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Elements of art: colour

COLOUR

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Slide 1: Tekstslide
Art and designSecondary Education

In deze les zitten 35 slides, met tekstslides.

time-iconLesduur is: 90 min

Introductie

Through the work of Vincent van Gogh, the students will learn about colour as an element of art. After an interactive introduction to the concepts of colour type, saturation, brightness and contrast, the class will practise and sketch.

Instructies

General learning objectives
- The students will learn about the work of Vincent van Gogh.
- The students will learn about colour as an element of art.
- The students will learn to recognise the terms colour type, saturation, brightness and contrast and apply them to their own art works and other people's.

Materials required
1. For this lesson, students will need their mobile phones. Alternatively, you can do the lesson without mobiles if not every student has one.
2. For the two sketching assignments, the students will need paper and pencils.

Optional variations
1. The sketching assignments can be extended by having the students paint, rather than draw. Keep in mind that at least 120 minutes of class time will then be required.
2. The sketching assignments can also be adapted into Photoshop or collage assignments. In that case, the students can take and possibly edit photographs, or search for images and combine them into collages.
3. The lesson can be shortened by doing only the exercises, or by doing just the informative part of the lesson and leaving out the exercises.

Onderdelen in deze les

COLOUR

Slide 1 - Tekstslide

This lesson is about colour as an element of art: more specifically, how colour is used in painting. It focuses on the work of Vincent van Gogh.

Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, 1890.

COLOUR TYPE
Traditionally, three colour types are distinguished in visual art:
-primary
-secondary
-tertiary.

Slide 2 - Tekstslide

Explain the term colour type. Click on the hotspot for a list of the three colour types.

Here you can see the colour wheel that Vincent used. It comes from a book about art theory by Charles Blanc (from 1867).

Slide 3 - Tekstslide

Explain: This colour wheel, developed by Charles Blanc, shows the primary, or basic, colours and the secondary colours. The names of the colours are written on it in French.
-Primary: red, yellow and blue. You can't make these colours by mixing other colours.
-Secondary: green, purple and orange. You can make these colours by mixing two primary colours.
In the shoes, you can see many tertiary colours.

Slide 4 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: This colour wheel does not include tertiary colours. Tertiary colours are formed when you mix all three primary colours. They include shades of brown, olive green and moss green. [Note: Different colour systems use the term tertiary colour in different ways. This is how the term is used in Dutch schools.]
Click on the hotspot for an example of how tertiary colours are used.

- Shoes, 1886

What is the main colour type that Vincent used here?
In The Potato Eaters, Vincent used mainly tertiary colours.

Slide 5 - Tekstslide

To see the answer, click on the hotspot.

Tell the class: It's sometimes said that Vincent hardly used any colour in The Potato Eaters. If you look closely, you can see that's not true. He used a variety of colours: red, blue, yellow, green, etc.

Vincent wrote that the faces of the figures were the colour of a 'dusty potato'. Do you agree?

Slide 6 - Tekstslide

Deze slide heeft geen instructies

What is the main colour type you see in The Bedroom?
Here you see mainly primary colours: red, yellow and blue. But Vincent also used secondary and tertiary colours in this painting.
To Vincent, the bright colours in this painting suggested 'unshakeable repose' or 'sleep'.

Slide 7 - Tekstslide

Ask the students to answer this question. (To see the answer, click on the hotspot.) Click on the hotspot with the speech balloon for Vincent's ideas about the use of colour in his work.

The Bedroom, 1888.

Letter 705.

A
B
Question
In which bedroom would you be able to sleep most easily? A or B?

Slide 8 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: The Bedroom has changed colours over the years. As the red pigment has faded, the lavender colour has changed to blue. Bedroom B is a reconstruction. We do not know for certain whether The Bedroom really looked like that 130 years ago.

What colour types did Vincent use in Garden of the Asylum?
Vincent used a lot of tertiary colours: brown, moss green, reddish-brown and grey. He also used secondary colours: green, purple and orange. He hardly used any primary colours.

Slide 9 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: This painting shows the garden of the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, where Vincent spent a year for treatment.

Garden of the Asylum, 1889.


