Art Projects for Kids

Color Wheel Project to Teach Color Theory in Elementary Art

Use this color wheel art project to teach color theory to your elementary students. stop by and grab the free, step-by-step lesson to make it easy for them to learn about warm, cool and complementary colors..

art assignment color

If teaching color theory to elementary students sounds like a daunting task, don’t let it keep you from trying. Color wheel project ideas don’t have to be elaborate, or boring either. Don’t get me wrong, coloring in a color wheel is always better than not approaching to subject at all. BUT there is another option that is fun, makes students think, AND creates a beautiful, personal work of art too. This Color Wheel art project idea has been bouncing around on my site for years, first as a simple download, then as a more elaborate ebook with more templates in my PDF Shop. I’m happy to bring it back again as a freebie as I think it really is a great way to teach students about warm, cool and complementary colors. I hope this new post makes it more accessible to even more busy teachers. I first saw the brilliant idea of having a hand intersect with colorful rings years ago, but it was done with hand drawn circles. Knowing what I know about classrooms, I was sure that asking students to draw a page full of concentric circles before they even got started with their project, would slow things down to a crawl. And if the lesson is to learn more about color, how can that happen if they never even get to the coloring stage? My solution is a free ring template for teachers to print so students can just trace their hand and then get right to coloring. The PDF download also includes a step by step tutorial, as there are some directions to follow. The goal is for students to learn that complementary colors make each other look their brightest. So if every ring of warm color is surrounded by a ring of its complementary color, the hand is bound to have the most contrast to the background as possible! P.S. The fancier Warm Hands with a Heart project still lives over in my PDF Shop.

Join “The Daily Draw” below and get this free download

art assignment color

Color Wheel Art Project Coloring Page

art assignment color

  • Drawing Paper . This is the good stuff you can buy in bulk for a good price.
  • Pencil . Don’t waste your money on the cheapest brand. These make nice dark lines.
  • Stabilo Markers . I love this brand! They have amazing color selection and the perfect ends to color with. Not too fat, and not too thin, just right.
  • Note: All of the above are Amazon affiliate links.

Time needed:  1 hour

Step by Step directions

art assignment color

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art assignment color

Using Color in Art | A Beginner’s Guide to Color Theory

How to use color in art.

In this art lesson we’ll break down the different components of color theory and explain how to apply to your work. This means looking at, and understanding, the types of color schemes artists use.

What is Color Theory

Simply put, it’s the visual impact of colors and the way they mix. This can be approached in a very elementary sense or it can become extremely complex.

For the purposes of this site, we will keep things fairly simple and straightforward as most of our lessons are designed for the beginner artist.

The Importance of Color Theory and Understanding How to Use Color in Art

As an artist, you need to understand the relationship between colors (color schemes) and how to apply that knowledge to a work of art.

Understanding color theory will give you that knowledge. And the good news is you really only need to learn a few basic concepts to have practical application.

If you need a more in-depth understanding, Wikipedia covers the topic pretty extensively.

The History of Color Theory

Throughout history there have been many contributors to the development of color theory. The earliest records are by Leone Battista Alberti in 1435. Leonardo da Vinci also wrote about color theory in his journals in the 1400’s.

During this time, color theory was mostly about the primary colors and how to mix them to make other colors.

If you are not familiar with da Vinci and his journals , they are nothing short of fascinating and I encourage you to learn more about them.

In 1704 Sir Isaac Newton expanded on this concept when he developed the first color wheel. He stated that when white light passes through a prism it created a spectrum of color.

Newton viewed this spectrum of color as being contained in a closed circle. Hence, the color wheel. These colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Or, ROYGBIV.

In the 18th century, color theory evolved once again when Johann Wolfgang Goethe introduced the idea of emotion from colors. Using this concept of psychological effect, he developed a color wheel that included warm and cool colors.

From there, color theory was developed even further to include other characteristics of color as well. This brings us to the color theory systems we know today.

If the only thing you ever learn about color theory is the 12 hue color wheel, you’d be in pretty good shape. That is the easiest, and best way, to understand how to use color in art. So for that reason, let’s begin there.

The Color Wheel

When we talk about understanding color in art, the key component is the color wheel. The good news is, once the color wheel is explained to you it’s really pretty easy to understand.

There are many different types of color wheels. From very basic to pretty complex. Today we will be learning about the 12 hue color wheel.

