Teaching Resource

Colour and Shape

How is colour and shape used to create art? Discover colourful artworks and fun activities to use in your classroom

Patrick Heron, ‘Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958’ 1957–8
Patrick Heron
Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958 1957–8
Tate
© The estate of Patrick Heron

Introduction

All art makes use of shape and colour in some way. Your eyes can be drawn to certain parts of an artwork when shape and colour is used correctly. Artists use colour to express themselves and aim to make you feel something when you look at it. Start discussions about shape and colour with your students by looking at and creating art. This resource is most suitable for KS1 students.

Judith Rothschild, ‘Untitled Composition’ 1945
Judith Rothschild
Untitled Composition 1945
Tate
© The Judith Rothschild Foundation
Gillian Ayres OBE, ‘The Colour That Was There’ 1993
Gillian Ayres OBE
The Colour That Was There 1993
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© Gillian Ayres
Sarah Morris, ‘Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas]’ 2000
Sarah Morris
Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas] 2000
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© Sarah Morris
Kim Lim, ‘Jaune Foncé’ 1972
Kim Lim
Jaune Foncé 1972
Tate
© Estate of Kim Lim. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019
Howard Hodgkin, ‘Mr and Mrs E.J.P.’ 1969–73
Howard Hodgkin
Mr and Mrs E.J.P. 1969–73
Tate
© Howard Hodgkin
Frank Stella, ‘Untitled (Rabat)’ 1964
Frank Stella
Untitled (Rabat) 1964
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019
Henri Matisse, ‘The Snail’ 1953
Henri Matisse
The Snail 1953
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© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2019

Colour

How is colour used in art? Frank Bowling is an artist who believes that colour is as important in telling a story as the subject he paints. Bowling layers colours and uses splashes, drips and smudges to create different effects. His mainly uses colours, as opposed to objects and figures, to create emotion.

In his painting Whose Afraid of Barney Newman Bowling uses bright colours and blurred edges. Does his painting look like anything to you? Did you know these are the colours of the Guyanese flag?

Arthur Hughes, who was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, used colour in a different way to Bowling. The Pre-Raphaelites believed the object was as important as colour. They used colour to reflect the world around them as closely as possible.

Let's explore the different ways colour is used.

Frank Bowling, ‘Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman’ 1968
Frank Bowling
Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman 1968
Tate
© Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019
Arthur Hughes, ‘Aurora Leigh’s Dismissal of Romney (‘The Tryst’)’ 1860
Arthur Hughes
Aurora Leigh’s Dismissal of Romney (‘The Tryst’) 1860
Tate

Red

Kim Lim, ‘Red Aquatint’ 1972
Kim Lim
Red Aquatint 1972
Tate
© Estate of Kim Lim. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

Red

Sam Taylor-Johnson OBE, ‘Red’ 2000
Sam Taylor-Johnson OBE
Red 2000
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© Sam Taylor-Johnson OBE
Michael Craig-Martin, ‘Knowing’ 1996
Michael Craig-Martin
Knowing 1996
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© Michael Craig-Martin

Green

Sandra Blow, ‘Green and White’ 1969
Sandra Blow
Green and White 1969
Tate
© The estate of Sandra Blow
Pauline Boty, ‘The Only Blonde in the World’ 1963
Pauline Boty
The Only Blonde in the World 1963
Tate
© The estate of Pauline Boty
Nicholas Monro, ‘Green Figures’ 1970
Nicholas Monro
Green Figures 1970
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© Nicholas Monro

BLUE

Saloua Raouda Choucair, ‘Composition in Blue Module’ 1947–51
Saloua Raouda Choucair
Composition in Blue Module 1947–51
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© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation
Paula Rego, ‘The Dance’ 1988
Paula Rego
The Dance 1988
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© Paula Rego
Roger Hiorns, ‘Untitled’ 2006
Roger Hiorns
Untitled 2006
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© Roger Hiorns

