Colour matching exercise

Revisiting Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, this time chapter XIX, exercise XIX-1 (p.174 in the Yale 50th Anniversary Edition). Here’s an example of one of Albers’ students completing the exercise, colour-matching a Matisse painting using coloured paper.

This exercise is an acid test for my Colour Vision Deficiency. I know some of my matches will appear inaccurate to people with normal colour vision, so it’s a matter of learning about the degree of inaccuracy and what parts of the spectrum are most affected.

I used Photoshop to do these exercises, selecting my match colours in the Colour Picker window. The results seem to indicate that my colour vision is least accurate for colours in which only a small amount of a primary colour is present – for example, the small amount of red that makes the difference between blue and purple, or the small amount of colour in a pale colour like the background of Matisse’s Blue Nude II or the smallest square in Albers’ Homage to the Square: Wide Sight (both below).


4 thoughts on “Colour matching exercise

  1. Fun, and useful I hope. I gorged on Ellsworth Kelly at Peggy Guggenheim in Venice – Your matches for that and the Matisse Snail are perfect.. Your insight into the why some colours are better copied than others is interesting. I’m keen to know if you will absorb this knowledge so that your colour choices will be altered in some way to account for the deficiency?

    I hope not. Knowing about the different perception you have is one thing. I think I suggested some time back that you have “nailed” colour. Maybe your particular deficiency is minor??? or maybe the art of colour is in gradations and interactions, contrasts and complementarities rather than in specific colours.


    • I’m really glad that those matches are good, that’s encouraging. For sure, the art of colour is in the interactions, but seeing a slightly reduced spectrum changes those relationships and that’s where the problems arise. For example, I might see a large pale patch as “off-white” when others see it as pale pink, and compositionally that puts it in a completely different relationship with any other colours in the picture. It’s a real problem, but on the other hand, it might turn out to be a fertile phenomena to explore in paintings, since they’re colourful objects that people look at, and colour is not at all the only thing that we all see slightly differently. One of the things I’d love to do is develop a way of working in which I can rely on what I see and develop my eye, rather than my current approach which often depends heavily on knowing what colour I’m using by what’s written on the tubes. This is very stilted and creates all sorts of problems, like not being able to mix the same colour twice, etc. But I’m enjoying the challenge of it all. Turning lemons into lemonade. 🙂


      • wow Liam, chewing over the pointy implications of your colour disability (I’m not sure that’s a good label) is sure making me think about not only your dilemnas but the subjectivity of colour as it is perceived. Given that you will see colour slightly differently sometimes, I’m inclined to the view that to see this as a problem, might itself become a problem for you. (If you were to attempt realist nature paintings or anything from life, there might be a case.)

        First you paint for yourself. You deal with colour in a painters way. I’ve said you nail colour. I hope that doesn’t mean that your “mistakes”, born out of your impaired sense of colour, please me because in some way you are providing a painting for my eyes, which you can’t see with yours. That’s all circular and you will readily identify flaws in it. But it leads me to want to engage with the notion of your situation being a fertile phenomenen worth exploring in your paintings. It could be I suppose. Being cognisant of the shades of difference from your audience’s perception and confidently incorporating such knowledge into your skills set could enable all sorts of a sophistications and nuance.

        But I rather hope that it doesnt end up distracting you from simply following your own eye and judgment on colour. Even a practised second guessing, or translating and editing your colours because of your learned awareness of our differing perceptions of them could lead to introversion or be an end in itself. I think I’ve laboured this point enough/

        More important – you have embarked on a serious project. From your own eyes, there is no disability. You exhibit a self awareness and confidence and growth vital if such a project is ever to succeed, Thus far, your sense of colour hasn’t bothered you or limited this progress. Why should it ever? If you can be content to know that the differences are not fundamental, then just go for it. Perhaps it would be valid to never again interrogate the viewer’s sense of colour vis a vis your own.


      • I think the difference in colour vision might be a way into more general differences in the way we see, and the more I learn about neuroplasticity the more I think that the way we see a painting can be very varied, between individual people, and even for one person at different times in their life. Also, when I’m painting with colours, the sense that I’m working in the dark and that most people can see what I’m doing more clearly than I see it myself, that’s not something I want to ignore. It’s too important, and too interesting! But I also don’t want it to become inhibiting, like you say. So from time to time I give it attention, like now.


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