Symbolism of Green

Elmer Cecil Stoner Green Mask

What does green symbolise in art and storytelling?

  • Unripe (and by extension, naïve)
  • Vital and vigorous (because Greek ‘chloros’ may have mostly meant ‘having sap’, independent of colour). By extension, green can symbolise youth. Young things tend to be moist (sorry) whereas old things tend to be dry (also sorry, blame those Ancient Greeks).
  • Latin for ‘green ‘ is viridis. This becomes verdant in English. This may have meant youthful and vigorous as well as naïve, but thanks to that age-old gender hierarchy, ‘virile’ and ‘manliness’ are overlapping ideas. ‘Virile’ and ‘virtue’ are also related.
From The Australian Women's Weekly, March 19, 1975 green glasses
From The Australian Women’s Weekly, March 19, 1975. Green-tinted glasses. I bet he tells everyone, “You look a little peaky today.”
  • It gets worse. Since green can mean virtue and naivety, it follows that green can also symbolise virginity, a bullshit concept made up to control people, mainly women.
  • Green symbolises spring, hence the adjective ‘vernal’. The common Latin idea with this family of ‘v’ words is ‘juicy’ or ‘sappy’.
  • Many landscapes remain green over summer (not here in Australia, where we should be using Aboriginal concepts of seasonality) but anyway, green can symbolise summer as well as spring.
  • There’s a famous medieval poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This poem may have come from a pop-culture idea of the time: belief in a Green Man who represents the seasonal cycle. (For a contemporary picture book example of personified seasons see The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg.)
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Pink in Illustration

In the last half century or so pink has increasingly become femme coded. This wasn’t the case before the second world war.

If an illustrator utilises a predominantly pink palette today, does this mean the work will therefore look as if the target market is ‘girls’?

Below find a selection of illustrations with a hugely varied mood and genre. Pink can be soft, harsh, romantic, and everything in between.

Mead Schaeffer (1898 - 1980). A woman and two men, all in white suits, are in a restaurant.
Mead Schaeffer (1898 – 1980)
A woman plays a harmonica in a forest full of pink trunked trees. A kangaroo watches.
Prelude – The early life of Eileen Joyce C.H. Abrahall, illustrated by Anna Zinkeisen. Published by Oxford University Press 1950
Magic Secrets by Rose Wyler & Gerald Ames, illustrated by Tālivaldis Stubis (1967) cut a woman in half
Magic Secrets by Rose Wyler & Gerald Ames, illustrated by Tālivaldis Stubis (1967)
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Red Blue and Yellow Dominant In Artwork

Poster by A. Ballester, 1941
Poster by A. Ballester, 1941
'Good Morning Madrid' with Maria Mercader - Poster by Ballester (probably), 1943
‘Good Morning Madrid’ with Maria Mercader – Poster by Ballester (probably), 1943
Roger Broders (1883 - 1953) 1928 travel poster illustration for India Railways
Roger Broders (1883 – 1953) 1928 travel poster illustration for India Railways
Lois Gaigg poster for Lloyd Express 1932 ships
Lois Gaigg poster for Lloyd Express 1932 ships
Movie Poster by A. Ballester, 1942
Movie Poster by A. Ballester, 1942
My Trip Abroad Ruth Eastman (1882 - 1976)
My Trip Abroad Ruth Eastman (1882 – 1976)
'All that money can buy' Poster by Antonio Ballester, 1941
‘All that money can buy’ Poster by Antonio Ballester, 1941
Susan found herself talking about it for the first time, Illustration by Edwin George in 'English Woman' 12 July 1958
Susan found herself talking about it for the first time, Illustration by Edwin George in ‘English Woman’ 12 July 1958
CHARLES E. CHAMBERS (AMERICAN - 1883-1941) goodbye snow night
CHARLES E. CHAMBERS (AMERICAN – 1883-1941)
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Red and Blue Palette in Illustration

Below are examples of blue and red in art and illustration. I call this the Phantom Tollbooth palette because the blue of the original Phantom Tollbooth cover is distinctive. When the cover was modernised, a beautiful red was added. This teal blue plus red works especially well, I think.

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling―he’s fun, affectionate, kind―but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairy tale ending, and to complicate the fairy tale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted―and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right? Right.

The Ghost Battalion a story of the Iron Scouts by Manly Wade Wellman
The Ghost Battalion a story of the Iron Scouts by Manly Wade Wellman

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can’t sit around waiting for the world to change, but some things are just meant to be.

