Peter Donahue

About Color and How We See the World
July 5, 2022
Peter: So every person's eyes has a different balance of those cone... cone cells. And so literally, you know, that will like grade school question. Like everybody here in the United States, asks like when they're 10 years old, it's like: "oh, is what I see different from what you see." And it's like one of the first kind of phenomenological questions that people ask. It's actually kind of true, that. Because the photo receptors in your eyes are a little bit different. Literally everybody sees yellow differently, and nobody can agree on what the perfect yellow is. Which I just, I just find that so interesting.

[intro music]

Bruno: Hello, everyone. And welcome back to the Design is for Everyone podcast. A project that intends to explore how people perceive design and all the components surrounding it.

Today, we're talking with Peter Donahue, also known as color.nerd on TikTok. An arts teacher by day, content creator in his free time, Peter has embraced the world of color theory and wants to make it more understandable and correct for everyone starting from a young age.

And well, the show doesn't really usually have any type of introductions. So, I guess we're live.

Peter: Okay, well. Here we are.

Bruno: Hi again, everyone. Today we got Peter Donahue. Also known as color.nerd. Right? Is that it?

Peter: Yes. You know, I'm known to more people as that, than I've been known by my real name to people in my real life at this point. So I guess that's it. That's going on my gravestone now.

Bruno: Oh, damn. Yeah, so welcome Peter. And I like to start every podcast episode with a little bit of background about you guys. So I was actually gonna ask you, what led you down the path of arts? How did you became an artist and illustrator?

Peter: Sure. Yeah. Um... so I've been, you know. I've been drawing since, before I could write, I guess. As a kid, I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes, and I made my own kind of like, bootleg Calvin and Hobbes comics. I made my own characters. It just kinda went from there.

But I think another huge influence on me growing up was that my grandmother was really into Bob Ross, and all those kinds of shows. Right?

They had Bill Alexander. They had Helen van Wyk. All these, how to paint shows. Which, you know, very much we're spreading oil painting to the masses. And she wanted to do that. She didn't want to just follow along and paint. She wanted to do her own business. So she was a bit of an entrepreneur as well. And I think that really stuck with me, you know ?

When I was growing up, we... she lived in our house and had all of these like business materials all over the place. And was just doing mail ordered How to Paint lessons, that she was, you know, advertising, and catalogs. And so that kind of stuck with me, and I think, in a weird way TikTok is like my 21st century version of just following in the same footsteps as that.

Bruno: That's nice.

Peter: Yeah.

Bruno: No, but it's one of those things. Like, every one of us has this moment where some of those influences that we had as kids, pushes through this type of things.

Peter: Right.

Bruno: On my case, although not an artist, my grandfather knew... I kind of started like drawing a lot, getting my own comic book like versions of characters and stuff like that. And my grandfather saw that as an opportunity like: "Oh, he really likes this." So he started pushing a lot of things to me. Comics, architectural books, things that have to do with artists, and painters, and such. And that also ended up leading down the path where I am today. And I think all of us have one of those stories.

Although. To be fair, here in Portugal we don't really have as much of a Bob Ross type of...

Peter: That's interesting.

Bruno: Yeah. Closest to that would probably be that type of kitchen... and cooking shows, where...

Peter: Right. Those are very universal.

Bruno: Yeah. Aside from that, we actually didn't have anyone in arts. Or at all doing these type of things. But yeah. You had this backstory. You're an artist. You designed comics. But you also created this TikTok channel where you talk about color theory. And...

Peter: Right?

Bruno: What actually drove you to that world? What actually got you interested in color theory in the first?

Peter: Yeah! I mean it's a long story, but I mean... maybe the important thing, that kind of thing that pushed me over the edge, was probably the pandemic.

You know, I'm an art educator, and my first year chairing my department, at the school where I teach, was last year. The year where everybody was going online and everything. So I was immediately faced with a number of problems. You know, I wanted to teach color theory correctly, but none of the materials and supplies that are commercially available are correct.

You know, and so you try to buy a color wheel at the art supply store, or on or wherever. And it's this color wheel company... wheel, that's based on the Grumbacher wheel, which goes back to the seventies. Which is based on it, and which goes back to the forties and it's all just wrong.

So I didn't want that. So I knew I needed to kind of figure out something myself. And the other thing was that the supplies... if we're going to be going home. If our kids are going to be learning at home. It's very different from an English class where it's like, well, you bring your book home.

In an art classroom, what do we have to do? Buy twice as many supplies and send half of them home? So, the problem is you can't buy a set of classroom paints in CMYK, you know? If you try to buy the primary set it's red, yellow, blue. If you try to buy the student colored pencils, it's like a 12 pencil set, you don't get Magento or Cyan. So, how do you teach subtractive color mixing to high school students, if you want to take the right approach?

So all of these problems kind of presented themselves to me at once. And then... by May, you... you know, by kind of the end of that year. I took everything I had learned from all the problem solving as a teacher. How do I... how do I teach color theory, when I have to kind of make up my own materials, and everything? And I said, why don't I go online with it and see if other people are kind of in the same boat or whatever, you know?

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: So, and that's kind of essentially the short version of the story.

Bruno: But... But... It's a topic that I don't think many people talk about. Like, all of us, at some point in time, in life, we had some arts class and we all remember having that set of pencils, crayons, whatever. And we never really questioned if those were right or wrong, because color theory was that. And it wasn't even... here in Portugal, I think we have... yeah, we have like, since fifth grade you actually have like more formal arts and, they call it, visual and technology education, but it's essentially arts and a lot of like crafts and stuff.