"seeing red"
Vincent wrote that the colour 'gives rise a little to the feeling of anxiety from which some of my companions in misfortune often suffer, and which is called "seeing red".'

Slide 10 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: Vincent could use colours to express feelings. He increased the emotional power of his works by combining colours.


Click on the hotspot for Vincent's ideas about the use of colour in this painting, from a letter to his friend Emile Bernard (letter 822).

COLOUR SATURATION
Colour saturation relates to the purity of a colour. Highly saturated colours can be described as pure, vivid or deep. Unsaturated colours, in contrast, look impure, faded or greyish.

Slide 11 - Tekstslide

Explain the term colour saturation or click on the hotspot for an explanation.


Here Vincent used mainly pure colours. These can also be called saturated colours. The colours were not mixed with white, black or grey.
Here you see mainly impure colours. These can also be called unsaturated colours. These colours were mixed with white, black or grey.

Slide 12 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: In which painting did Vincent mainly use pure colours, and in which one did he use impure colours?

  • Sunflowers, 1889
  • Houses Seen from the Back, 1885
Assignment 1

Sketch a city scene with
- one primary colour
- and two unsaturated colours.
Tip: save your sketch; you'll need it later.
 



timer
5:00

Slide 13 - Tekstslide

Have the students sketch for five minutes and then discuss the assignment. Click the timer to start it.

BRIGHTNESS
The brightness or luminosity of a colour measures how much white or black is mixed in with it – in other words, how much white or black was added to the pure colour.

Slide 14 - Tekstslide

Explain the term brightness or click on the hotspot for an explanation.


To paint the stars and the moon, Vincent used brightened colours. He mixed those colours with white.
The colours of the tree in the foreground were darkened. That means that Vincent mixed the colours with black.

Slide 15 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: In this painting, where did Vincent brighten his colours, and where did he darken them?
In The Starry Night, we can see both brightened and darkened colours.

The Starry Night, 1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
COLOUR CONTRAST
Colour contrast describes a combination of colours that strengthen, or weaken, each other.
Vincent liked to use colour contrasts. To waste as little paint as possible, he tested colour combinations beforehand using coloured threads. Almost every one of his works contains a colour contrast. Most of his paintings contain more than one.

Slide 16 - Tekstslide

Explain the term colour contrast or click on the hotspot with the hat for an explanation.


Het kleurcontrast dat Vincent hier onder andere gebruikte heet 'complementair kleurcontrast'. Hierbij zet je twee kleuren die in de kleurencirkel tegenover elkaar staan naast elkaar. Complementaire kleuren versterken elkaar.

Slide 17 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: Do you know the term for the type of colour contrast that Vincent used in these two paintings?
Click on the hotspot for the answer. (Besides complementary colour contrasts, there are also warm-cold contrasts, light-dark contrasts and quality contrasts between pure and impure colours.)
Red Cabbages and Onions has faded over time, like The Bedroom. The colour contrast was originally stronger.

  • Red Cabbages and Onions, 1887 
  • Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, 1887 (detail)
'that there are colours that make each other shine, that make a couple, complete each other...'

Slide 18 - Tekstslide

Click on the hotspot with the speech balloon to read what Vincent wrote about complementary colours. The quote is from a letter to his sister Willemien (letter 626).

Self-Portrait as a Painter 1887-1888


The colour contrast you see here is called a light-dark contrast. A light colour is placed next to a dark colour: in this case, light yellow next to dark green.

Slide 19 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: Do you know the term for the type of colour contrast that Vincent used in this painting?
Click on the hotspot for the answer.

Landscape at Twilight, 1890.


Here you see a warm-cold contrast: a warm colour and a cold colour next to each other. Combining warm and cold brings out the warm colours, in this case the dark yellow of the vase and the light yellow of the wall.

Slide 20 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: Do you know the term for this type of colour contrast? The hotspot explains the term warm-cold contrast. In this painting, Vincent also used a quality contrast.

Irises, 1890.


"... an effect of terribly disparate complementaries that reinforce each other by their opposition."

Slide 21 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: Vincent painted this still life in the hospital in Saint-Rémy. The irises were originally purple, but the red pigment has faded, leaving the flowers blue. So originally this was also a complementary colour contrast.

