Brain Pickings

Color as Data: Visualizing Color Composition


Abstracting glossy magazines, or what pie charts have to do with the Mona Lisa.

We love data visualization and color. So what happens when you apply the former to the latter, visualizing color composition like you would any data set? Today, we look at three projects that take the color composition of familiar cultural artifacts and break it down visually.


Computational artist Mario Klingemann, a.k.a. Quasimondo — who by the way authored the brilliant Peacock pattern generation tool for free Adobe creative suite killer Aviary — combines circle packing with data visualization to visually analyze the color composition of famous artworks in a technique he calls “pie-packing.”

The pie charts represent the distribution of dominant colors within a circle area.


Designer Shahee Ilyas‘ amusingly minimalist deconstruction of country flags by color composition is an absolute treat.

Besides the playful irreverence, the project reveals some curious patterns of color choice, raising even more curious questions about color symbolism. For instance, we couldn’t help noticing the overwhelming dominance of red and white, in almost equal parts — the former traditionally associated with violence and the latter with peace. Food for thought.


Data viz superheroes Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas have taken their visualization magic to the world of fashion photography. Their Luscious project distills the color and light of fashion photographs and ads in glossy magazines into abstract compositions.

To create the images in luscious, we began with a series of magazine advertisements for luxury brands. We then used a custom algorithm designed to extract “peak” colors from any picture. A random arrangement of concentric circles fills the plane, representing the essential colors of each region. The resulting image hides context and representation and lets the viewer concentrate on pure color.

By abstracting away content, the project reveals interesting patterns of color choice for specific fashion designers and even entire product categories — from the luxurious reds and blacks of eveningwear to the bold blues of hard liquor to the rich earthy tones of makeup collections.

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