And collar theory is just a really small portion of it. And usually it's like, you know, the three basic colors and then the complimentary colors. And there's not much than that.

Peter: Right... right.

Bruno: And I think I never tought about the fact that, if you go and buy a painting, you actually, yeah. You get the red, blue and yellow. We really don't get Magenta as many times, which is, yeah.

Peter: Yeah, it's interesting. Right? I think to hear too, a lot. I've gotten feedback from different teachers who follow my channel, who say: "You know, I only have two weeks to deal with color theory in all of elementary school. And how am I ever going to get to all this stuff?" And it's like: "I... you know, that's a good question."

So, yeah, to connect to this question of making design accessible to everyone. I think that's maybe one of my longterm goals. Is how do I get, not just color wheels, like I don't want to just sell a product, that's not really my goal. But how do I get this approach of teaching kids to mix color and be able to predict what's going to happen correctly. Which, often just flies in the face of what they're currently taught. Like, you know, the, the, the... best example is purple. Right?

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: You teach Red plus Blue is purple. But the red and blue you get in a fourth grade classroom, the red is going to be Scarlet like firetruck red, and the blue is going to be like ultra Marine blue. And if you mix those together, you'd get like a dull gray purple. Then you have a choice... as a kid. You're either like I did it wrong. And the teacher might go with that. You know, and say: "Yup. Oh, well." Or, you know: "Well. Maybe we'll try". You know, whatever.

It's like, the question never really gets addressed. Right? So that, I mean, that whole part of the education process is something really interesting to me. Right? Where we're willing to accept: "Well, that didn't quite work how we expected. But I'm still going to hold onto the theory." It's like, that's why the dark ages lasted so long. This doesn't... you know? The reality doesn't bear out with the theory predicted. But the theory is probably fine, right?

Bruno: Yeah. And we're not in the dark ages, right? We're in the time where, if kids want to learn something, they can easily just open a laptop. Open their phones. And just search for it and try to figure it out. But some of those questions aren't really easily explained out there, and it makes sense to have that done.

Peter: And there's a lot of wrong information out there. If you Google color wheel, the first hundred results you get are going to be wrong. So it's like this feedback loop.

Bruno: Yeah. And it just... I think it repercutes to the point where, in life, people like me. I'm a professional designer for over 10 years right now. I do a lot of branding. And most recently, for example, I started doing a lot of color studies, and color models for brands to be more reactive and more scalable. Think about like scale, like Google type of stuff. Like Google creates their whole systems like Material Design, and what's not. And then they use colors from photographies, and they generate color palettes and stuff like that.

There's a lot of science beyond that. But if your primary thoughts around color are wrong, then you're actually not going to get much more than that. And even understanding color models, because color models in the digital space are very different, and very much more complex than what we're taught at school.

Peter: Right, right. Well, the interesting thing about that is I think a lot of people see... if you are someone who is exposed to paint color theory, and digital color theory. I think a lot of people get stuck at this level of understanding where they think they're different. Or they say, well: " They're just two different languages". Rather than they're: "It's the same color space". There's only one color space, based on human vision, perception and the whole, you know. So it's not that on my computer. Yellow and Blue are opposites, but on my color wheel, yellow and purple are opposites because it's just different. Now maybe one of those is wrong.

People just don't get there. They don't ask that question. And I don't know why, you know? I think it's just, you're presented with a model and you don't question it. Which is interesting because, as you're saying, if you get into design, and where there's, you know, if you're doing work for a client, for a corporation and there's hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, and you're somebody who has a bad model in your head. That's, that's a problem. It's a big problem.

Bruno: And at some point, you're going to start seeing the breaks in those, in those models. And I guess that's where your whole Color Disk project came to be. Right? You wanted to create a more accurate model. Is that it?

Peter: Right. Right. So if you take... If you take... there's like this whole evolution from the CIE 1931 color space, which is like the funky horse shoe. A lot of people in lighting design, and things like that are aware of it. And then there's the 1976 version. And then like, they've updated it a couple of times. The model that I like is the 2002 model. And it's not just a color space, it's a color appearance model. And that means that there, the math going into it is taking into account not just measurements of stimulus, but also the context, right?

So CIECAM02 is that, that color appearance model. And it's saying, you know, depending on the lighting. Depending on the scene. Depending on all of these contextual elements. How do we perceive a color? And my color disk is based on that, on that color space.

And... but that is so technical, and involves a lot of math, and it's actually kind of beyond me. The more technical aspects of it. I'm not a somebody who's at that level of understanding. But I can look at resources, and draw connections, and I can say if we just decide to base a color wheel on this. And then accept the fact that paint mixing paths are not straight lines. Is that then a model that can continue to be correct, and just bring people to it rather than our current system, which is not really a system. But which is to say: "Well, we'll just start with a wrong model. And then as you learn more, you learn that what you thought was right was wrong. And then you have to keep updating". Like what? Why? Like what other subject is taught that way?

You know, I liken it to chemistry, right? If you go to school for chemistry, they're not going to, in your first year, teach you alchemy.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: And then: "Okay, now that you've learned that, you're going to learn that that was wrong and now here's the correct way." Like it's crazy. So I said: "Well, why don't I take kind of one of the more current color appearance models, base the spacing of my hues of my color wheel on that. But then also in the third version, I'm on kind of like the third iteration of it. So that it's not so technical, also overlay on that culturally, what we think of as these colors.