Click on the hotspot to find out what Vincent wrote about the complementary colour contrast in Irises (from letter 870 to his brother Theo, 1890).

.


There is a colour-against-colour contrast in this painting. Two vivid colours are used side by side. That makes the colours seem loud and bold.
Here we see a quality contrast: different tints of the same colour are combined – in this case, bright green, light green and dark green.

Slide 22 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: In which painting did Vincent use a colour-against-colour contrast, and in which one did he use a quality contrast? Click on the hotspots for the answers.

  • The Yellow House (The street), 1889
  • Ears of Wheat, 1890
Assignment 2

Continue working on your city scene, and add
- a warm-cold contrast
- and a complementary colour contrast.



timer
5:00

Slide 23 - Tekstslide

Give the students five minutes to sketch. Then discuss the results.

USING COLOUR


"Colour expresses something in itself. One can’t do without it; one must make use of it."

Slide 24 - Tekstslide

Click on the hotspot for a Vincent van Gogh quote about using colour (from a letter to his brother Theo, 20 October 1885).


Here the use of colours mostly seems very natural.
Here it looks as though Vincent used colour in a very unnatural way. But is that really true?

Slide 25 - Tekstslide

Ask the class: In which painting does the use of colours mostly appear natural, and in which painting does it seem more unnatural?

Click on the hotspots for the answer. These paintings are entitled The Harvest (1888) and The Sower (1888).

Using these examples, discuss what exactly makes the use of colour natural or unnatural.

Assignment 3

 


- Look for an example of the symbolic use of colour in everyday life.
- On your mobile, look for an art work that uses colour in a symbolic way.


Slide 26 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: Colour is used not only naturally and unnaturally, but also in symbolic ways. In other words, a colour can have a meaning in a specific context. For example, red can stand for love or danger. In Vincent's case, there are no clear examples of the symbolic use of colour, in which one colour stands for one particular meaning. But there have been plenty of examples of this in art history.

SUMMARY

Slide 27 - Tekstslide

Deze slide heeft geen instructies

Colour type:
Colour saturation:
Using colour:
Brightness:
Colour contrast:




  • primary, secundary and tertiary
  • pure/impure                  

  • natural/ unnatural/ symbolic
  • brightened/darkened
  • light-dark / warm-cold / complementary/ pure-impure / quality

Slide 28 - Tekstslide

If you wish, you can go through the summary of the terms discussed.

Exercise

Slide 29 - Tekstslide

The next few slides are exercises on using these terms in practice.

What types of colour contrast did Vincent use here?
Here, Vincent used a warm-cold contrast between the blue sky and the orange field. This is also a complementary colour contrast. The way he painted the wheat also shows a slight quality contrast.

Slide 30 - Tekstslide

Cornfield , june 1888, Collectie P. and N. de Boer Foundation, Amsterdam
What types of colour did Vincent use for this skull?
Vincent used all three colour types that we discussed.
- Primary: red and yellow
- Secondary: green
- Tertiary: brown, moss green and ochre.

Slide 31 - Tekstslide

Skull, 1887.
Did Vincent brighten or darken most of the colours here?
He brightened most of the colours in this painting.

Slide 32 - Tekstslide

Montmartre: Windmills and Allotments, 1887
Take a photo of this painting and convert it to black and white. What do you notice about the brightness of the colours?
In black and white, you can see the difference between the lightened and darkened areas much more clearly than in colour.

Slide 33 - Tekstslide

Click on the hotspot for the black-and-white version and an explanation.
What feeling do you get from Wheatfield with Crows?




Wat voor gevoel geeft Korenveld met kraaien jou?

Slide 34 - Tekstslide

Tell the class: As mentioned earlier, Vincent's work can also suggest feelings. Many people have strong feelings when they look at Wheatfield with Crows (1890), for example.

Assignment 4
Give Wheatfield with Crows a cheerful atmosphere by changing the colours. Then describe what you changed (colour types, saturation, brightness, contrast?) and why.

Slide 35 - Tekstslide

Finish the lesson by discussing the assignment with the students.