Art Education – Colour

During recent years many theories concerning colour have been advanced. Some of these theories have established principles which can be incorporated advantageously into the system used in teaching colour to children. Others, which establish standards of undeniable value in the industrial world, are of too elaborate a character for elementary school purposes, or are possessed of features that render their use inexpedient in such schools. In dealing with children simple materials and processes must be used if logical development is to be achieved.

Again, it must be remembered that it is not the scientific but the practical side of colour with which we are concerned, and whether the three colours, red, yellow, and blue are, or are not, the three primary colours of the spectrum need not trouble us so long as we are able to produce with these three colours all the variations of colour that are required in our school art work; and no other colour elements in pigments have been found that produce satisfactory results.

The Course in Colour has been prepared in accordance with the principle that education along any line should proceed as far as possible from the known to the unknown. Throughout the Manual the pupil’s mental development has been kept in view as of first importance.

The aim in the colour lessons is to cultivate the power to observe, appreciate, and express colour and colour harmonies; also to develop an appreciation of harmony in the relationship of things, and the desire and ability to bring about such harmony.

The Course covers the study of Colour in itself, the methods of applying it, and the study and use of Colour Harmonies.

In Form I, Junior Grade, it is sufficient to expect the recognition of colours as belonging to the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet families and their classification accordingly; and it is recommended that the pupils in this Form be given a comparatively wide range of colours from which to select what they require for their work in Representation.

In the succeeding Forms, the pupils learn to modify one colour with another, and in Form II, Senior Grade, and Forms III and IV they should be restricted to the use of the three colours, red, yellow, and blue in their water-colour work from nature and should be required to make from these all the colours they need. The colour-box should also contain black for use in Design and in the making of neutral values. The following water-colours are recommended : for the red, cake, crimson lake, or alizarine; for the blue, ultramarine; for the yellow, gamboge; for the black, charcoal gray. A number of satisfactory three-colour boxes are on the market, supplied with cakes of colour which produce similar results although they are called by different names. The teacher should test the paints in a colour-box before recommending it to his class.

It will be found that the work done with a three-colour box is less hard and crude than that which results from the use of a six-colour box; and even when pupils are not able to produce the exact colour that they require, the effort to do so teaches them to analyse and compare colours and develops a habit of thoughtful work which is most desirable. When pupils who have been thoroughly trained in the use of a three-colour box in the elementary schools reach the high schools, the range of colours permitted them may be enlarged.

Colour is considered in the Manual through its three properties—Hue, Value, and Intensity.

In describing a colour, we may speak of it as red or blue, or blue-green or violet, etc., and this property by which we distinguish one colour from another is called hue.

We may say also that a colour is light or dark, and this property by which we measure the distance of a colour from white or black is called its value.

The third property, intensity, is under consideration when we speak of a colour as bright or dull. If we can imagine a colour gradually losing all its hue without becoming lighter or darker, until nothing remains but a gray tone, we imagine it as passing from full brilliance to neutrality; and if we represented the stages through which it would pass, we would be scaling it from full intensity to no intensity. This third property is sometimes called Chroma. Elementary School pupils are expected to make scales of hue, value, and intensity. Time spent in working over and over at these scales to produce accurate results would not be profitably spent, as their chief efficacy lies in the fact that the conscientious effort to make a scale gives the pupil the power to analyse a given colour and tell what must be done to produce it. It also helps him to discover where he has made mistakes in trying to match colours and what must be done to correct such mistakes.

It is through the study of these properties of colour that the pupil is led to understand what is meant by colour harmonies and to endeavour to produce them in the different colour schemes he chooses for use in Design.