So for example, my current model has this big blob on it, that's green. Right? It's a quarter of the color space. And a lot of people will look at that and say: "Why is there so much green?" Or, you know, like: "Well it's because that's how our eyes work." I mean, there are a lot of Hues around the color wheel, which we would just lump together and call green. but they are different hues.

Blue is another great example. It's like another quarter of the wheel. But it's because culturally we just call that all blue. Linguistically it might all be Azul or whatever language you're in. But, if you actually look at the relationships. You see that the categories should be different. I don't know, I'm kind of like jumping around a bit, but. You know what I mean? It's about the perception of color difference and relationships and all of those things. All of those things I think are layered together. Right?

So if I, you know, if I put this big blob and I say: "We would call anything within this area, blue." Yeah. That's one thing. So that's like at a certain level, somebody can grasp that if they look at it and can say: "Okay, if you draw a line from here to yellow, you can see it goes through green. But where does it go through green?" It doesn't go through bright green. Goes through dull green, right?

And so those are the kinds of things that I think that you can teach to a kid in middle school, or high school. Which then later when they, if they continue in their art and design education in college and beyond they can still look at the same model and it'll still be correct. And they can just develop a deeper understanding of why. Right? Whereas right now, the experience is I'm going to get my color wheel company color wheel. That shows all the hues at max saturation around the ring and say: "Okay. If I mix blue and yellow, I'm somehow traveling around the edge of that ring."

Bruno: And not between...

Peter: Which is not. Not between through... like, with saturation cost. With the color becoming duller. So. Then you have to unlearn that when you, you know, if you become a professional painter. And you say: "Oh, well. You know, why is my ultra Marine and my Cadmium Yellow giving me this disgusting green?" Because I should be using Phthalo green, and then some yellow. You know what I mean? So why relearn that? Why go through the struggle when the model that you're working from the beginning be correct. You know, correct. So... That's the whole project in a nutshell, I guess.

Bruno: No, but it's... it's an amazing effort, because... again, looking at color wheels and thinking of colors as not just fully saturated and additive as in the digital space. Because in the digital space, you can probably play with saturation easier than you would play with paint, right?

And even when we get to the point where we discuss more digital versus print models in the digital space like RGB and then CMYK. And again, RGB is also a printable model when it comes to photography. Right?

Peter: Right, right.

Bruno: There's so many little small details there that. People need to understand that is actually how these colors interact with each other or they add on and, and now they change. Which is...

Peter: I would love for somebody who is like a second year university student in design, to be able to just, know that red and green together, additive or subtractive, is going the same direction. It's just a difference of saturation. Whereas right now, I think most people are like: "Oh, well. It's totally different."

You know. When you're mixing light, you have red and green make yellow because it's totally different than red and green making brown. Because you're taught that they're compliments and brown is neutral, which makes no sense. But brown is just de-saturated yellow. Yeah. So you're moving in the same direction in terms of Hue. It's just that they're subtracting and losing luminance and light. They're adding and gaining luminance. And it's like...

To me, that's like duh... but, but from the feedback I've gotten on TikTok to a lot of people that's not duuh. It's like, yeah, it's it's mind blowing. It's confusing. So you know why it shouldn't be, but it is because they're learning the wrong model.

Bruno: Yeah. And usually you always start. And here is where, for example, we enter again, the conversation between digital and physical. In school. Most likely you will learn both models in different ways, because you'll learn that one only applies to paint, and the other only applies to light. And you don't talk about screens. You don't talk about digital spaces. You talk about light versus ink, right?

Peter: Right.

Bruno: And, at least for me, it was clear from the beginning, even when I was a small kid, that one was... you were adding the other was subtracting. Or saturation. I didn't knew the name back then. But I could see that it still confused my mind, ' cause I didn't have an understanding of what yellow is, and what orange is when they go less saturated. Right? And when would they go dark?

Peter: Right, right. It's like, you're trying to navigate without a map. Right?

Bruno: Yeah, yeah! And nowadays I would argue, even if it's easier for us to use digital spaces to teach them about that, even in the way that they actually play with colors. I don't know. I think it's easier for a kid to actually get a free drawing app on a phone, and actually understand what colors to mix, and how they mix, and use those multiply subtract modelsand whatnot, than actually materials. Although...

Peter: It's difficult right?

Bruno: It's yes and no, because when you're a small kid specifically. I think, getting your hands dirty with paint would probably be much fun, way too... much more fun way to learn.

Peter: That's true. That's true. Yeah. What complicates this is now we're reaching a point in technology where there are apps that digitally mix color in ways that mimic physical mixing. I've just started to see this, like this year. And then, so I wonder what that's going to do. In terms of either clarifying or confusing all of this.

You know, there's this one called Rebelle 5, Rebelle version five. Now has this thing where if you mix yellow and blue, rather than gray, which is what you would get in Photoshop. You know, like if you're mixing a 0000ff with ff0000. Right? You would actually get a green. Because it's not... it's not just treating them as text coordinates. It's treating them as spectral profiles. So it mimics the way physical things that reflect light. So I think that's wild and really cool, and I'm probably going to do a couple of videos on it pretty soon.

