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  • Writer's pictureJulia Reeve

A Pedagogic Palette

This blog post muses on the different ways that we perceive colour in our environment and how this can inform mindfulness and learning. I also share some arts-based sources of inspiration and practical exercises.

Bright pink flowers on white wall

Colour surrounds us, yet how often do we stop and notice the abundance of hues that accompany our everyday life? As we approach a new academic year of yet more uncertainty, change and pressure, who has time to appreciate the golden glow of autumn leaves or the ever-changing tones of the sky?
Yet paying attention to colour, whether in our natural or man-made environment, can offer a route into mindfulness and support our mental health. Noticing the different ways that we perceive and respond to colour can inform our visual literacy, develop our creative thinking and awaken our senses: so time to get out your paintbox!

Inspiration: Conscious Creativity

My initial inspiration for this blog post came from reading Conscious Creativity by Phillippa Stanton while on holiday this year. This book, developed from the author's hugely popular Instagram account, encourages us to re-connect with our senses, connect observations to emotions and to experiment with arts-based exercises to unlock our creative potential. Topics range from The Senses and Synaesthesia to Texture and Wabi Sabi, the colour chapter aiming to help us "Appreciate the emotional and logical language of colour and how we perceive it."

The colour chapter invites the reader to re-consider their perceptions and associations around colour, and suggests a number of thoughtful activities such as creating a visual colour essay, making your own colour wheel and 'collecting' colour via objects in the home. Philippa also refers to artist and educator Josef Albers' 1960s handbook, Interaction of Colour. This groundbreaking book contains a number of colour exercises for artists and learners: one of its key ideas is that our perceptions of a colour can change depending on its relationship to other colours.

Exercise: Colour Squares

This simple exercise based on Albers' work is useful to heighten and challenge our awareness of colour: working with cut paper can also be a soothing, mindful activity.

  1. Cut out a number of small squares the same size from coloured paper, for example in red.

  2. Lay one square on a sheet of yellow paper and one on blue paper and place these side by side.

  3. Compare the colour of the 2 red squares: do they still look the same? How has the background colour altered the hue of the red square?

  4. Experiment with different colouired squares and backgrounds.

This exercise can also be carried out using paint, see below:

Inspiration: Inspiring Writing in Art & Design, Taking a Line for a Write

Pat Francis' Inspiring Writing in Art and Design was an early source of creative ideas for my work with Writing PAD East Midlands and continues to be a treasure trove of activities harnessing the power of the arts to inform academic tasks. The title is a play on the words of artist and educator Paul Klee who advocated "Taking a line for a walk" in his 1925 pedagogical sketchbook: approaching drawing in a loose, playful way. Pat's work adopts approaches from both the visual arts and creative writing to support the academic development of Art & Design students (I would argue that the contents are applicable across many learning contexts and disciplines).

Inspiring writing in art & design book cover

The book uses colour in various ways as part of a multisensory teaching approach: using colour-coded post-its to structure essays, creating a colour alphabet and activities like the one below where dialogue is prompted by colour.

Exercise: Colour Pairs

This deceptively simple warm up exercise can be used to aid understanding of multiple viewpoints and also as a prompt for a piece of reflective writing.

  1. Give two learners a piece of paper the same colour.

  2. Ask each learner to individually write down any associations they have for this colour: e.g. a piece of clothing they love/hate, landscape where they grew up, etc.

  3. Each member of the pair shares what they have written with their partner, both then discuss the differences and similarities between their respective colour associations.

  4. A follow-on discussion could be more subject led, and consider the way that colour association is used as a powerful tool in marketing, fashion or other disciplines.

One of Pat's key influences is I Send You This Cadmium Red , a book of correspondence between writer John Berger and artist John Christie based on an exchange of colours, ideas and associations. Below extracts from this poetic exchange of visual letters are set to music by Art of Time Ensemble: a powerful reminder that within one colour, e.g. red, there are countless variations, each having distinct connections and personal meanings attached.

I send you this cadmium red book cover

Inspiration: Tate Gallery Resources

Many museums and art galleries have extended their range of online creative resources over the past 18 months in response to the pandemic, and these can be a rich source of inspiration for both teaching and personal development. Often these are aimed at children, but as a playful educator I see them as useful for adults too (or they can be a lovely way to share activities across age groups).

The Tate Gallery site has an extensive selection of activities under the banner Tate Kids, including some interesting exercises based on colour such as a Quiz to find out what your favourite colours say about you and the mindful colour walk exercise below.

Tate Kids website screenshot
Tate Kids website

Exercise: Go on a Colour Walk

This exercise, similar to mindfulness walking practices based on paying attention to the senses, invites you to not only notice but record and reflect on your observations. This calming yet creative activity keeps you focussed on the present moment through paying conscious attention to colour in your environment.

  1. Choose a colour to focus on for the duration of your walk, e.g. Red.

  2. As you walk, pay close attention to anything that is your chosen colour, e.g. Post Boxes.

  3. If you wish, photograph the items you observe.

  4. After your walk look back at the photographs: do you notice anything new that you initially missed?

  5. Create a physical or digital collage from the photographs you have taken.

For a more detailed outline see Go on a Colour Walk.

Red flower

I've found that thinking like an artist and paying attention to colour can bring about surprising benefits to learning and wellbeing: I hope you find something here to spark your pedagogic imagination.

All the best,


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