Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The ultimate artist gift: Josef Albers Interaction of Color app

My last minute gift suggestion for an artist on your list…. Josef Albers "Interaction of Color" iPad app. Now obviously only a limited number of people will be able to have this due to technology, and for that I point out this is a book still available. But for iPad users this is quite amazing. And at £6.99/US$9.99 it's a steal.

and here is how you "gift" an app:

A quick rundown of the contents:

Firstly, it's the full text of the book. This in itself is insightful and a great reference for returning to. It's a classic tome of colour theory, but unless most others out there. Albers' instructions are about physical, physiological and psychological interactions of colours - but without the scientific jargon or bent of many theories that go on about colour circles, colour models, etc. Mostly this is about seeing and using the colour, actually putting it to test.

Secondly, there are snippets of video of artists and designers, students and peers of Albers commenting on how they used the tools or the effect of the exercises. These are short. While I'd love to see some exercises being carried out (perhaps something to add to a 2nd version?), these are still useful for some context.

Lastly, and most importantly, the exercises. Some images are just examples, but most have a "create" option that allows you to practice the concept illustrated. Drag and drop colour palettes, the ability to rearrange, save your studies, and do as many versions as you want. Also, each exercise has the text for the instructions and ideas for that specific task.

I've seen a few negatives reviews of this app that clearly think it's exercises in creativity. Be clear that it is not. These are quite structured yet open exercises in analysing colour use. It's suitable for the serious artist who wants to improve their colour theory and use knowledge, or for the beginner just learning how to use colour.

Any artist can use it! But it's a real tool and not just a fun toy.

So why an app?

  • The interactivity of the iPad app makes Albers' exercises with colour more accessible and repeatable. 
It takes a few goes to get used to the palette color chooser - but then you can do the practices over and over again. Try it with your favourite colours, with your least favourite colours, with a limited palette, with constracting hues. Because you can save all your studies you can look back at them, too. This means that not only can you do the exercises while you read, but that it's simple to pick them up as tools in the studio if you're pondering the colour combination or balance in a current work. The convenience over having a huge file of paper samples is beyond measure.
  • The colour palette itself is large, yet limited. Which you'll discover when you just can't quite find that pinkish-green grey that is the perfect fit!
But that's precisely what Albers, I think, had in mind. His original instructions are to use collected bits of coloured paper; in fact he advises strictly against paint. The exercises are to be done with limited available colours, and it's wonderful to read him describing how it may not work. That you might have to adjust your original colour choices, or just submit to their being no solution. On top of the subjectiveness of it all!

In that sense the app is brilliant. You are forced to work to the constraints and it makes you think harder and experiment more.

Despite being told I'm a fairly intuitive colorist, I still found many of the studies gave me real "ah ha!" moments.  And most were quite challenging. All the images in this review are of my own arrangements.

I love that I can use and re-use this app with a palette of 'paper' at the ready.

And for the non-techies, the anniversary edition book in old-fashioned wood pulp is also available:

My suggestions to Yale for improvements are few:
  1. Some videos of the exercises being done in paper. Just for context.
  2. The ability to drag the selector palette up the page - sometimes I was looking for a colour for a space that was under the palette and it would have been useful to browse the circle with the space in view next to its neighbour colours.
  3. The ability to interact with my own studies. Some of the examples you could drag the pieces away or near to see how they interacted. Once I was done with my own studies I would have liked the option to do that also, to test how well my choices worked. (especially in chapter XV)
  4. The ability to highlight text, though this is just a minor request.

Merry Christmas!
But don't blame me if your artist spends the holiday on their iPad.

See the coast paintings tina-m.com
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