But at the same time if you're, like you say, if you're a kid who now has access to an iPad, and can do all this on the cheap and not, you know, paint's expensive or whatever. All this stuff. But are you going to understand all the mechanics behind why that is actually this really sophisticated mimicking of something that shouldn't happen in a digital space.

Bruno: Yeah. It makes it really hard, especially for the educators like you, right? If you try and talk with and tell them how this works. I'm guessing is always going to be hard because they have many inputs. And again, they don't have the right model ... we're always getting back there.

Peter: Well, it's like, it's where superstition comes from in the first place. Right? There are a lot of artists, digital artists too. You'd think there wouldn't be right. There's always been a lot of superstition around art where it's like, I have to have my materials a certain way, otherwise, I'm not going to get my results or I can't be creative. That's always been a part of art.

But you would think with digital processes, where you can hit undo, or you can document process in ways that you weren't able to before. There'd be less superstition, but I almost feel like there's more. Like: "Oh, I have to use, I have to use seven screen layers. Or I have to use multiply and then screen" and like. No! Just do the math and figure out that you can do it in one step.

You know, so I think a lot of that, where you're saying is true that. Because they have all these inputs, kids learning design now, there's an opportunity for them to gain a better understanding. But, but I think on the flip side, there's also an opportunity for more like superstitious, bizarre practices to emerge.

I've seen some weird stuff. Some kids do really weird stuff in Photoshop, just because they didn't stop and think. Is there a more efficient way to do this? You know?

Bruno: Yeah. And no. And it comes from years of learning to do that. I remember the first time I started drawing digitally, I was learning Corel Draw and for you to try and draw textures to make it more like a real human face, there was like six, or seven different layers that they would tell you to build. Each one had like, one had shadows, the other one had the under tone the other one had like something in it. And there was a lot of complexity in the way that you would build. Nowadays, there's a lot of that the apps already automate for you. There's a lot of that that comes pre-made.

And, even when you're talking about color mixing. I remember that one of the things that I really loved about an iPad app, a few years ago, that I still use do they call it Paper. That, it was bought from 53 and it's now owned by WeTransfer. If I'm not mistaken. It's a notepad app, basically. Where you have this little Moleskines where you, do your thing. And then there's different types of tools. As many other apps. But what was really cool about theirs? It was already doing a lot of that, where it would use.

For example, if you were using water colors, the additive model would be more like real-world. So you could feel like it was a material changing. And then there was a color mixer. What did we select one color. And then if you wanted to select the other you had to basically mix it up, like rotating your pen on a screen. And it would feel like you were mixing up ink. It would see those tones mixing up, and like felt real. That helped me understand a lot, some of those color mixes and changes that I wouldn't understand by looking at an RGB slider. Which is still like one of those regular models. Like people still use a lot of RGB sliders, or use saturation lightness, or brightness slides. And there's not much understanding how different they are from each other. And where they leave you with creating colors.

Peter: Oh, that's so interesting that you say that. I mean, I've been thinking a lot, especially as a teacher about, you know, if we're in Photoshop and you get that color wheel space with the hue saturation block, right? Where it's kind of like brightness goes on one side saturation. Was it the other way? The problem is the way color tends to work is fall off. Right? If a light source is giving you fall off, It's not just a change in value. It's a change in hue. And so that typical way of presenting it in a lot of digital workspaces where it's just here's the Hugh as a wheel, but here's like a slice of that as your hue, saturation. I mean, I'm sorry. It would be like the saturation value is the square that you're moving around in.

So you don't actually get to see the path. Or you can't visualize the path that it's taking the curvy path that it's taken through hue. As well as through saturation. So I think a lot of kids learning on procreate, on iPads and a lot of kids doing digital art like that have a tough time, capturing light. Capturing light in their digital painting. Because, they're only looking at two out of three dimensions at a time. And so, you know, I don't know.

I'm kind of on a tangent. I forget what the point I was making, but I think it's just connecting to... connecting to the fact that the interface it's kind of what you're talking about, right? The interface for color mixing in a given app. There's pros and cons to it, because it can teach you things that you otherwise wouldn't understand, and you can gain an intuition about it. But it also can limit you in some ways. Like if it's separating you from saturation and value, you're not going to see the way all three interact. Right? So, I don't know.. Interesting stuff.

Bruno: Yeah. Um... when I look at those type of color models, for example, most recently I do most of my design in a tool called Figma. And whenever you change the color model when you're selecting tools, it changes, not only the sliders, but also the previsualization of what you're looking at.

So in a Hue, Saturation, Lightness model, it gives you a hue with all the saturation, and all the lightness as a square. So you get like the center line... Right side on the center line is completely saturated with the brightness of the a hundred percent. Let's say that. And you, when you're moving the slide as you see it moving around on that hue, but you'll never be able to understand what that does, when you're trying to change hue, because it really... It's not exactly the same thing, and colors don't have the same brightness even on the screen because your eyes perceive them differently. Right?

Peter: Right.

Bruno: But it feels a little more, a little bit more real way, than I have seen in other models, but it's still leads to a lot of mistakes when you were looking at the color.