If you refer back to the color characteristics, hue is the name of the color. So the color wheel we’ll be focusing on today has 12 different colors. You can learn how to make your own at,  How to Make a Color Wheel for Beginners .

How-To-Make-A-Color-Wheel-Finished

Primary Colors

The three most important colors are the primary colors. Which are yellow, red, and blue. These are the colors that can be used to make all the other colors. They can’t be made from other colors though.

Artists, such as Piet Mondrian , have created popular works using only primary colors in their art.

The primary colors are spaced evenly apart on the color wheel. On a 12 hue color wheel there are three spaces in between each of the primary colors.

Understanding-Color-Theory-For-Artists-Primary-Colors

Secondary Colors

These are the three colors that are made from mixing two of the primary colors together.

Orange = yellow + red

Green = yellow + blue

Violet (purple) = red + blue

On the color wheel, these colors are placed directly between the two colors used to make them. So for example, orange is evenly spaced between yellow and red. The color is made by mixing even parts of the two primary colors of yellow and red. And of course the same concept goes for green and violet.

art assignment color

Tertiary Colors

The last set of color we will discuss for the color wheel are the tertiary colors. Which there are six of.

These colors are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. For example red-orange. It’s placement on the color wheel is right between red and orange.

The name of the tertiary colors always begins with the primary color, followed by the secondary color.

Understanding-Color-Theory-For-Artists-Tertiary-Colors

Characteristics of Color

Below are the characteristics of color, also known as color attributes. They’re an important part to understanding color theory and will each be covered more thoroughly later in this lesson.

Hue – the name of the color (red, orange, green, yellow, etc.)

Value – how light or dark a color is

Intensity – how bright or dull a color is

Temperature – warm or cool

Color Value

Color value is how light or dark a hue is. Tints refers to the lightness of a color (hue) and are made by adding white. Shades are the darkness of a color and are made by adding black.

art assignment color

Intensity of Color

Intensity is the brightness of a color. Also, saturation and chroma can be used to describe the brightness of a color. Full intensity is the pure hue without mixing in an black or white. Adding gray to a color will make it more neutral, thus changing the Intensity of it.

art assignment color

The intensity can also be changed by creating a tone when mixing a color’s complement with it.

Types of Color Schemes in Art

Complementary colors – colors that are opposite on the color wheel. They are,

  • Red and green
  • Yellow and violet (purple)
  • Blue and orange

You can see examples of the complementary colors scheme anywhere you look. Christmas colors are red and green, for example.

Several sports teams use this color scheme as well. Detroit Tigers colors are blue and orange. Lakers are yellow and purple. And I’m sure there are many others out there as well.

Monochromatic Color Scheme In Art

This color scheme refers to the use of only one hue. The hue can be varied by creating tints (adding white) and shades (adding black).

A color value scale is a perfect example of this. Which is created using one hue of paint, then adding black and white to alter that color.

How-To-Paint-A-Monochromatic-Watercolor-Landscape

Analogous Color Scheme in Art

This is a color scheme using only the colors that are adjacent (next) to each other on the color wheel. The colors value can be changed but they will remain very similar to each other.

There are several more color schemes, but these are the most common and are better suited for beginners.

Color Temperature

This refers to what are considered to be warm (red, yellow, orange) and cool (blue, green, violet) colors. Warm colors are called this because they remind us of the sun or fire. And cool colors because they remind us of water and ice.

Warm colors are intense, while cool colors are calming. This gives color the power to evoke emotion from the viewer.

Black, white, and gray are neutral colors.

Giving some thought to color temperature and what type of feelings you are trying to portray in your work is a good starting point in choosing your key color.

Color harmony

Color harmony is based on the color wheel and is used to create art that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

It’s created by choosing a key color for your artwork, and then building your design around that color using one of the types of color schemes.

So why should any of this matter to you as an artist? Because you want to create works of art that are pleasing to the eye. And you want your work to evoke the right type of feeling and emotion.

When choosing your color palette, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to maybe five or six colors. And use that set of colors to mix and blend different colors. This will help to keep your artwork more harmonious.

Thanks for stopping by today and reading about understanding color theory for artists. Hopefully you have a better understanding of how to use colors in your art and are comfortable applying what you have learned.

Before you leave, grab your FREE Elements of Art Guide

Art Tutorials that Use Color Theory

  • How to Draw a Candy Cane
  • Monochromatic Landscapes
  • The Elements of Art Explained
  • How to Create Value
  • Using Space in Art

art assignment color

Roshanda is an art education blogger who is on a mission to coach and encourage as many aspiring artists as possible through the use of her blog. Learn more about her on the About Me page and connect with her on Facebook , Twitter , and Instagram .

