Halation comes from the word “Halo”. In the dictionary, it is defined as “a blurred effect around the edges of highlight areas in a photographic image”. The word was first used around 1855.

One hundred years later, Dick Nelson learned the word from Josef Albers. Halation still infered a visual experience like a halo, but it now meant an occurrence where a single block, or field, of color begins to take on aspects of the colors surrounding it. A color awakens among it’s family and becomes aware of it’s surroundings.

In the above 10 minute presentation, Gabriel Mott explains the relevance of halation in artwork.

Below, meet two colors, we’ll call them the parents.
On the left, Orange, on the right, Cyan.

By mixing each color equally, we achieve the middle child.
3 swatches, orange, orangecyan which is a light grey muddy color and cyan

By adding the middle child and creating an array you will see halation.

The middle color seems to vibrate a little. If you don’t quite see it, look a little longer. The more you look, you allow a physical effect on your eyes as they fatigue which will increase the degree of color you see.  What you will see in the middle swatch of color is a little of the orange on the right edge and a little cyan on the left edge.

Here’s a full array of different colors with equal steps of 5 children. The gradient, or halation should be a little easier to see in this example.

7 swatches of eaual steps orange to cyan

How do solid colors start to look a little 3 dimensional?
Where does this gradient come from?

The effect is counter-intuitive. Each of the seven rectangles above contains a unique and solid block of color. Each square is a single color and yet each appears not to be.

It’s beautiful.

The colors begin to vibrate beyond their individual recognition. They suddenly know about eachother and they become luminous.

This is called halation.

Halation, as an artistic term, is the spontaneous effect of the eyes spreading color beyond it’s actual realm.

When you start to see the individual color swatches as gradients, you are seeing halation. It’s a phenomenon of our eyes to find a vibrancy in specific placements of colors. In the examples above, the placement of each swatch was based on equal steps to parents. Halation also occurs between equal steps between hues of equal value.


Brilliant Halation generator in java (processing).

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