The Art Of Color


The students enrolled in B.J. Sherrill's Art 102 class at Eastern Arizona College in Payson are learning to look at color in new ways.

Although the class is a basic, college-level color and design course, Sherrill said it's often mistaken for a Martha Stewart-type class.

"It really is an art class, but at the same time you can learn a lot about how to make your home more harmonious," she said.

One student who is doing exactly that is Ruth McKain.

"I have this home, and I didn't know what colors went together, and this course has really helped me with that," she said. "I'm learning about basic colors and how to put things together that are balanced, that match."

But Sherrill also has serious art students in her class, including Anne Branagan, a professional illustrator with 30 years of experience. Before taking Sherrill's course, all the product illustrations she had done were black and white.

"I came in here inexperienced," Branagan said. "All I had done with color was some self-taught water color.

"What I found out is that any of my water colors that turned out to be beautiful happened totally by accident. Now I know what a color will do before I put it down.

"I called myself an artist for 30 years without ever thinking about the science of color. I've found out it's a lot easier to paint in color when you know what you're doing."

Besides the science of color, there's also a psychology of color, Sherrill said. In fact, one of the first things she does in Art 102 is give her students a color-based personality test.

"It's called the Luscher Color Test, and you order colors according to your preference by which ones affect you most and then you learn what that says about you as a person," she said. "A lot of students said they were shocked because it really hit home."

If you're interested in seeing what your color choices reveal about your personality, you can take the test over the Internet at

Marketing professionals, Sherrill said, know all about the psychological impact colors can have, and that knowledge is often reflected in product packaging and store design elements.

"Colors arouse you and calm you," she said. "Fast food restaurants usually use bright colors because they want you to eat fast and leave. Hospitals use calmer colors so you won't be so stressed."

In Art 102, Sherrill puts her students through a host of color-oriented activities.

"We do a lot of work with color families and groupings and systems at the beginning," she said. "Then we go into design elements."

As students worked at what appeared to be cutting out paper dolls during a recent class, she explained that they were actually learning the principles of balance through an ancient paper-cutting technique known as Polish Wycinanki.

While EAC-Payson offers a number of more craft-oriented art courses such as jewelry making and stained glass, student Joan Savage said that isn't what she was looking for.

"I took (Art 102) to learn to see the different values of colors, and to actually be able to create the continuous values of colors," she said. "I wanted to learn how you get from the darks to the lights how you start with a pink and work it all the way down to a deep red."

Another benefit students say they've realized through the class is to understand why they like or dislike a work of art.

"We've looked at some of the paintings over in the (EAC-Payson student) art show, and we're learning how to observe art," McKain said.

"We're learning why we like it and why we don't like it. What are we seeing in the picture?"

EAC will offer the color and design course again during the spring 2002 semester. For course information, call (800) 678-3808, ext. 8270.

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