Peter: Yes. Yes. Yeah, it's almost like what we really need is some kind of hypercube. Like some kind of three-dimensional... I don't know, some crazy looking thing. There's actually a great program you can download for free called The Artist's Helper. Where this guy, Bob Burrage, he actually emailed me. He found my channel. This guy's program, his design is that, if you load in a picture that you want to use as your photo reference, and then you load in a second picture that's of your pallet. So use the paints I have scored them out. Make sure your lighting's good. You know, roughly, it's going to give you a hex code, kind of reading on all of your paints, but it actually charts them into a 3d color model for you. So you have a bunch of choices. You can do CieLab, you can do RGB space, whatever you want to do. And then you can load the image data into that. And it'll give you, like, here's kind of a three-dimensional model of all of the 16 million colors in this JPEG. And here are where your paints are. It's really cool and worth checking out. If you haven't played with that.

But, but I feel like he's kind of headed in the right direction where it's like, you know, that kind of visualization for me, is much more useful than your typical RGB slider, or like wheel with a square in it kind of thing, because. You can get a sense for the spatial relationships of those coordinates. I mean, we talked back and forth a little bit in email and he kinda admitted like some of my questions were like: "So like, you know, how pigments curve? If you do Burnt Sienna plus Prussian Blue it should give you purple. Based on the color space, but it gives you green. Cause pigments are weird. It's like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's kind of a limitation because we're really just blending hex codes. They're not really blending paints.

But like combined what he's doing with like Rebelle 5 or some of these other newer apps, and I think we're almost there. To a place where, you know, correct understanding of color models are accessible to more people when they're trying to create digital art.

Bruno: I actually have a question, when it comes to those concepts of color models. Different people, might have different abilities to visualize this type of information. I have conversations about this a lot, a lot of times, and when we talk about a 2D collar model, being it's simpler or a little bit more complex. It is still a quite clean, simple visualization. You think that when we enter the 3D space, doesn't it create more confusion on people that don't have that capacity to visualize?

Peter: Yeah, it's such a good point. And I've been exploring ways to do that myself, right? I think the simplest one for people to grasp, who aren't like, you know... I am aware that my ability to model something three-dimensionally in my head is something that took me years to get. So like, when I'm teaching a 15 year old, I take it for granted that they can't do that.

So what I try to show them is the model that I think is most graspable, is just like the hue, saturation, value. The cylinder. Right?

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: If you can get them to actually see that cylinder physically, where it's black at the bottom white at the top, and then your huge disc is in the middle. And then you can say, so where, you know, where's brown. They can usually figure it out. It's under the disc. It's down here. Where's periwinkle, you know, they can usually kind of do that. But I wouldn't ask somebody at that level to try and visualize it without that aid. It's...

Well here, here's another thing. If you're not aware of Kolormondo, that's another person I've been in touch with is Nicol... um, Nicoline... she's in Sweden. I can't remember her last name 'cause it's not a familiar name to me.

Bruno: Yeah, no worries.

Peter: If you look up color, Kolormondo with a K. We've emailed a couple of times, and she's sending me some of her models, but it's this small company and they're trying to make, an accessible 3D color space for classrooms.

Bruno: Nice.

Peter: And so it's like a kit you can put together. It's like an Otto Runge sphere. So it's putting white at the north pole and black at the south pole. It's C M Y K based. So it's a good model. But it's about maybe eight layers. So that you still have enough air, you still have enough empty space that you can rotate it and look, and kind of see internally the structure of it. Right. Cause a lot of problems with those sphere-type models is that you're just looking at the surface.

But the Kolormondo's model is very focused on get the kids to realize it's a three-dimensional space and look inside the sphere. Very, very worth checking out. I think it's listed on I don't know if you have it in Europe. That's like our main art supplies supplier over here.

Bruno: I don't know if we have it, I need to check. Because I think in Europe it's more like, it's not a European thing. It's more a country by country thing. Here in Portugal. Even when you look at arts probably there's like a couple of bigger art stores that you know, that you can get stuff from there. But then most people would most definitely go to regular, like commercial surfaces, and try to figure out which are the ones that are better equipped with those types of things.

Right. Right.

Also because arts has always been an under... an underdog when it comes to the...

Peter: International commerce and everything. Yeah. It's true.

Bruno: It's true. And it's not like it's not valued. We have art classes for everyone. We have a lot of stuff that makes it... makes people understand that art is part of what you can do with your life and even colleges in Portugal, there is... I think there's at least six or seven major art colleges in Portugal in major cities. So there's not lack of that. But there is a lack of connect with those types of things. Materials, things like that. There are very niche, very hidden. So...

Peter: That's what it is. Yup.

Bruno: Yeah. And...

Peter: So. Oh, go ahead. Yeah.

Bruno: I was gonna start shifting things a little bit. We already talked a lot about color models, which is great. It's a conversation that I could have for hours, but we... we really have to put a timer on this. I would actually... Would love to shift the conversation a little bit into one part of color that I always find really interesting. And I'm not sure if you ever talk about it or not. Which is called a significance and our changes per culture. This is something that I had to deal with a lot with. Um... even this week, I have a huge conversation about white text on red backgrounds because of Chinese new year stuff.

Peter: Right, right, right.

Bruno: Because my colleagues in Asia Pacific teams, keep saying that's an auspicious color and people don't really like it, and whatnot. So if you could take out the white and stuff, and that's really unimaginable for someone to western descend, right? Like, for us, it's very lively, clean. And for them is that and everything. Do you think that also affects the way that we talk about color as a culture? I'm not sure.

Right here, we're talking in the same level, I think between the United States and Europe overall Western culture talks about color very similarly. But...

Peter: Right. You know, it's interesting. I think, there's the symbolic level, right. There's the emotional or... I don't want to say superstitious, but like, you know. There's that level of association, within a culture, with color. But there's also kind of the level of categorization, right?

