Albert Munsell, an artist and teacher, created the basic principles of the Munsell color system in 1905. "The Munsell Color-Order System is a way of precisely specifying colors and showing the relationships among color. Every color has three attributes: Hue, Value and Chroma. Professor Albert Munsell established a numerical scale with visually uniform steps for each of these attributes." - The Munsell Book of Color.
Hue - the native color or what we identify as red, yellow red (orange), yellow, green, blue or purple: The Munsell system denotes the hue in terms of 10 initials. R=red, YR=yellow red, Y=yellow and so forth. (See the below figure for a complete listing.)
Value - the relative lightness or darkness on a scale of 0-10: 0 being the darkest and 10 being the lightest. See the figure below.
Chroma - the intensity of the color. One way to visualize chroma is the color's distance from the neutral of the same value. Chroma ranges in scale from 0 to 16. A dull color with a property of low chroma would be listed as a 2 to 4. A chroma of 0 would be comparable to a perfect neutral gray. Whereas a vivid color with a high chroma notation such as 14 would be comparable to a highly saturated red as seen in the below figure.
Hue, Value and Chroma all Together:
In order to use this system is it important to memorize all the possible notations and their corresponding colors? No. What is important for using this system is an understanding of hue, value and chroma and how these attributes apply to painting. I find the Munsell system useful for visualizing how a hue changes in value and chroma as I'm painting variations in lighting on three dimensional forms. (I'll cover this topic in my Munsell part 3's post.) In that respect, Munsell as a classification system is extremely helpful in teaching color theory. I also find it useful in accurately matching and remixing colors in large scale paintings and, at least for my part, in designing color palettes.
So, do you need the big expensive Glossy Edition Munsell Book of Color in order to learn the theory or design color palettes for paintings? Absolutely not. There is a free website called Color Munki that offers color palette design using the Munsell or Pantone color systems. There are paid apps available such as mColorBook and mColorDesigner for the mac. (I don't have a PC so you would have to search for options if you do not own a Mac or just use ColorMunki.com.) There is the far more economical "The New Munsell Student Handbook" which includes a very very tiny subset of the chips but contains exercises and a great instructional text- a brand new version is coming out on Oct 20th. You can use your paint and complete small color studies or use a limited color palette and explore the resulting limited color gamuts before a painting. One can use the color picker function on Photoshop to design a color palette. Another option is to use paint chips from your local hardware store. There are so many possibilities. If you find yourself needing The Munsell Book of Color you may be able to get a great deal by watching for them on eBay.
Here are additional fantastic resources on Munsell:
And for the ultimate hands on learning experience for Munsell for painters attend Graydon Parrish's Form Painting and Colory Theory Workshop this January at the Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier.
Next week I will cover the topic of Designing a Color Palette using Munsell and how I apply the resulting palette design to my painting process.