Serious play: Who knew brushing up on your design skills could be so much fun?

[Emily Potts] Children learn to solve problems and make things through play, so why not carry this into adulthood to sharpen our minds in our personal and professional lives? Playing with Color: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Color Design Principles (Rockport Publishers), by Richard Mehl, is a workbook for designers and artists looking to expand their color vocabulary.

Mehl states in his introduction, “Play is vital to the education of artists and designers.” Playing with Color encourages readers to step away from the computer, get out some paper, scissors, glue, paint, markers, etc., and make things.

The book starts with an introduction to the basics of color theory so readers understand the “rules”  before deconstructing them in their own experiments. There’s also a list of workshop materials and a glossary of terms used throughout the book, and then the “playing” begins. Below are some examples of the experiments presented in Playing with Color.

Challenge: Create a set of reflexive compositions
Readers are challenged to create a stripe composition, then using the same colors try making a new composition that performs differently. Materials: gouache on watercolor paper; (left) Hae Jeon Lee; (right) Pablo Delkan.

Challenge: Create patterns that suggest transparency and spatial illusion
Experiment with combinations of geometric forms in super-units. A grayscale or monochromatic scale provides enough variety to create playful illusions of transparency. Pattern: Karishma Sheth; computer rendering.

Challenge: Create a daily practice of color and calligraphy
Materials: colored chalk, black chalkboard paint on wall; design: Pablo Delkan

Challenge: Explore serendipity and color contrast through scratchboard
Materials: oil pastels, cardboard; tools for scratching; (left) Haehyun Park, accordion book; (right) Pablo Delkan, illustration for a book cover.

Challenge: Express feelings and thoughts using color contrast and abstract form
Materials: Color-aid paper; gouache paint on watercolor paper; (left) Moo Nee Kim, separate/together diptych; (right) Han Gyeol Lyu, melting/freezing diptych.

Color is one of the most important—if not the most important—part of any design project. Everyone has a visceral relationship with color, so knowing how and when to use it in client projects is crucial to the success of any project, be it packaging, book covers, products, identities, you name it. By playing with color and color properties, you can better understand color relationships and emotional triggers. Now go on, and play!

Get your copy of Playing with Color from Rockport Publishers, Amazon or your local bookseller.

Emily Potts has been a contributor to Felt & Wire since 2010, reporting on design news, new books and people she loves. Her day job is senior acquisitions editor at Rockport Publishers.

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