How many buckets do you put color in for, you know. Are you... Do you speak the language that distinguishes blue and green or doesn't distinguish blue and green? Or like Russian where there's two blues. There's different kinds of ways that cultures organize the color space. I think.

And I think the way that interacts with the way we associate color with meaning, it's a huge source of misunderstanding color theory. And that's, you know, it's an area that I haven't done a huge amount of research in, but I got really curious and interested in like the Confucian system of color, like the ancient Chinese color theory, which is very much based in the number four. In the four directions, and all this kind of stuff.

And in some ways it's very similar to how pre-modern European color theory where. Like pre-Newton, I guess you could stay right where the concept was violet was a mixture of red and black. Or things like that, right? Where it's just, you know, have you ever seen a rainbow? Like.

So, there's definitely this level of: culturally this is the way we see colors relating because symbolically that makes sense to us. And that gets in the way of: well, but the hues are in this order, because of EM wavelength and all of that. And I think, I think on some level that still gets in the way, because, like I was saying before with the color blue. We don't tend to separate blue into multiple hues so that we can deal with color relationships. And I think that's cultural, you know.

Whether, you know. I don't know if you saw the video I did a while ago. There's like a Brazilian meme where this woman is trying to mix red and blue and singing this like kindergarten song about how red and blue make purple. And she gets gray and it looks all confused. Right? So I did a video on that cause I found it so interesting. I was looking at kind of the linguistic history of like vermelho is vermillion, which is really a Scarlet shade of red. Not a cool shade of red. So is there maybe culturally this like... I don't know. Is there this culturally? Predisposition to seeing red as warmer in some languages than others. And... I dunno.

Bruno: I would say that in Portuguese, yes. Red is very warm in the way that we look at it. Even in the way that we interpret it. And then of course, then there's an individual perception, but I have conversations about this. I work with a brand that is red, black, and white, essentially. And our red is very warm, almost orange. Right?

Peter: Exactly. Exactly. And to me, that's Vermilion in English. I would call it Vermilion, which is interesting.

Bruno: But, but for us, like there, there is even that linguistics question where even in Portuguese, we don't distinguish as much levels of color, I would say. We talk about cyan. But are we don't really have that many different names for blue? Because linguistically we never wanted, we call it dark blue, soft blue, baby blue, or Navy blue. That's right.

Peter: But it's all something blue. A modifier.

Bruno: Exactly . Never a specific color. We have colors like salmon which is very specific. But there are other ends of color that, in the Portuguese language I know that we don't really have a direct translation to it as a different tone, or different Hue.

Peter: Right. Yeah. It's interesting. So there's, you know. There's like the major buckets that a culture has versus like, if you're a paint manufacturer kind of thing. But every language has hundreds of words for color. What are the words that you learned by the time you're six years old, maybe only 12. You know? Or less or whatever.

There's this... That whole Berlin and Kay thing you're probably aware of, right? In the sixties, they... they decided after a very small amount of sample data that every culture goes through this sequence of how many colors. That's right. It starts with red, black, and white, and then eventually the more "advanced" quote, unquote cultures have words like gray, purple and orange.

So, you know, I take all that stuff with a grain of salt because I don't... I don't know that our color names affect the way we perceive the world. I do think that it affects the way we perceive color relationships though.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: So, you know, when I say blue, and orange are complimentary colors, most people would agree. But when I say red and cyan are complementary colors, all of a sudden I get disagreement because some people say: "well, cyan is like blue. Red, isn't complimentary to blue." You say: "no cyan is between blue and green." Or like yellow. I say yellow and indigo are compliments, but a lot of people say: "indigo, that's not a real color." Debate about it. But, you know, okay. So fine. Call it blue-violet. Like the blue pixel of RGB to me, that's indigo. It's not that it's a darker blue. It's that it's a blue closer to violet. But people call it blue.

So that's, that's the part for me that makes culture get in the way of color theory. Not that... not that different cultures perceive colors differently or attach different meanings to colors, but that we actually, when we're dividing up the spectrum and name... like considering hues and the way they relate. And not able to say what's the compliment of what. That's where it gets confused.

You know, cause. I've now I've started to say orange and blue are not compliments. I say orange and azure. Because Azure is specifically the type of blue that's neither cyan nor indigo.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: Just, you know, because otherwise we're going to be confused here. So it's interesting.

Bruno: Yeah. It's getting granularity where scientific certainty becomes real. And...

Peter: Right.

Bruno: And maybe it's that evolution step, from giving you a simplified model to getting to an old that is a little bit more complex and a little bit more complete and really connects to the world. Language is always going to be a barrier, in the same way that it's going to be a helper in these situations.

And that's also part of what I've been talking about here. Like, One of the episodes that I had, with Jordan Singer. He is a creator of designer apps. So he created apps for his own work, but he also has been creating plugins and stuff for other people to use. And he uses... most recently, AI tools to augment how we design. One of his tools takes written words, written sentences, and designs from what people describe.

The description of something might affect how it looks. If someone... but if even the machine doesn't know what azure is.

Peter: Right.

Bruno: Would it be able to create it. But probably the machine knows what blue is because it's more of a global understanding of, you know, what we understand about the color.

Peter: Um, it's interesting. Yeah.

