Exploring Optical Illusions: Color & Pointillism

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Updated on Aug 06, 2013

French painter Georges Seurat was influenced by the science of color and perception, pioneering the painting technique known as pointillism. By using single points instead of long brush strokes pointillist painters were able to blend a limited number of colors to produce a wide range of hues and tones. At a distance the paintings appear as any other painting consisting of a scene with defined colors.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. (Image from WikiCommons)

However, upon close examination the painting actually consists of small dots, or points. Computers work in the same fashion. If you take a digital photo and zoom in the photo will appear “pixelated.” In this experiment students will explain how our eyes and brain perceive pointillist images by using digital images.


How do we perceive color? This experiment explores light and color by examining optical illusions such as pointillism, digital images, and Ishihara tests.


  • Computer
  • Digital Image
  • Imaging software: Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, Paint (Microsoft Windows)

Experimental Procedure

  1. Take a high-resolution digital image and view it on a computer and zoom in (maximum). What do you see?
  2. Using imaging software create a color wheel using the RGB and CMYK color space. What are the differences between the two color spaces? Based on your research how can you blend colors at the pixel level to create a color wheel?
  3. Using the color wheel explain how we perceive colors differently when viewed next to other colors.
  4. How do the Ishihara tests determine blindness?
Melissa Bautista is a research scientist, freelance editor, and writer, with a focus in Neuroscience. She believes in establishing solid foundations in education through experience, creativity, and collaboration. She is fascinated by pedagogy and the concept of learning through living.

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