ITTEN: The Elements of Color, 1970.

by Amy Collier

Twelve-part color circle

Developed from the primary colors yellow/red/blue and the secondary colors orange/green/violet

ITTEN: The Elements of Color, 1970
front cover

Contrast of Hue

Checkerboard pattern in yellow, red, blue, white and black

The Color Sphere

Five principal routes between two contrasting colors

Color Agent and Color Effect

Yellow squares of equal size look bigger on white than on black

The Color Sphere

Twelve-pointed color star: Each pure color is tinted in two steps to white and shaded in two steps to black.

Cold-Warm Contrast

Checkered composition contrasting cold and warm colors

The Color Sphere

The octahedron as a figure for constructing harmonious hexads in the color sphere

Contrast of Extension

Circle of primary and secondary colors in harmonious proportion

Contrast of Saturation

On a checkered pattern of 25 squares, luminous orange is placed in the center. The four corners are neutral gray in the same brilliance as the pure color. Graded admixture of gray with the pure color produces intermediate shades of low saturation.

Simultaneous Contrast

Each of six pure color squares contains a small neutral gray square, matching the background color in brilliance. Each gray square seems to be tinged with the complementary of the background. The simultaneous effect becomes more intense, the longer the principal color of a square is viewed.

The Color Sphere

View of surface of sphere

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ITTEN: The Elements of Color, 1970

A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten based on his book The Art of Color
Edited and with a foreward and evaluation by Faber Birren
Translated by Ernst Van Hagen

Originally published in German under the title KUNST DER FARBE,
by Johannes Itten
Copyright © 1970 and portions of the work © 1961 by Otto Maier Verlag,
Ravensburg, Germany

A recent biblio find, the iconic cover elements and title of Itten: The Elements of Color (1970), quickly captured my eye in spite of the book not being in pristine condition. Swiss-born, expressionist painter, designer, theorist and Bauhaus instructor Johannes Itten (1888–1967) is a name synonymous with color theory alongside another well known Bauhaus artist and instructor colleague Josef Albers (1888–1976).

Johannes Itten’s legendary work, The Art of Color (1961), is a bible on color theory still today. The Elements of Color “is a simplified and condensed presentation of Johannes Itten’s major work. […] It brings you his famous color teachings in an easy-to-understand way and in a format convenient for ready reference on desk or easel.”

I searched and found copies of these Itten out of print books available online. A list can be found here and here. More German and English translated books by Johannes Itten here and here. Both color theory books (the original and the condensed version) I highly recommend for any designer’s or artist’s library.

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From the book:

Johannes Itten (1888–1967), considered one of the greatest teachers of the art of color in modern times, was born in Thun, Switzerland. In 1913 his interest in color brought him to Stuttgart, Germany, to study under Adolph Hölzell, one of the leading German color theorists and educators of the time.

From Stuttgart he went to Vienna, where he ran his own school for several years. In 1919 he took fourteen of his students to Weimar where he joined the famous Bauhaus founded by Walter Gropius. He became a master there and conducted basic courses in color and form in association with such other great artists as Josef Albers, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. After leaving the Bauhaus he operated his own school in Berlin where he formulated many of the principles he later put in book form. He also taught at the school of Textile Design at Krefeld, Germany, and from 1938 to 1954 he was director of the Arts and Crafts School and the Textile School, both at Zurich.

During this time Professor Itten did much painting and exhibited widely in European art galleries. He also wrote pamphlets, treatises and books. His masterwork, The Art of Color, still remains one of the most important and most used teaching books on color.


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