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Exploring Color and Composition

Lesson 2 of 9

Color as Meaning


Exploring Color and Composition

Lesson 2 of 9

Color as Meaning


Lesson Info

Color as Meaning

So the first thing that often happens when people use color is they get into a comfort zone and they use a palette over and over again, and that can be an issue because if you're using the same color again and again, and this is an example of that, the pieces start to all look the same, and it sends a kind of similar emotional message and it expresses the same idea. So as much as it feels good maybe to use a palette that you prefer and use the same palette over and over, it's very limiting, so I highly recommend that people try to stretch their color palette and we'll talk about how to do that. So one of the things that I talk about also is subjective color. So like you have probably kind of have a favorite color. I wonder what it is. My favorite colors are purple and green. Okay, my favorite color, I'm actually wearing it. So it's great to have favorites and things that you really respond to, but you need to start to understand the universal language of color, and what I've identi...

fied is some phrases that we commonly know and its associations with emotional content. When you think about seeing red, that's a universal expression of typically anger or passion. Our cheeks tend to get red when we're heated, angry, or full of passion, so red is a universal language for things associated with that. Now feeling blue. Blue is a color that is often associated with something that might be somber or quiet or lacking in heat, and typically if you illustrate a piece that ranges all in the blue range, it's not going to send a happy, jovial message. It tends to be something that we see more as somber or quiet or sad. Green with envy tends to be associated with jealousy and it's a strange kind of light to have. In natural light, green is not typical, so it also kind of indicates something that's off or odd, and can be used that way. Now a sunny disposition, we all know that sun is good, and we need sun to live, so we associate the oranges, the yellows, the warm tones as something positive. And conversely, cold as ice, in addition to maybe feeling blue, it can be a temperature thing where you literally, if you see the color blue, you feel cooler or colder. So these are natural associations for all humans. It's not cultural, it's universal.

Class Description

Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department. Mary Jane will guide viewers through useful exercises and practices that help to solve both understanding the color they see and want to recreate, as well as exploring the art of inventing palettes that resonate with expression.

The course will be taught through showing concrete examples and a demonstration that deconstructs the “how to’s” for creating a palette that expresses a mood.

Mary Jane will cover the following topics:

  • Color as meaning: subjective, regional and universal
  • The power and illusion of light
  • Creating color studies
  • Choosing the right medium for color expression
  • Deciding on the palette that works best
  • Harmonizing a color palette
  • Expressing meaning with color focus
  • Pulling it all together to finalize an image
  • Experimenting with color through media and materials

The best way to observe color is from life, but analyzing and recreating an image from a photograph can be a very practical way to learn how to effectively interpret color. Please join this class to continue developing your understanding of color, composition, meaning, mood, and expression.



I have to say, this class and the companion class were very humbling. I assume I am not like most people who would watch this class in that I have no such artistic talent. I cannot draw at all (limited to "Spike" from TED Talks), but I had no idea such thought, imagination or ideology went into creating these designs. Professor Begin has an amazing presentation style, she is clear, concise and thoughtful. The subject matter was amazing and I can only see it helping me in evaluating my own work and taking a whole new perspective on art, light and evaluation. I highly recommend this class whatever no matter your creative bent. Thank you Creative Live for hosting this wonderful speaker.

Cassandra Bailey

Outstanding course from an engaging, skilled instructor. Mary Jane explains color and composition in a very clear, accessible way. She also puts theory into practice by analyzing a wide variety of illustrations and pointing out what works, what doesn't, the reasons why, and -- for the critique portion at the end -- ways to fix it. Highly recommend!


What an honor to be able to study anything Begin teaches. The depth and breath of knowledge she shares is astonishing, and she puts it in terms easily understood without diminishing it. How refreshing to be able to watch a brilliant professional, especially after seeing so many who show quick easy ways to fake art.