Unit A2: Colour and Line

Unit A2 - Colour and Line: Introduction

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Colour is often the first thing to strike us about a painting. When I showed the case study paintings to students, colour was one of the things each student commented on. Often when we want to explain why we like a painting, we resort to phrases such as "I like the colours". Nobody can argue with that sentiment. Yet if we want to think about the ways in which paintings manipulate colour, we need to try and find ways of discussing colour more clearly, and of analysing its effects and its role more precisely.

Fortunately, even though colour seems highly subjective, with the help of a few basic concepts and tools it is possible to begin to understand some of the rich ways in which colour in art and the varied ways in which artists use it. In the first unit of this course, then, we shall explore some key aspects of this complex notion.

We shall also discuss a closely related issue: the question of line.

This unit has five sections:

We shall begin in section a by discussing the idea of palette, the notion of the colour wheel, and the ways in which terms such as "complementary pairs" can help explain some of the effects of colour.

In section b we shall consider the notion of perceptual and local colour.

In section c we shall discuss notions of value, hue and intensity.

In section d we shall consider some of the problems with discussing colour in relation to art from different historical contexts.

Finally, in section e we shall consider the importance of line.


This resource was created with the help of a University of Leeds Faculty of Arts Enterprise Knowledge Transfer Grant.

The University accepts no responsibility for the content of external sites.

© Matthew Treherne, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT.

Pages in this document

  1. Unit A2 - Colour and Line: Introduction
  2. Unit A2a - Coulour and Line: Palette and the Colour Wheel
  3. Unit A2b - Colour and Line: 'Local' and 'perceptual' colour
  4. Unit A2c - Colour and Line: Hue, value and intensity
  5. Unit A2d - Colour and Line: Historical specificity
  6. Unit A2e - Colour and Line: Line
  7. Unit A2 - Colour and Line: Further reading
  8. Unit A2 - Colour and Line: Summary