BY WESLEY BOSSMAN , ART DEPARTMENT CHAIR, JAMESTOWN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Hello, again, and welcome to the third installment of this art column!
We will continue considering the Elements of Art, which form the structure of anything we begin to create, whether we know it, or not.
The Elements are: Lines, Shapes, Colors, Textures, Space, and Values. Everything we see can be filed into one of these categories, so artists divide them up, for the purpose of better studying them.
Today we will take a closer look at color, an Element that is quite complex, compared to some of the other Elements. Color, perhaps, has the most intense influence on the subconscious when we are viewing artwork.
For small children, using color is quite simple. They use every color available to them, and if they can fit six different colors into one hand, six at once is even better. They just wallow in it, and will decorate themselves with it, play with it, and even taste it, if they’re not prevented from doing so.
Rainbows have been a hot theme for students since I began teaching, almost 30 years ago, so, we’ll start there.
Keeping in mind that we are dealing with small children, I divide the rainbow into six colors; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet…(never mind indigo, which I hear about EVERY time we talk rainbow).
If we use the six, we can neatly divide them into two groups. Red, yellow, and blue are the Primary colors, and the colors, between, are the Secondary; orange, green, and violet.
Red, yellow, and blue have always been a popular combination for toys made for small children. They are the Primary, or “first”, purest colors, from which the Secondary colors spring. Mix red and yellow for orange, yellow and blue for green, and red and blue for violet, and you can paint an entire rainbow with only the three primaries. (We do activities like that fairly often, using, crayons, paint, chalk, colored pencils, and markers.)
There also are Tertiary, or “third” colors, made by blending a primary with a secondary color. They are easily recognized by their names: red-orange, yellow-orange, blue-violet, red-violet, blue-green…
Once we’ve got the Primary, and Secondary colors down, we bring out the Color Wheel, a circular arrangement of the colors, made for the purpose of understanding the relation-ships between colors. When we get dressed in the morning, we often draw upon some of the relationships illustrated on the Color Wheel.
There are the “warm” colors, which remind us, quite naturally, of warm things we’ve experienced, like the sun, volcanoes, fire, toaster elements, and desert sand.
There are the “cool” colors, which remind us of water, sky, shade, woods, and grass, anything we’ve experienced, in our lives, that we remember as being cool, or cold.
There are “complementary” colors, found opposite each other on the color wheel, that enhance each other, or make each other stand out more than any other color combination: red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet.
There are “analogous” colors, like little neighborhoods of color that live next to each other in the color wheel.
Elementary discussion of color relationship ends about here, but it is more complex, by far, if you choose to pursue color theory.
When we discuss these things in school, I have no hope of complete retention of these relationships on the part of my students. I only strive to make them understand that there is an underlying logic, and structure, to color, that directs color choice, when making art, if one gets serious about it.
I teach, ( and I make no claims as to its absolute correctness), that black and white are values, not colors. Adding them to colors creates different shades of that color. I think it’s easier to understand, that way. It’s a recurring topic of contention, in class, second only to seasonal topics that begin with uncomfortable declarations such as, “Right, Mr. Bossman, leprechauns are real?”
When looking at Fine Art, or book illustrations, with your children, keep in mind that the colors were chosen for the purpose of reinforcing the mood of the story, or message, by connecting with one’s subconscious color associations.
Nearly everyone associates darkness with tinges of mystery, uncertainty, gloom, and even fear.
Levity, and joy are accented by the bright primary, and
secondary colors. ( I still recall the commercials for Wonder Bread, and the red, yellow, and blue balloons that gaily adorned its package, seen by the kids in my family at the store, but,( alas), never in our house.)
Red, yellow, and blue are usually saucy, cheerful colors, while orange, green, and violet can impart a feeling of mystery, when used for the purpose, like in Halloween decorations.
Colors diluted with white, soften the effect they usually have, toning down red, to pink, blue, to “baby” blue, violet to “lilac”…very unthreatening, and safe.
Colors mixed with black, darken, and intensify the mood, for an unsettling effect, that can become downright scary, and decayed.
One can add into the mix, the fact that colors are traditionally symbolic, as well. White stands for purity, red can symbolize blood, black can convey death, or evil, yellow can symbolize the sun, green is peaceful and relaxing, violet is regal.
All of these associations can subconsciously manipulate your mood when you look at art.
Not all of us are affected in the same way, by the same colors, but, make no mistake, we ARE affected. Certain shades of green, ever since I was old enough to remember, have always been my, hands down, favorite, most comforting colors, while certain shades of pink, and purple actually repel me. I’ll wager that you have similar preferences, and reactions for different colors.
Artists know that color choice is paramount in getting their message across to the viewer, and their colors are chosen, intentionally, to do just that. If you sometimes discuss the colors in a painting, or illustration, with your children, you can help them realize that it is a very important element of art. n
Wes Bossman is an elementary Art teacher at C.C.Ring School, in Jamestown, NY, and chairs the Art Department for the district. Having graduated from Frewsburg High School in 1971, he attended J.C.C., Mercyhurst College, and Edinboro University to earn a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He has taught for the Jamestown District since 1983.
In addition to teaching, he has painted many public building murals in the Jamestown area, illustrated several books, and paints in watercolors, his medium of choice. He has a strong belief in the value of art, and creative problem solving, for growing children.
He lives in Frewsburg with his wife, Michel.