AI is only as good as the data set. Right? That's feeding it. So... you know. And that's... to me, that's how language works as well. Right? I think that's kind of the point you're making. Isn't it. It's that, um... it's the agreement, in the speaking community of that language of whether or not this category exists. That it will exist or not.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: So color is maybe more subject to that than other concepts, because it is such a subjective experience. Right?

Bruno: Completely and many, many times even individual experience over a cultural experience. I had conversations about, what I perceive as blue or why. And even though those tones like cyan... or when you start getting a little bit more into turquoise, there's a lot of confusion in Portuguese, for example, about those two tones. Because people call it one thing, or the other or something like that. So, there there's a lot of like individual perception or regional perception that affects how you look at color and how you use it.

Peter: There's an interesting chapter in this book, Full Spectrum. By Adam Rogers. Where he talks about how this, I think it's a pair of scientists who are studying it, and he goes to their lab to kind of see what they're up to, but what they're studying is like yellow. Why is yellow so hard to pin down? Like if I ask you what's your perfect yellow, it doesn't lean green. It doesn't lean orange. It's just purely yellow.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: What you point out is going to be different from what I point out.

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: And yellow is maybe more susceptible to that than any other color because it's, you know, our, our medium cone and our long cone have to be balanced just the right way. So every person's eyes has a different balance of those cone... cone cells. And so literally, you know, that will like grade school question. Like everybody here in the United States, asks like when they're 10 years old, it's like: "oh, is what I see different from what you see." And it's like one of the first kind of phenomenological questions that people ask.

It's actually kind of true, that. Because the photo receptors in your eyes are a little bit different. Literally everybody sees yellow differently, and nobody can agree on what the perfect yellow is. Which I just, I just find that so interesting. It's a great book.

Bruno: Uh... no, but at that... that is one of the colors that I would struggle most because it's like, I... every time I need to brand something, I always go for like black, yellow, then red, and white. Those are the colors that I use by default. And my yellows are always warmer as in, they go towards more, the mustard yellows and something, because for me that feels like yellow, not orange, but are the people look at it and they say, they'll go: "That completely orange for me. That's not yellow. Yellow is a little bit cooler than that." So.... so it's a... it's one of those things that makes ...

Peter: Like a tight rope walk.

Bruno: Yeah. That's why he has an entire book for sure.

Um... okay. We've been talking for a while now and I think it's time to shift gears a little bit into the, what I like to form as the final block of questions.

One is about the way that this knowledge forms your perception of the world. You're an artist. You've been studying color theory a lot, as of lately. But you also teach students about art, about visuals and everything. How does that changes the perception that you have of the world? Do you think that... for designers, for example, the conversations that I've been having has been mostly with people that are actually... that are like full-time designers. Designers usually have a very formative vision. That is structured into: "How can I improve the world?" Usually it's like...

Peter: Right.

Bruno: ... I see this, I know that someone made this, how can I make it better? That's overall, the consensus that I get from everyone. With differences here, or differences there.

As an artist. Do you think that the way that you look at the world also changes in some perceptions? In some way or not?

Peter: Oh, they do.

I mean. I feel like my experience has been, the more... the more I get into that mind state of.... whatever you want to call the artist's mindset. The more it becomes clear to me that reality is a hallucination in a sense. And so it's very, it's a very different thing.

Because you know, I'm a designer as well. I've done some client work and stuff like that. And I, you know, that is very process-oriented. It is about problem-solving. But like the pure perceptive approach, right? When I'm trying to teach just observational drawing or can you look at this and tell me what color it really is. Not what color you think it is. Because of the symbol systems in your head saying, you know, boom. Right?

Like. Recently I did a video where I painted an orange using violet. But it looks orange. And that's the kind of trick you can play because perception is that way. But as an artist, You can pierce the veil a little bit. You start to gain the skills of looking through the hallucination of reality. The way that our brain tricks us into seeing what is not there.

And color is one of the most obvious areas where that can happen. Right? Because you know, there's all these great color illusions where you can trick somebody into thinking they're seeing red, but it's actually gray or whatever it is.

Bruno: Yeah. Everyone remembers. I was going to say everyone remembers the dress, the... the... the... the internet dress.

Peter: The Dress. Yeah. Perfect example.

So it's all, it's all a hallucination, you know? And when you're an artist and you're, you're tasking yourself with something that normal humans don't task themselves with, which is to correctly observe and record the colors in front of you. You realize just how illusory everything is, you know?

I think also being a synesthete has his kind of led me down that path a little bit. I'm one of those people who kind of perceives color, when I see letters and numbers and things like that. So it's always been a part of my experience that, you know. There literally is a different way you see the world.

Some might call it a kind of like a psychosis or something. It's a different... it's a different frame of a perception. Um... We can all say it's a... it's the goal of art. Is to inhabit that space and communicate it.

Bruno: But it's... Art breaks the barriers in so many levels on how you perceive the world, that it's... it's almost mandatory for you to kind of explore that. And explore those spaces to actually feel like you're doing art or... if not, sometimes. And this is where, many times, like the... the type of imposter syndrome comes from. Like people. That are learning art and they feel like they are just doing more of the same because they don't feel like they are challenging those realities. Right?

Peter: Right, right.

Bruno: If someone has a similar style to another person, that doesn't mean that they are not making art. It just means that they have similar influences. But their perception is still probably different than the average, non artsy person. Right?

Although I would say that humans, are all inherently connected to art because it's something that transcends the fact that it's not just taught. Anyone can write. At some level at some point.