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art assignment color

Ultimate Color Theory Lesson Plans and Worksheets e-Workbook

All inclusive color unit, this mega pack includes 7 lesson plans and 20 worksheets, (38 page pdf) save $$$ buying the e-workbook.

ultimate color theory lesson plan and worksheet e workbook

Included in the Ultimate Color Theory e-Workbook:

Intro to Color Theory (NEW) •    Introduction to Color Theory Lesson Plan •    Color Theory Word Search •    Color Theory Crossword Puzzle

Color Wheel •    Color Wheel Lesson Plan •    Student Worksheet: Color Wheel Worksheet •    Color Wheel Poster

Warm & Color Colors •    Warm and Cool Colors Lesson Plan (NEW) •    Student Worksheet:  Warm & Cool colors Worksheet

Value: Tints and Shades •    Color Value: Tints and Shades Lesson Plan •    5 Student Worksheets: 1.    Tints & Shades Worksheet 2.    Tints & Shades Value Scale Worksheet 3.    Tints-Alternative Color Mixing Worksheet 4.    Shades-Alternative Color Mixing Worksheet 5.    High & Low Key Worksheet (NEW)

Color Intensity •    Color Intensity Lesson Plan •    Student Worksheets: 1.    Color Intensity-Mix with COMPLEMENT 2.    Color Intensity-Mix with BROWN 3.    Color Intensity-Mix with BLACK 4.     Color Intensity Worksheet

Color Schemes •    Color Schemes Lesson Plan (NEW) •    7 Student Worksheets 1.    Color Schemes Overview (now includes Quad Color Scheme) 2.    Complementary Color Scheme 3.    Analogous Color Scheme 4.    Monochromatic Color Scheme 5.    Split Complementary Color Scheme 6.    Triadic Color Scheme 7.    Quad (Tetrad) Color Scheme (NEW)

Color Theory Mixing Chart •    Color Theory Mixing Charts Lesson Plan (NEW) •    Mixing Chart Worksheet (Pre-labeled) •    Mixing Chart Example •    Create Your Own –Color Theory Mixing Chart (Blank Chart 1) •    Create Your Own –Color Theory Mixing Chart (Blank Chart 2) (NEW)

© Michelle C. East – Create Art with ME 2016

This purchase is for ONE CLASSROOM ONLY! I kindly ask that you do NOT give this PDF to friends or fellow teachers. Permission is granted to individual teachers or home school parents for use in their classroom or home school setting. Distributing any portion of this PDF is prohibited (outside of individual classroom use).

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Color Theory In Art: The Definitive Guide for Artists

Bart Dluhy

  • Last Updated: April 25, 2024

color theory in art

Art Ignition is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More.

Color Theory can often seem intimating or just plain confusing.

But it doesn’t have to be…

In this article, you’ll find out how to organize and make sense of this sometimes overwhelming topic.

The concepts, terms, and examples are designed to simplify each point and organized to build from the basics to practical suggestions on using the ideas in your own art.

Definition of Color Theory

Components of color theory, applications of color theory, additive color model theory, subtractive or reductive theory, color vs. hue, warm colors, cool colors, neutral colors, saturation, intensity, and chroma, value (and key), primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, the relationship between hue, saturation, and brightness in color, ryb color wheel model (subtractive), cmyk color wheel model, rgb color wheel model (additive), triadic vs. munsell color wheel, color associations, monochromatic color scheme, analogous color scheme, complementary color scheme, split complementary color scheme, triadic color scheme, tetradic color scheme, famous palettes from history, warm and cool of each hue or color family, different whites, using pre-made black, colorful grays, tips when mixing colors, best books on color and color theory, final touches, what is color theory, and why is it important.

what is color theory?

Color Theory is a way of thinking that helps artists and designers look at visual media (websites, advertisements, logos, artwork, etc.) to decide the best use of color to meet the individual project’s goals.

This way of thinking is based on psychology, the science of optics, and historical data. It helps creators understand how most people respond to color combinations in specific situations. If you want viewers to react emotionally to your art, it will help to understand these concepts.

components of color theory

Color Theory is made up of:

  • Relationships between color and light waves.
  • How colors are created.
  • How humans respond to color and why.
  • How the effects of color change with the environments or contexts in which they are found.

