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COURSE NAME: "Color Theory and Studio Practice"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Lorenzo Modica
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: T6:30 PM 9:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: This class requires a materials fee of €75/$85 to cover all basic art supplies.

The course is a practical study of one of the fundamental elements of visual art and design: color. Artists use color as a compositional tool in developing pictorial form and space. Color transmits meaning and emotion, and is everywhere in our daily lives. Focused exercises help students both to understand the perceptual aspects of color and to manipulate color using specific techniques. The course begins with the perception and control of gradations of light and dark, treats the practical issues of physically mixing pigments, explores the alteration of color caused by the placement of adjacent colors, and arrives at expressive, poetical uses of color in compositions. Students learn the correct terminology needed to analyze color effects both in their own creations and in historical masterworks, and demonstrate their growing confidence and mastery of color in a portfolio of creative work.
The course is structured as a series of concrete exercises and projects, using gouache, collage, graphite pencil and charcoal.  Color theory is learned through concrete practice both individually and in groups, in and out of class. Students will thus produce focused work that will add up to a substantial portfolio by the end of the semester.

Use of correct color terminology is essential in understanding how colors function and how color can be brought under control in practical use, which means, most importantly, in paint mixing and in the juxtaposition of different colors in structured compositions.

The physical properties of color, such as the fundamental concepts of Hue, Tonal Value and Chromatic Intensity, will be examined and manipulated separately.  Once these three properties of color are well understood, students will progress to projects involving refinements such as texture, reflectivity, and transparency, with the goal of understanding the enormous expressive potential of color.

Lectures and projected images will aid students in connecting their work in the studio with their own lives, with artistic achievements of the past, and with the visual world surrounding them.

Students should buy their own brushes, palette and sketchbook.
By the end of the course, students will:
Understand and employ correct color terminology
Understand additive (CMY) paint mixing theory and practice (as distinguished from the mixing of colored light, RBG, known as subtractive color mixing, seen on luminous TV or computer screens, or in theatrical lighting)
Understand the color wheel, its uses and implications; this means knowing how complements function and how to create independent scales of hue, light/dark value, and intensity
Observe and analyze the use of color in various historical artistic periods and in the work of certain great artists
Understand some expressive and psychological effects of color in art and everyday life, and how to create unique and expressive combinations using a limited number of colors
Understand the difference between the “ideal” color wheel (CMY mixing) and the mixing of traditional artists’ pigments in the real world.


Project 1: Collage  10%
Project 2: Color spectrum  10%
Project 3: Tonal value and simultaneous contrast  10%
Project 4: Complimentary colors and color saturation  10%
Project 5: Color expression  10%
Project 6: Light and color perception 10%
Final project 20%
Final critique 20%

AWork of this quality shows excellent mastery of the course content along with exceptional levels of technical skill, artistic awareness, originality, resourcefulness, commitment, quantity of work and improvement. There has been excellent collaboration and leadership in group projects, and there have been no attendance problems.
BA highly competent level of performance with work that directly addresses the content of the course, with a good quantity of work produced.
CAn acceptable level of performance: the work shows awareness of the course content, but is very limited in quantity, quality, commitment and skill.
DThe student lacks a coherent grasp of the course material and has failed to produce much work.
FNegligent in attendance, academic honesty, engagement with the course content, or production of work.


Attendance is mandatory.

Three unjustified absences equals to one mark.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week 1    Introduction
Introduction to the material considering the main properties of color and confronting the common place ideas that condition and confuse understanding of color. 
Project 1: Texture, materials and perception of color in composition
Students will gather together a range of diverse quotidian materials, both natural and man-made, whose coloring fall into one area of the spectrum and create a collage composition with these elements.  The last part of the course will revisit this initial project.
Homework: Collect together the materials with which to make this collage

Week 2    Texture, Materials and Perception of Local Color in Composition
Work on the Project 1 collages
Homework will be further work on and completion of collages

Week 3    Color Spectrum
Hue is the essential quality of a color.  Discussion of the color wheel and of color in terms of primary, secondary and tertiary colors.
Project 2: A study of the color spectrum. 
The students, in groups of two, will make an evenly graduated 48-step chromatic scale. 
Homework: Further progress on Project 2.

