History of Colour Analysis

Colour is a powerful force in life; recall how your mood is affected by the colour of the sky when you wake up each morning. The power of colour has fascinated philosophers, psychologists and chemists, as well as artists and designers; people now talk of the energy of colour and colour has long been associated with class, status and authority in many cultures and organisations. Many have tried over the ages to classify the individual colours and establish the rules of colour harmony which have evolved in society.

The philosophers Goethe and Schopenhauer wrote on the subject but it is from the work of the chemist Robert Boyle that we know red, yellow and blue to be the primary colours. Earlier, Michelangelo tried to identify them, but included green in his results. The work of the French chemist, Michael Chevreul, is of particular importance as he experimented with the affects of placing different colours alongside one another. He examined the optical effect which is now used in colour printing and colour television. It was Chevreul whose experiments formed the scientific basis for the work of impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.

"Through Chevruel's research and our own experiences, we know that colors are not static. Colors are similar to people--their personalities change and they can be influenced by close associations." -- Joen Wolfrom in "The Magic Effects of Color."

 Albert Munsell, artist and teacher, identified and defined colours based on three dimensions; hue (cool/warm), value (depth/lightness) and chroma (clear/muted purity). This system has stood the test of time because it was based on human perception combined with thorough testing and rigorous measurements, providing the firm foundation required for scientific experimentation.

In the 20th century the Swiss artist Johannes Itten, who worked and taught at the Bauhaus School of Art in Germany, continued Chevreul's analysis and established the rules of colour theory as they are now taught in art and design schools throughout the world.

Itten is attributed with being the first person to associate colours with four types of people. However, the best known of Itten's work is probably the twelve point colour wheel which is in wide use today on paint charts for home decorators, in dyeing kits and in hairdressers' colour charts. Itten would have approved of this development as he sought to establish an objective approach to support our intuitive sense of colour. He likened his rules to those governing music, in particular, the analogy between his seven different types of colour and the musicians' scales and rules of musical harmony.

One of his core values was empowering the individual; he chose to correct his student's creative work through common mistakes for the class as a whole rather than run the risk of crushing creative impulse by correcting individual students.

"Colour is life; for a world without colour appears to us as dead. Colours are primordial ideas, the children of light."
 Johannes Itten

The use of colour to describe our emotions, "green with envy", "seeing red", "feeling blue", gives us an idea of its abstract force. Itten saw reactions to colour as either aesthetic, emotional or symbolic. Colours and their combinations can be particularly evocative, particularly when they conjure an atmosphere or period of history. Eau de nil and salmon pink are typical thirties colours; magenta and dark green have a strong Victorian feel and white is associated with efficiency and cleanliness. Consider your reaction from the effect of seeing a policeman wearing bright yellow or a nurse dressed in a sombre brown uniform.

Wilhelm Oswald, the colour theorist, wrote about how certain combinations of colours can be pleasing, displeasing or indifferent. Colour combinations which are pleasing represent an orderly relationship and thus define harmony as we know it; colour harmony influences your emotions and your environment.

It was the advent of Colour in the film and television industry in the 1940's which brought about an interest in the different effects of colour on peoples appearance. Robert Dorr, an artist who knew of Itten's theories of colour groupings, observed how an actress could look wonderful one day, yet tired and older another; he recognised this was the effect of the colour she was wearing on her skin.

Just as Itten's rules of colour harmony provide valuable guidance to supplement the intuitive colour sense of artists and designers, so it can also be applied to your personal image. Itten and others, through their involvement with colour, have established that each individual has a basic skin pigment which falls into one of four groupings which are defined by the unique combination of depth, hue and tone; in colour analysis these have become known as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter because of the pattern of colours found in each group. Two of these groups reflect warm-based colours which complement Spring and Autumn; the other two reflect cool-based colours which enhance Summer and Winter.

Dorr questioned his medical friends who confirmed that the make-up of the skin's layers can be tinged slightly blue or yellow. The base colour or undertone gives the hue while the surface colour is known as the overtone. These can be different on an individual hence someone can be blue based with yellowish overtones or yellow based with a bluish look.

Dorr developed Itten's original colour spectrum to provide a larger selection of colours providing choice and variety for each skin tone to help with creating the many and varied effects required by the film and television industry. And the 'Image Consultant' was born. Someone to help create an Image that suits an individual (or not) depending on the required look e.g. friendly or not, professional or not, trustworthy or not, healthy or not!

The simplicity and clarity of using four main groups enables you to understand your colours more easily as a client and, as importantly, to be trained effectively to consultants who go on to deliver the product of Colour Analysis to real people like you, wanting to know the answer to 'how can I look good' or 'How do I know what suits me' and many more questions in a similar vein.

In the 1980's a leading Image Consultant, Carolyn Miller, recognised that, while easy to understand, four seasons on their own was too rigid, inflexible and not sufficient to provide each client with an individual colour analysis that was both representative of their best colours and usable.

Carolyn evolved the system further to introduce the flexibility required to honour the kaleidoscopic range of skin tones. Centred on the concept of the colour wheel, Dorr's system was further developed to enable each individual client to have a unique analysis or colour prescription and access a flow of colour; the House of Colour system was created.

This system is consistent with Munsell's three dimensional model since each of the four seasons contains the full spectrum of value (light to dark) and is determined by hue and chroma; thus it has stood the test of time since 1985. While fashions, trends and fads come and go, the theory of colour, as interpreted by House of Colour, remains based in science, logic and objectivity; enabling each and every client to take their individual colour analysis to create and develop their own unique look in line with their lifestyle.

By following the basic principles now established to determine a person's season, colour harmony is fully utilised on a personal basis.