Practical Color Theory Training Framework for Tertiary Art Students – A Comparison between the Itten Color Wheel and Munsell Color Space

Ng Woon Lam – Singapore Nanyang Technological University

This research was conducted based on the study produced by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the strength and weakness of the color theory training approach based on the Itten Color System (Itten, 1970) and the Munsell Color System (Munsell, 1941). The Itten model is a two dimensional wheel that does not represent browns and grays. The Munsell model, being three dimensional, relates all the browns and grays with their chromatic parent hues. In addition, the latter also include the relationship between all three color attributes. However, a three dimensional model is complex to a beginner student to grasp the concept and visualize the color relationship immediately. The research will compare in detail the advantage and disadvantage of each model so as to develop a new model to assist students’ learning of colors.

Another important difference of the Munsell model is its true representation of the asymmetry of a practical color space. The Itten model adapting the circular ring model from Newton Optics (Martins, 2001) which does not take into practical situations that colors need to be treated differently as they do not occupy the same about of practically color space in reality. A student needs to understand how colors will shift in order to handle it well in all situations during all kinds of mixing process, which includes both pigment mixtures or optical blending process. Therefore, knowing the asymmetry of a practical color space is critical.

A quantitative study was conducted through running of color theory workshops with these two different color theory frameworks. Students participating in the workshops took pre-test and post-test to understand their learning outcome and response. Supporting qualitative studies of students’ response were also carried out through email interviews and face-to-face interviews to further understand their learning outcome and issues related to the two different workshops.

Itten, J. (1970). The Elements of Color (1st ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, INC.
Martins, R. D. A., Silva, Cibelle Celestino. (2001). Newton and Colour: the Complex Interplay of Theory and Experiment. Science & Education, pp287-305.
Munsell, A. H., Farnum, R. B. (1941). A Color Notation : An Illustrated System Defining All Colors and Their Relations 1941 (9th ed.). Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Kessinger Publishing.