Week 4    Chromatic Scale
Continued work on chromatic scale and chromatic spectrum  
Homework: Project 2 completed

Week 5    Tonal Value and Simultaneous Contrast – part 1
All pure colors vary with respect to light/dark and each color has a Tonal Value that corresponds to its Hue which may be represented on a grey scale. 
The students will analyze black and white as polar extremes of a continuum of grey and will make a seven-step grey scale.  Class discussion will address the significance of mid-grey as the still center point of the color sphere which considers Black and White to be colors, thereby initiating the idea of achromatic color and the relativity of color perception.
The students will then form into groups and hang up their grey scales in order to decide which most effectively fulfills the criteria of a seven-step grey scale and use this decision as the basis for the proceeding project. 
Class exercise will focus on the visual perception of light and dark (simultaneous contrast), orientating the students towards identifying Tonal Value equivalents in terms of Hue.
Project 3: Tonal value and simultaneous contrast painting
Students will find ways to produce optical effects that vibrate between color/value equivalents. They will make a brushstroke composition using a single Value Tone, but five different hues/saturations considering brush stroke and gesture as important elements of composition.
Homework: Further progress on Project 3.

Week 6    Complete work on tonal value painting
Critique and conversation about results of this project in relation to the next part of this project. 
Homework: each group will scan and print out their paintings, each student will make a new tonal scale based on these

Week 7    Tonal Value and Simultaneous Contrast – part 2
The next part of the project will be to construct a simple white still life within a shoebox, and make a seven-tone analysis of this still life using black white and grey.
Homework: complete this stage of Project 3

Week 8    Tonal Value and Simultaneous Contrast – part 3
Each student will reconstruct their own still life, as a collage, using the brush stroke paintings photocopied from tonal scale made earlier in groups.
Homework: complete all parts of this element of Project 3

Week 9    Color Saturation
Students will study the concept of color saturation. It will be important to take into consideration the light and color in the shadow, reflections and the bright notes in the light.
Students will make a saturation scale using complementary colors. The chromatic scale they have made earlier will serve to locate the complementary colors
Project 4: Students will paint an observed representation of a simple object, such as an apple, banana, kiwi or mandarin, on a white background, using two complementary colors, plus white. 
Homework: complete Project 4

Week 10 Color Expression
Students will make a visual metaphor using color as the primary vehicle for expression. 
Project 5: Each student will pick an idea or concept, essentially abstract in nature, and create an image which articulates itself using color relationships as the predominant element for representation.  No words or explanations will be allowed.  The object is to be as clear as possible while remaining purely in the realm of the visual. 
Homework: complete Project 5

Week 11 Light and Perception of Color
Students will consider how the material world of perceived color is the result of a retinal response by the human eye to waves of light, the frequency of whose vibrations correspond to the different colors of the spectrum. The superposition of light waves make different colors of light while subtractive color comes into play when waves of light are reflected off or absorbed by the surface of a material. 
Project 6: The students will study how mixtures of subtractive colors of low chromatic intensity are perceived as moments between pure color. They will deconstruct material color as effects of light.  The project will involve photographs of details of the body, against a simple background, breaking this down into dots or pixels and then recreating it on a larger scale with paint. 
Homework: continued work on Project 6

Week 12 Continued work on Light and Perception of Color
Homework: complete Project 6

Week 13 Final Project
The final project will be the second stage of the first exercise on texture, materials and perception of local color in composition. Students will apply their new understanding of Hue, Tonal Value and Saturation to recreate the optical effects of materiality. 
Final Project: By observing the texture compositions they made in Project 1 in great detail, they will make a visual analysis of a fragment of the original in a greatly enlarged painting. 
Homework: continued work on the Final Project

Week 14 Continued work on the Final Project
Homework: Complete the Final Project

Week 15 Group critique of all projects
Each student will hang their work up for examination by the professor and the rest of the class. 
This will be an opportunity for everyone to discuss and consider the concepts and ideas that have been discussed during the course.  It will also give the students a peer evaluation and the possibility to self-evaluate as the students will have to articulate their reactions to each other’s work in terms of the theory studied during the semester.