YELLOW

Patrick Heron, ‘Yellow Painting : October 1958 May/June 1959’ 1958–9
Patrick Heron
Yellow Painting : October 1958 May/June 1959 1958–9
Tate
© Estate of Patrick Heron. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019
Catherine Yass, ‘Corridors’ 1994
Catherine Yass
Corridors 1994
Tate
© Catherine Yass
John Piper, ‘Petit Palais: Yellow and Yellow’ 1972
John Piper
Petit Palais: Yellow and Yellow 1972
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© The Piper Estate

Multi-colour

Bridget Riley, ‘Nataraja’ 1993
Bridget Riley
Nataraja 1993
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© Bridget Riley 2018. All rights reserved.
Lubaina Himid, ‘The Carrot Piece’ 1985
Lubaina Himid
The Carrot Piece 1985
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© Lubaina Himid
Liam Gillick, ‘Returning to an Abandoned Plant’ 2007
Liam Gillick
Returning to an Abandoned Plant 2007
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© Liam Gillick
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, ‘Bash’ 1971
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi
Bash 1971
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© The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation
Roger Fry, ‘River with Poplars’ c.1912
Roger Fry
River with Poplars c.1912
Tate
Fiona Rae, ‘Untitled (yellow)’ 1990
Fiona Rae
Untitled (yellow) 1990
Tate
© Fiona Rae

Lets discuss!

Here are some questions you can ask your class to start a discussion about colour:

  • What do different colours make you think of?
  • How do the colours make you feel?
  • Which colour combinations you think go together?
  • What kind of stories can be told through colour?

Shape

From sharp corners, curved edges and towering sculptures, shape is used throughout art. Geometric shapes, like squares and triangles, are mainly found in objects made by humans, like houses, cars and factories. Irregular shapes are more likely to come from nature. Imagine a leaf or a shell. How do you think artists could use them differently to tell a story?

Frank Stella's Hyena Stomp (below) uses sharp edges and corners. He even became known as a 'hard edged artist'. Gillian Aryes used layers of different shapes on top of another. In her artwork The Colour That Was There (in the slideshow above) she uses a rough square as a background. She then mixes circles, rectangles, curved lines and bright colours to give her work depth. Below are more examples of different shapes in artwork.

Squares

Berenice Sydney, ‘Little Squares’ 1969
Berenice Sydney
Little Squares 1969
Tate
© The estate of Bernice Sydney
Sol LeWitt, ‘A Square Divided Horizontally and Vertically into Four Equal Parts, Each with a Different Direction of Alternating Parallel Bands of Lines’ 1982
Sol LeWitt
A Square Divided Horizontally and Vertically into Four Equal Parts, Each with a Different Direction of Alternating Parallel Bands of Lines 1982
Tate
© The estate of Sol LeWitt
Frank Stella, ‘Hyena Stomp’ 1962
Frank Stella
Hyena Stomp 1962
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Triangles

Richard Smith, ‘Triangles’ 1978
Richard Smith
Triangles 1978
Tate
© Richard Smith Foundation
Benode Behari Mukherjee, ‘Two Triangles’ 1957
Benode Behari Mukherjee
Two Triangles 1957
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© reserved
Lygia Clark, ‘Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (61)’ 1957
Lygia Clark
Planes on Modulated Surface (Study) (61) 1957
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© reserved

Circles

Richard Long, ‘Small White Pebble Circles’ 1987
Richard Long
Small White Pebble Circles 1987
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© Richard Long
Dame Barbara Hepworth, ‘Two Forms (Divided Circle)’ 1969
Dame Barbara Hepworth
Two Forms (Divided Circle) 1969
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© Bowness
Herbert Bayer, ‘Four Segmented Circles’ 1970
Herbert Bayer
Four Segmented Circles 1970
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© DACS, 2019