Peter: It's what makes us human? Isn't it right. You know, I love, I love cave paintings for that reason. Right. You look at something that was painted 30,000 years ago and you can feel the humanity of it. So that's somebody that somebody who is no different from me and it's not like they were somehow intellectually inferior. That's... that's somebody who.

Bruno: Completely

Peter: Is exactly like me.

Bruno: And... even when it comes to that concept of like, Inferiority or lack of capacity to represent things. There are, there have been some recent... discoveries around cave paintings.

There, there is a series of paintings that people would judge like: "oh, they were trying to design that they did like too many legs or something. And there was, there were these group of scientists figured out that that is actually motion. The day they were using like the fire and the shadow. Right.

Peter: If you move, if you move the torch, you could see it move, right?

Bruno: Yeah.

Peter: I remember that.

Bruno: That puts cave paintings into a completely different perspective. These people understood movement in visuals, and in shadows and light. And they were theoretically off a simpler mind, but it actually was something that transposes that. we're trying to create something that transcended their existence too. And then it's interesting when art gets into that reality.

Peter: Yeah.

Bruno: Um... and then the last question that I always ask everyone for this podcast. And also being an artist and a designer. I will ask you that you believe that design is for everyone. And if so, in what way?

Peter: Sure. Absolutely a hundred percent. I mean, I'm an art educator, so that's my kind of my professional mission is to... Try to bring as many students to design as something they can own. It's kind of like to me, a fundamental human right, you know. To be given the space to exercise our innate creativity, to improve things. Right?

I remember reading somewhere that the difference between us and other species is that we don't adapt to our environment. We adapt our environment to us.

Bruno: That's a great... that's a great quote.

Peter: So. It's... that to me kind of sums up why design has to be accessible to everyone. Because it's, it's essential to being fully human to exercise that. Right? Design isn't just something that a few people do. I think everybody does it, but most people are not recognized for doing it.

Bruno: And they don't recognize the concept of design, right? Like...

Peter: Right.

Bruno: When you start getting into the world of professional design, into the world of being a designer, or a design educator. Someone working with designers. You tend to understand that design and the concept around it, it's not that far from things that we've been doing our entire life. It just more formal, usually when it gets to the professional level, but everyone in their life usually thinks how can I improve this or that?

And they have ideas in their heads. And if at one point in time, People were called inventors because they were designing things in the way that no one else would think about it. Nowadays, that became such a part of how we evolve as humanity, it would be a shame if you don't really share that knowledge with others, if you don't give people the tools, right? To transform those thoughts into actual concepts... I would say.

Peter: You know, there's a kind of a culture around certain designers that I think is damaging to that. Right? I think if we could get rid of this cult around like Elon Musk, and Steve jobs and stuff like that. Then I think more people might actually be able to see design as something that is common to everyone.

It's just a mode of thought. Like I was saying about art being like this voluntary psychosis. It's the same thing. Everybody's capable of that, it's just that culture often tells us that that's not appropriate or whatever. Is not needed. And for design it's odd that we would say that because obviously that's where innovation comes from. That's where new systems for exchanging goods and services come from, et cetera. So like, you would think that society would like everyone to be designers, but I don't know.

It's this inequality of cult. Of how certain people are seen as these geniuses and other people say: "well, then I'm not. I must not be that."

Bruno: And there's a lot of that that I tried to talk about here. It was like, how do you move the conversation out of the concept of a genius? And for example...

Peter: Right.

Bruno: There's this really simple book. I never remember the name of it that I got at TATE modern in London. And one of the pages talk about the concept of scenious. A scene that generates genius... creation or a group of people that by their collective efforts. They create something that is considered almost genius.

And they talk about things like the Renaissance, and companies like Apple, where people assume that there were genius, like Steve Jobs was one person. And he actually... when he talks about design and the way that he learned design, he actually says it like, it's something you can learn and change the way that you look at the world. But people always assume like: "oh, but these people are special" because there was this cult created by designers, a long time, that it was very, it was a very prestigious, very unique profession.

Peter: Right.

Bruno: While nowadays, that has been proven wrong. Specifically with the creation of digital spaces and digital tools. Like what is now considered design with user interface and user experience. And that wasn't considered design 40 years ago when we were talking about perfect design.

That shows that like even the concept of design being only applied to what you do with art on a paper versus...

Peter: We've already evolved beyond that.

Bruno: Yeah. So...

Peter: It's interesting to look at it.

Bruno: Yeah. But that's a really great way to try and distress the fact that this is not as linear as many times we're told so.

Peter: Yeah, that's a great way to put it. Yeah. And where we are in, I believe the most unlinear of times in human history. That's where we find ourselves.

Bruno: Look, and that's an excellent. Way to end today's episode. Uh... Peter. I thank you a lot. I really loved this conversation. I wish I could have more time.

Peter: Thank you for inviting me. Yeah.

Bruno: It's completely my pleasure. Honestly, I would love to have much more... more people like you in my life where I can actually discuss this type of things that are like... color theory is one of my passions and I'm getting even more ingrained into it. I'll definitely continue to learning a lot with you, and from all the content that you create. And I hope everyone else can also do that.

Peter: Thank you. Yeah, well, I hope to do it as long as I can.

Bruno: Okay. And again, thank you everyone for listening to the podcast. See you all next week with another episode of Design is for Everyone. Bye.

Peter: Right. Bye.


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