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Autumn Colours in Illustration

The basic meaning of ‘autumn colour’ is clear. Even within that palette, there is a huge variety of hues illustrators use to depict fall. Below are examples including realism and heightened, saturated fantasy colours.

Adolph K Kronengold - 1929 autumn trees flat
Adolph K Kronengold – 1929 autumn trees flat
Autumn An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans (1997)
Autumn An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans (1997)
Autumn An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans (1997)
Autumn An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans (1997)
S.R. Badman, 1949 farm in autumn
S.R. Badman, 1949 farm in autumn

October and her dad live in the woods. They sleep in the house Dad built for them and eat the food they grow in the vegetable patches. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They read the books they buy in town again and again until the pages are soft and yellow – until next year’s town visit. They live in the woods and they are wild. And that’s the way it is.

Until the year October turns eleven. That’s the year October rescues a baby owl. It’s the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October’s mother comes back. The year everything changes.

This book is a feast for the senses, filled with the woodsmoke smell of crisp autumn mornings and the sound of wellies squelching in river mud. And, as October fights to find the space to be wild in the whirling chaos of the world beyond the woods, it is also a feast for the soul

Achiel Van Sassenbrouck yellow sky
Achiel Van Sassenbrouck
Three children in a forest look up at the yellow leaves on the trees in wonder.
Cover of a Swedish school reader, Vill du läsa (Do You Want to Read) illustrated by Elsa Beskow (1874-1953)
by Edna Eicke (1919-1979) small yacht autumn
by Edna Eicke (1919-1979)
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Purple Blooms by Carol Shields Short Story Analysis

Alain Le Foll, The Very Obliging Flowers, 1968

“Purple Blooms” is a short story by American-born Canadian writer Carol Shields (1935 – 2003), included in the collection Various Miracles (1985).

This short story showcases how different the lyrical short form can be from the novel. For one thing, “Purple Blooms” doesn’t seem to have a typical ending. Look closer, and that’s because the plot is an unusual shape: Cumulative. Another short story with a cumulative plot shape is “The Fifth Story” by Clarice Lispector, though Lispector’s story is more obviously so. In a cumulative story the author keeps circling around a topic, enlarging it with each revisit.

Sometimes, the shape of a lyrical short story echoes its symbol web. In this case, I feel the shape of the story continues the motif of ‘blooming’. The ‘purple bloom’ of the title is a verb as well as a noun; to bloom is to start small and then, well, blossom. That’s how it feels to read a short story shaped in this fashion. This plot shape is especially well-suited to the short form. The shorter the better, probably. Adult readers have limited patience for revisiting something over and over. (In contrast, the cumulative plot shape is far more common in picture books. Young children seem to require repetition; it helps them to learn language and to understand their world.)

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Symbolism Of The Colour Blue

Henry Scott Tuke - August Blue 1894

In the “Odyssey”, Homer famously describes the “wine-dark sea.” Well, that’s poetic, isn’t it?

Chesley Bonestell, Primordial Earth, Formation of the Earth, interior book illustration, 1978, first for LIFE mag, 1952 red
Chesley Bonestell, Primordial Earth, Formation of the Earth, interior book illustration, 1978, first for LIFE mag, 1952. Before the colour of blue existed, did the concept exist? Were people seeing something more like this?

But there’s a reason he didn’t just call the ocean blue. There was no term for ‘blue’ in Ancient Greece. People from antiquity didn’t consider blue a separate colour significant enough to name. It’s difficult to find a word that meant ‘blue’ way back in time. Black and white are mentioned a lot. Red, a little, next green and yellow. But no blue! Blue is one of the primary colours. In Japan there’s ‘midori’, which today means green (think of the liquor) but which is traditionally a sort of bluish-green colour, somewhere in the middle. Midori is traditionally ‘the colour of nature’, and describes the color of shoots, young leaves, or whole plants. There is a Japanese word for blue (ao). But educational materials distinguishing green and blue only came into use after World War II.

Now everyday Japanese has more specific words for blue than English does. In modern Japanese there are additional basic terms for light blue (mizuiro) and dark blue (ao) which are not found in English.

“We found that people who only speak Japanese distinguished more between light and dark blue than English speakers,” said Dr Athanasopoulos, whose research is published in the current edition of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. “The degree to which Japanese-English bilinguals resembled either norm depended on which of their two languages they used more frequently.”

Bilinguals see the world in a different way, study suggests
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