Three-dimensional shapes

Rasheed Araeen, ‘Rang Baranga’ 1969
Rasheed Araeen
Rang Baranga 1969
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© Rasheed Araeen
Ben Nicholson OM, ‘circa 1936 (sculpture)’ c.1936
Ben Nicholson OM
circa 1936 (sculpture) c.1936
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© Angela Verren Taunt 2019. All rights reserved, DACS
Rebecca Horn, ‘In the Triangle’ 1973–4
Rebecca Horn
In the Triangle 1973–4
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© DACS, 2019
Sol LeWitt, ‘Five Open Geometric Structures’ 1979
Sol LeWitt
Five Open Geometric Structures 1979
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© The estate of Sol LeWitt
Liliane Lijn, ‘Space Displace Koan’ 1969
Liliane Lijn
Space Displace Koan 1969
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© Liliane Lijn
Mary Martin, ‘Perspex Group on Orange (B)’ 1969
Mary Martin
Perspex Group on Orange (B) 1969
Tate
© Estate of Mary Martin / DACS 2019
Parviz Tanavoli, ‘The Poet and the Beloved of the King’ 1964–6
Parviz Tanavoli
The Poet and the Beloved of the King 1964–6
Tate
© Parviz Tanavoli

Let's discuss

  • What kind of emotions or personalities can shapes hold?
  • Do some shapes look more masculine than feminine? Why do you think that is?
  • Lets go on a 3D shape hunt! What 3D shapes can you find round a classroom or in your house?
  • How does scale affect shape? What's the difference between loads of tiny squares and one giant square?

Tate Kids

Paint and Draw

Make a Spin Painting

Spin paint to create art inspired by the artist Damien Hirst!

Five minute activities

Shape

Grab some colouring pencils and have your class draw out objects using only shapes. For example, draw a tree out of triangles, draw a computer out of circles.

Colour

Have some print outs of different objects and have your group colour them in unnatural colours. Colour a house green or a dog blue. What effect does it have on the drawing?

Portraits

Notice how each artist has used shape and colour in a different way to do their portraits? Gary Hume uses bright pastel colours and soft shapes to create his portraits. In Hume's Young Woman, notice how the colours of the eyes are different from one another? What effect does this have on the portrait? In Picasso's Weeping Woman, he uses detailed lines and angles. Can your class spot the different shapes and colours within his painting?

Gary Hume, ‘Young Woman’ 1998
Gary Hume
Young Woman 1998
Tate
© Gary Hume
J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, ‘Untitled (Mkpuk Eba)’ 1974, printed 2012
J.D. Okhai Ojeikere
Untitled (Mkpuk Eba) 1974, printed 2012
Tate
© reserved
Jo Spence, ‘Remodelling Photo History: Revisualization’ 1981–2
Jo Spence
Remodelling Photo History: Revisualization 1981–2
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© The Jo Spence Memorial Archive
Pablo Picasso, ‘Weeping Woman’ 1937
Pablo Picasso
Weeping Woman 1937
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© Succession Picasso/DACS 2019
Marie Laurencin, ‘Portraits (Marie Laurencin, Cecilia de Madrazo and the Dog Coco)’ 1915
Marie Laurencin
Portraits (Marie Laurencin, Cecilia de Madrazo and the Dog Coco) 1915
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© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
R.B. Kitaj, ‘Self-portrait’ 2007
R.B. Kitaj
Self-portrait 2007
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© The estate of R. B. Kitaj

Let's Discuss!


Look at all portraits above and ask your class the following questions:

  • Who are they?
  • How would you describe the portraits above? Girl, boy, both or neither?
  • How old do we think they are?
  • What sort of houses do they live in?

You could even get your pupils to create a story for the portraits and share with the rest of the class.

30 minute activities

Make a self portrait

You will need:

  • A4 White paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paint
  • Various cut out shapes

Instructions

  • Draw an outline of a face and shoulders
  • Fill in the features, such as lips and eyes, with either the cut out shapes
  • Paint the background with different colours
  • You can use their pictures to do an exhibition or display of abstract self portraits. Make a story out of the portraits. What would they say?

Make an identity flag

Using Frank Bowling's Whose Afraid of Barney Newman as inspiration, have your pupils class create their own personal flags. They can choose any colours that represent their identity in terms of personality, interests, gender and background. You can even get your class to explain why the picked the colours and what they mean to them.

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