Origami: Sonobe model and its coloring

IMG_0784 (small)12-unit Sonobe model

This model was created by assembling twelve Sonobe units (and variants) into a… thing.  This shape doesn’t have a name, but it’s what you’d get if you replaced every face of an octahedron with a triangular pyramid.

But I don’t want to talk about the shape, I want to talk about the colors.

Recently, I have been reading about color theory, and perhaps I will do a proper write-up in the future.  The thing about color theory is that it has a long history that predates scientific understanding.  Multiple archaic color models persist today, and in fact you were probably taught a few of them.

Take the color wheel:
RYB color wheel
When choosing a color palette, one strives for “color harmony”.  There are several traditional ways to achieve color harmony.  You can select complementary colors (on opposing sides of the wheel), or you can select analogous colors (adjacent colors on the wheel).  Or you can take triads (three equidistant colors on the wheel).  Or tetrads.  Or two analogous colors and a single complement. Etc.

You can even pick a different color wheel!  The above color wheel was generated from the primary colors red, yellow, and blue.  However, for computer screens, we use primary colors red, green, and blue.  In printer ink, it’s cyan, magenta, and yellow.  And in opponent process theory, the important colors are red, green, blue, and yellow.

RGB color wheel
This is a red/green/blue color wheel.  Note that now blue is complementary to yellow instead of orange.

Between the different color wheels and the different ways to achieve color harmony, it seems like *any* pair of colors can be harmonious.  The rules of color harmony are basically bullshit.  Indeed, my experience with origami is that colors do make a difference, but nearly any combination of two or three colors can look good on the right model.

The major pitfall is not disharmony, but pre-existing color associations.  Red and dark green look like Christmas.  Red, white, and blue look patriotic.  Red and pink look like Valentine’s Day.  Black and yellow and orange look like Halloween.

Holidays and flags are the biggest ones.  There are also lesser associations: red and white look like candy cane, black and yellow look like a bee, purple and green look like Barney (although that one might be particular to my age group).  When I showed this model to kids, they were unanimous in associating it with Halloween.  And, well, that wasn’t really intended.  Selecting color schemes for origami models has made me hyperaware of how strong color associations can be.


One thought on “Origami: Sonobe model and its coloring

  1. khms March 6, 2016 / 2:49 pm

    Most of what you write here is fine, but I have to correct two grievous mistakes:

    Red, white, and blue look patriotic.

    Not at all. Black, red, and yellow look patriotic.

    red and white look like candy cane

    No, red and white look like the popular ketchup-and-mayo combination to put on fries.

    How you could be mistaken about so obvious correlations …


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