposal / use of cutting board
    • Using the ruler to measure and set squares in place perpendicularly
    • Using the glue-stick
    • Unpacking Colo-Aid / handling the sheets and moving them around
    • Importance of precision
  • Description of Albers Exercise (w/ image presentation)
    • Making 1 color appear as 2
    • Understanding value: making a value chart with greys

Class #2 Albers con’t

  • Cultural color: Are certain colors inherently good / bad, male / female, Eastern / Western

  • NO, but color prejudice influences attitudes and understandings of colorColor interactions & experiences: color contrasts (warm / cool; light /dark), flushing effect, fluting effect, synesthesia, optical color mixing, chromostereopsis, transparency, vibrating boundaries, vanishing boundaries, after-image

  • 2 different colors appearing as 1 - subtraction of color
  • Illusion of transparency
  • Bezold effect - optical color mixing

Class #3 Albers con’t

  • Vanishing boundaries / colors of equal light intensity
  • Reversed grounds
  • After image

Class #4 Completion of Albers / conclusion and sharing

  • Exercises: Light - Dark contrast with different hues

  • Cold - Warm - exploring warm and cool with gradations of:

  • greens (yellow to blue)

  • purples (red to blue)

  • “fire and water contrast”: dark & light blues to light & dark yellows / oranges / reds

Class #5 Itten con’t

  • Complementary contrast: saturated / desaturated / light / dark

Class #6 Itten con’t

  • contrast of hue (free study)

  • landscape study; contrast of saturation / atmospheric perspective

Conclusion of Albers / Itten and sharing entire set of exercises (13 total)

Class content, lessons and timeline subject to change

Registration will start on September 15.

Course Code: 117580

Instructor(s): Eric Hibit

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.