Woody Guthrie Elementary School Curriculum
ART: Studying the Elements of Color
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Woody Guthrie created beauty with simple lines. When he chose to use color, surprising fuschias could streak across grasses and green could blush people's faces.

He embellished his writing notebooks with color, at times enriching the poetry, prose or lyrics written in black on the page, at times creating a presence of its own among the strength of Woody's words.

Depending on the developmental age of the children, the use of color is often unrealistic, like Chagall or Picasso. The paintings chosen for this lesson fall into that genre.


Getting Started

"Man with a Hat and Scarf" evokes a smile with its jaunty placement of the hat and oppositional use of yellow and green (right hand yellow, left hand green; left scarf green, right yellow.) Children may be surprised with the way Woody used wide stroke of yellow on the face, criss-crossed by thinner streaks of green on the right half of the face. The affect is lovely and young artists may be freed to use color in creativeways. The body is not fleshed out but consists of fast, angular green with a dash of yellow.

The straightforward lines in "House and Tree, Mountain in Background" leave lots of room for color. Fuschia hugs the grassline suggested at the bottom of the page and is echoed high in the sky.



Gather the whole group for an art chat. Look at these two paintings by Woody Guthrie. What surprises you about the use of color in "Man with a Hat and Scarf"? How did Woody portray the torso using color? How is the color green used in this painting? Which areas stand out because of color and which areas are left empty? Why do you think this is? How is yellow used in this playful portrait? What feelings do you get when you look at this picture? How do these colors feel? Why do you think Woody limited himself to two colors?

What do you like best about the way Woody used color in "House and Tree, Mountain in Background?" This is another example of when Woody limited himself to two colors. How did Woody use the fuschia and green together? Where did he place the fuschia by itself? How do you think he blended the colors in this landscape? On the color wheel, where do red and green fall in relation to each other? What affect do light and dark colors have?

Invite students to choose either a person or place they would like to portray. Provide black paint for the basic lines and shapes and complete the picture in a single session, returning to it during another session to add color. Limit students to two colors, mirroring the techniques used in "Man with a Hat and Scarf" and "House and Tree, Mountain in Background."

Display all the paintings and discuss in terms of color. Revisit some of the questions used in relation to Woody's work.


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