When Colours Smile

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by Elaine Holt -  Class 1 Teacher

Colour fills our world with beauty. We rejoice in a magnificent sunset, glorious flowers or crimson leaves. We often choose clothes and decorate our homes to create restful or enlivening effects. If our surroundings are drab or the weather persistently overcast, we may mourn the loss of colour. We use colours to describe feelings, we may feel ‘blue’, be ‘green’ with envy, see ‘red’ or view the world through ‘rose’-coloured spectacles. Colour is laden with emotional communication.

Dante once wrote that colours ‘smile’. In this he was expressing the ability of colour to speak straight to the heart and resonate as a totality there, bypassing the intellect. When someone smiles at us, we do not usually itemise the muscular movements, we simply respond by smiling back. Line, by contrast, guides the eye along particular paths and speaks more to the mind as a series of parts.

In Class 1 the children want to learn the skills necessary to explore the world of colour and the world of line, but line can quickly become something of a tyrant and reduce the role of colour. Skills using line are developed in the Form Drawing lessons. In the Painting lessons, the wet-on-wet technique opens up the possibilities of the world of colour for the children. By painting on wet paper with a limited palette that is capable of producing jewel-like colours, the children’s inner experience is both nourished and given a means to articulate that experience. Guided exercises in Classes 1 and 2 are used to teach the techniques of blending and keeping colours apart. These colours can interact dynamically in the watery element, which keeps them mobile and allows the light to reflect up through them from the paper beneath.

The colour stories that inspire Class 1 paintings, articulate colour without indicating form: a ‘delicate golden yellow’ can nestle ‘snug and secure’, guarded by a ‘protective brown’, only at the very end perhaps reminding the class of the seed in a nature story they have recently heard. The colours are not stereotyped: on another occasion, yellow may go exploring, beginning at the same point each time, but then changing the journey a little and inviting a little red to come along too (if she is not too bossy!), while blue looks quietly on. This one reminded Class 1 of a fire.

Forms that arise out of colour interactions are flexible and can be different things to different eyes – like castles in the clouds – and as such have infinite possibilities. When the guided paintings are put up on the wall, their similarity draws out from the children a more objective noticing of subtle differences, where perhaps one fire is giggling, another is raging and a third may be quite timid. In this way the children become aware of the gesture and dynamic within form that can be expressed through colour. They will then have developed the technical skills, inner sensitivity and visual vocabulary to express their own colour experiences in free exercises. These techniques will become the basis for the nuanced description and manipulation of form out of colour from Class 3 up.


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