COLOR with William Miller

Color Lateral Studio with William Miller

Two weeks ago, Professor William Miller led a Lateral Studio on color in which participants created a series of paint studies to understand how color is constructed and affects perceptions of space. Kelly Presutti, a PhD candidate in the History, Theory and Criticism program and Moa Carlsson, a PhD student in the Design and Computation Group, wrote about the workshop for ArchKiosk:

“Gray, one would think, is a rather simple color. The color of concrete, stones, the aluminum surface of my macbook air. Yet when I was given a set of ten Winsor & Newton gouaches at the recent Color Lateral Studio, no tube of gray paint was included. Would mixing white and black do? Not according to RISD Professor William Miller, who taught us that “gray” with an “a” is achromatic, the fictive central point on a color sphere. Gray, it turns out, is an elusive, impossible color, an idea not realizable in any material form. Grey, on the other hand, is a rich field of many possible incarnations. Grey can be made from blue and orange, from green and red, from purple and yellow. There can be blue-violet-grey, green-grey, warm-orange-grey. I could have made greys all day, shifting hue, tone, and saturation, thickening and thinning the paint, brushing and stippling it across my sketch pad. As an art historian, I’m used to talking about color, critiquing color, analyzing color. But making color was something entirely new to me. When Miller asked us to create a self-portrait in color I knew mine should be blue, the color of sky, lightness, hope. And yet, as with grey, as soon as I began mixing paint “blue” suddenly opened out into dozens of possible iterations. The realization that even the preparation of the color itself is a creative process – that before an artist has made a mark on the canvas she has already engaged in an act of selection, discernment, and creation – will certainly complicate and enrich my studies. Many thanks to Ana Maria Leon, Professor Miller, and Dean Jarzombek for the opportunity!” – Kelly Presutti


“The Color Lateral studio was a unique opportunity to engage, literally and philosophically, with color theory via practical guidance to subtractive color mixing. The hands-on exercises were coupled with discussions around visual effects of specific color combinations. At the outset we arrived to find a setup for painting (color tubes, mixers, brushes, palette, canvas) for each participant which signaled a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach to the topic. Though several exercises, the instructor, William Miller (Painting Department at the Rhode Island School of Design), with assistance by excellent host Ana-Maria Leon, guided us through a highly thought-provoking program of color study. One of the exercises involved mixing a 5 step gradient of colors that lie between 2 primary hues, in my case green and red. The middle color of this 5 step spectrum, which conceptually lie halfway between the two pigments, was used to generate a discussion of the impossible ‘in-betweenness’ of such undertakings. That is, if an absolute midpoint is obtained through mixing, how does an observer perceive the outcome? And, if neither red nor green, then which color(s) can be observed? This aspect of linking theoretical and philosophical discussions with Miller’s phenomenological approach was, in my opinion, the highlight of the workshop. I believe all participants left the workshop with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the conceptual ‘idea’ of color, which I believe will be further explored along different trajectories in our various fields, e.g. history, physics, architecture, computation and art history. In my case the workshop certainly opened up many new questions which I believe will be highly productive in my own research. Thank you to the organizers for giving us the opportunity!” – Moa Carlsson





William Miller teaches color in the Painting Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. His Color Studio class has a broad interdisciplinary following as it makes color theory and it application accessible for painters, artists, and designers. He has lectured and conducted workshops on color and paint at numerous colleges, universities, and art schools across the United States. As an Education Adviser for Winsor & Newton, he has worked extensively with colors, pigments, and paint. Mr. Miller is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, and has completed professional development work at the Munsell Color Science Laboratory at Rochester Institute of Technology.


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