ColoRotate: Making sense of color

With six million color receptors in our retinas, color is a fundamental element of the human visual experience. Yet the science of color vision doesn’t begin to explain our reverence when witnessing a Hawaiian sunset or the exuberance that arises when taking in a Mondrian painting. Color informs everything from our gustatory experiences, where we first “eat with our eyes,” to our perceptions of psychological (“flushed with shame”) and physical (“deathly pale”) states. Our myriad color projects explore both the science and art of color, and have the following goals:

Inspiring non-scientists to engage in a scientific understanding of color — We seek to interest professionals, students, and the public in understanding slices of neuroscience, physics, and chemistry. Our multidisciplinary virtual exhibits, “Color Vision and Art” (art and the brain), “Pigments through the Ages” (artists’ pigments), and “Causes of Color” (chemistry, physics, and art) are designed to boost visitors’ scientific and artistic literacy.

Understanding colorblindness — In order to advance understanding of the ways in which art, design, and public signage need to accommodate those with colorblindness, we have created several tools that simulate colorblindness. These tools are integrated into the vision simulator in the “Causes of Color” virtual exhibit, as well as in the ColoRotate app and web site. Exhibit visitors and app users experience how an image appears to those who have various forms of colorblindness, as well as how color palettes are perceived.

Working with colors — “Color theory” is often obsolete or based on inaccurate theories of vision. A deeper understanding of how the brain perceives colors helps those who work with color to better choose and understand the relationships between colors. Our ColoRotate iPad app acts like a spectrograph, allowing users to examine color distribution in photographs. Students can build palettes from existing images, generate random palettes, or make precise adjustments with sliders and a joystick. The app directly syncs with Photoshop for digital art courses. ColoRotate improves users’ intuitive understanding of how colors work, without requiring them to have a theoretical understanding of color systems or expertise in color selection.

Directory of our color resources: