Karen LeGault ~Fine Art Blog

August 19, 2014

Five Elements in Fine Art Painting

Filed under: Feng Shui,Landscapes,Symbolism — by Karen LeGault @ 15:34

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Five Elements in Painting

by Karen LeGault 

My personal history

Tai Chi practice entered my life in 1981 after a painful life marker. Following a reclusive period, I was eager to open up to new life expanding and affirming experiences and took it on whole heartedly, practicing 2 to 3 hours daily after full days of work. (I was working as a draftsperson then.) It helped me overcome anxiety. It helped me to learn to slow down and clear my head. I began to find the answers to my questions came by observing. It changed the way I approached art making. I got stronger on all levels.


I started teaching Tai Chi in 1989. I taught classes in community centers and dance studios. As I shared what I knew I kept learning from the experiences of students. For several years I also taught under my Sifu (teacher) at the Academy of Chinese Culture and Life Sciences, an acupuncture college in Oakland, where the students were budding acupuncturists and in some cases already licensed doctors from other countries looking for an alternative to be able to practice medicine in the US.

 I met Truong Van Vuong in 1999 while he was studying acupuncture at the school. Already in his early 60’s he was a Vietnamese Feng Shui master who was teaching math.

Van Vuong introduced me to the subtleties of Feng Shui and how the yin and yang and the five elements play out in it.


What are the Five Elements?

In western traditions we have four elements, air, fire, water and earth. Most of us have heard of that. 

Asian traditions, such as medicine, kung-fu, meditation, philosophy, geomancy and art have the five-element theory as a foundation.

The five elements are wood, (sometimes called wind), fire, water, earth and metal.


The interaction of the elements is constantly dynamic, but sometimes stagnation, excesses, deficiencies or other imbalances come into play.


Colors are associated with the elements.

Fire – warm red, orange

Earth – yellow, browns, neutrals

Metal – white, silver, gold

Water – blues, blue greens, black

Wood – greens


Shapes are associated with the elements.

Fire – Diamonds and triangles

Earth – square or squat rectangles that are short in vertical height

Metal – circles

Water – paisleys, curvy lines

Wood – Tall and narrow, tall and willowy


A painting is all about balance of shapes and colors within the perimeter of its exterior dimensions.


Subjects themselves can also have elements associated with them.

That subject can also be influenced by its colors and shapes that will give more weight to its related element.


For instance, a flower can be considered to be of the “wood” element, but if it’s a red or orange flower it will lend a “fire” element to it.


A view of a river can be very blue reflecting the clouds in the sky. The sky is of the “metal” element. The same view could be of seeing the bottom of a shallow stream through the surface of the water. Perhaps it is sandy and the sun piercing it makes it an orangish color. This would add a “fire” element to the water.


Fire – plastics, heat, lightening, sun, fire itself

Earth – dirt, rocks, sand, Water – glass, water, liquid, blue, black

Metal – anything made of metals, (silver can also represent water)

Water – glass, water, liquid (non-oil based), reflections, clouds,     fog, anything wet

Wood – plants, trees, grasses, flowers 


The space that a painting is imbued with also can be associated with the elements, but for now I am just going to stick with colors, subjects, and shapes.


A major element in a painting can harmonize and balance rooms. The décor of your home, the wall colors, wall papers, trim color, styles of furniture and fabrics all have their own characteristics. A painting can make up for deficiencies or excesses in the rooms themselves. We will discuss that in another article. 


Here is an example of

how the five elements can be interpreted.


The painting is “On Spanish Creek V” by Karen LeGault 

FIRE – the sun in the water casting it in orange and the orangish colors of the tree trunks
EARTH- the rocks and bank of the river
METAL, the whiteness of the rocks and the white flowers of the grasses, and the sense of atmosphere that can draw you in.
WATER- the water flowing through the scene
WOOD- the trees, grasses and other plants

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