Saturday, May 2, 2015

Color Reactivity: Science and Art

Let's talk about human bodies, specifically blood, muscles, veins, and skin.

Each year, the four and five-year old children paint layers on paper silhouettes that represent the internal bits of their bodies starting with their organs and moving to the outer layers of skin, facial features, and hair.

Each year, when we arrive at the muscle and vein layer, we talk about how the books we are looking at will take creative license with this by showing arteries and veins in shades of blue and red. Blood itself is further dissected in its visual representation in book illustrations to show red and white blood cells, etc. Muscles are are shown in reds and whites. This last is probably more accurate than the rest, but mostly as children always cut right to the chase in everything they do and look to their own bodies for evidence of the discussion, they will tell you that veins (and blood) are blue-ish, green-ish, and therefore blood can obviously be blue and red. Obviously.

Each year, this is further supported by parents with highly developed ideas for the children's evidence-based observation. The most common one is that once a vein or blood is "oxidized" or exposed to air, these will turn red and that contained inside a body these are indeed blue and green. In real life, blood is either bright red or dark red it is not green or blue. Ever. Unless you are a zombie or a mummy as one of the children told me this year.

This is the thing about color studies using the thing in front of you (your eyes looking through your skin at something) and transferring these to a visual medium (a printed book or painting) layers change things below. The layers of skin and fat change the thing beneath and this year, the children are experimenting with how to use paint in the same way.

So in previous years, the children add that last layer of muscle and veins and then move right to the skin color. What is different with paint is that when a new layer of tempera is added to an already dry layer of tempera it will reactivate the paint beneath. In other words, the skin layer will reactivate the muscle vein layer and our lovely shades of browns and beiges become tinted with deeper shades of red from the previous layer.

This year, because of this discussion about how the layers of skin and fat will change the appearance of the things beneath we added a new layer. We added a layer of fat. Now why I never included this important layer in previous years, I have no answer. The layer of fat we all have is actually quite important and useful -- "Every part of our body takes care of other parts of our body," one very insightful almost 5-year old observed.

This fat paint layer, in reality, will add a buffer for that reactive process and because I want to not only teach how paint works, but also how color shades work, the children used a light shade of yellow-green as the paint layer.

Now fat is not yellow-green in real life I reminded the children, but as any good make-up artist will tell you (or in my case, a really good drag queen taught me) greens will overcome or neutralize reds. Our mission is to neutralize the red layer so that the skin shades will be as true to original mixture each child creates. This is why the children had those pale yellows and pale greens to mix together. This should neutralize all those dark and light reds underneath.

We spent a lot of time observing how that lower layer was reactivated when the children moved the yellow-green paint across it. Will it be enough of a neutralizing tone as a base for the skin colors? Only time will tell. Have we started a new misunderstanding similar to the "is blood blue or red?" by making the fat layer yellow-green? Only time will tell us that as well.

Lots of adventures in store!

1 comment: