Color Theory Basics

I try very hard to include a review of color theory in every grade.  In every unit or project, minus a select few, I include some requirement regarding the use of color theory.

Because my youngest grade is currently 5th grade, I start every year off with a few days of color theory “madness”.  Students spend the first day studying the math surrounding color theory. Each student receives a page with the color wheel empty.  Using the material of the day (this differs – markers, pencils, paint  – it’s the luck of the draw), students will complete the  Color Families – 1 page with me during class.

I really enjoy involving math in this aspect of the overview.  As a class, we classify the primaries as a number one and therefor we learn that primaries together always equal two.  And because of this, we generalize that secondary colors are twos.  5th graders especially enjoy this because they then note that two plus one equals three so all the outside colors must be three-s.  We then discuss tertiary colors, which students designate as three-s.

Vocabulary is easy in art – does anyone else agree?  Students can really devolop their understanding by creating definitions that make sense for them.  Simple definitions, as well.  So, if we review – my students have covered the following terms…and here are some definitions that usually come up.

Primary – original colors, cannot be created on their own, first group
Secondary – created by two primaries mixed together
Tertiary  – created by a primary and secondary next to each other, labeled with primary color first, secondary color second

Review of the basics usually takes about one class period (shorter periods). Whatever material students use, we discuss the importance of craftsmanship and how drawing with materials (or painting) should be done consistently and in the same direction.  Younger students, especially, are extremely amazed at the difference this practice makes.

For the second round of color theory, we talk about color families as a class – color families beyond primary, secondary, etc.  Students learn of warm and cool colors.  Using Color Families – 2 as a frame work, students learn a different material and we come up with class definitions for these families.

Warm – bright, warm colors that remind us of hot things (red, orange, yellow)
Cool – cool, calm colors that remind us of cold things (green blue, violet)

Using Color Families – 3 sheet, students are introduced to my two favorite color families – complimentary and analogous colors.  I love these because the possibilities of analogous groupings can go on and on and complimentary colors are so concrete…oh I could go on and on.  Using a third or fourth different material and keeping up with our craftsmanship, we define our terms.

Complimentary – opposites, they compliment each other even though they are different
– similar, they are next to each other on the color wheel; opposite definition of complimentary

With this foundation of color theory from day one, I am able to strengthen their understanding of color throughout further studies.  5th graders spend most of the year including some sort of color theory in their work.  Sixth graders explore color theory and develop their own color palettes.  7th and 8th grade also include color theory.  By setting the foundation, students have something to build on and quickly become knowledgeable regarding color theory.


One response to “Color Theory Basics

  1. Pingback: Weaving Adventures | Art Class With LMJ·

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