Before you as an artist can use color theory effectively, you must understand how each of these components works when taken into consideration together.

Color theory can be used to influence people’s emotions to help enhance the mood of a painting, like Picasso’s Blue Period paintings.

Using lots of blues can make people sad or melancholy.

Color is also effective for getting attention. In this artwork by Cezanne, the blues, greens, and browns give a feeling of peace and calmness.

applicztion of color theory

Words You Need to Understand

Before getting into the details of color theory for artists, some terms must be understood.

additive color model theory

The additive theory is used by digital artists for electronic displays on computers, TVs, or other devices.

The primary colors of this theory are Red, Green, and Blue (RGB), which, when added together, create white light. It is called the additive theory because when you add the 3 primaries, you get the presence of white light.

The reductive theory is used by painters and artists who work with hand-applied colors.

The primary colors of this theory are Red, Yellow, and Blue (RYB); the primary colors most of us learned in school.

This theory is called reductive or subtractive because, theoretically, when you combine the right proportions of each primary, you will get black or the appearance of the absence of light.

color vs hue

Hue is the foundation color or color family; These hues make up the twelve Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary “colors”- Red, Yellow, Blue, Orange, Purple, Green, Yellow-orange, Red-orange, Red-purple, Blue-purple, Blue-green, and Yellow-green.

For example, Yellow-green is often referred to as Chartreuse.

color wheel

Individual Colors are based on one of the twelve primary, secondary, and tertiary hues (see the basic color wheel).

More on this will be covered later…

All Hues are Colors, but not all Colors are Hues.

The Color teal belongs to the color family of blue-green, but there are other blue-green colors, such as turquoise.

Warm colors are those that, when looked at alone, without other colors around, appear warm.

warm colors

Typically, the side of the color wheel that spans from yellow to red, and the secondary and tertiary colors in between are warm colors, but remember, they will only be warm in relation to the other colors they are near. (More on that below)

cool colors

Warm and Cool colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel from each other, spanning from violet to Green and all the secondary and tertiary colors in between. A cool color may “feel” warm if it is surrounded by cool colors that are cooler than the color itself.

neutral colors

Neutral colors are evenly balanced between warm and cool. Red-violet and Yellow-green sit on opposite sides of the color wheel from each other and separate the warm colors from the cool colors.

saturation, intensity and chroma

Saturation, intensity, and chroma are interchangeable and refer to how much of the hue is present in any color combinations in relation to any white, black, or gray.

Think of a brand-new orange tee shirt that is bright in color. That is saturated with Orange. Now consider that shirt after it has been worn and washed hundreds of times. The Orange will now be less intense and appear as a faded orange.

shade

People often refer to shade incorrectly when they mean color. A shade is a hue with the addition of black. When you shade a hue, you end up with a darker color than the original.

tint

A tint is any hue with the addition of white. When you tint a hue, you end up with a lighter color than the original hue.

tone

A tone is a hue with the addition of gray or the hue’s opposite or complimentary hue, which, when mixed, creates grays.

value

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color or hue. If a hue has been tinted, it is a lighter value than the original hue.

If a hue has been shaded, it is a darker value than the original hue.

Key refers to the overall value of an artwork or design. If dark colors dominate a painting, it is considered low-key. If an artwork is dominated by light colors, it is considered high-key.

primary colors

Primary colors or hues can’t be created by mixing other colors or hues. When mixed together in different proportions, it will create all the other hues.

secondary colors

Secondary colors are those that are created by mixing any two of the three primary colors. Red and Yellow make Orange.

tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are created when primary and secondary colors are mixed.

The primary color Red, combined with its secondary color, neighbor Purple, will create the tertiary color, Magenta.

As mentioned above, colors are a combination of

  • A foundation hue,
  • A level of brightness or darkness (value), and
  • The saturation or intensity of the color.

This can be clearly seen in most digital painting programs.

In the example below, you can see the Hue is red. It is at 88% saturation, and 53% brightness.

color theory for painting

If we change the Hue to a Blue, this is what we see:

artist color theory

If we adjust the saturation to our original red color, you can see it becomes greyer as we reduce the saturation.

color theory for artists

And if we increase the brightness of our original red, you can see it becomes brighter:

art color theory

Different Color Wheel Primary Colors?

“I thought the primary colors were Red, Yellow, and Blue. What’s this about Green being a primary color?”

As mentioned in the glossary under Primary Colors, there are different primary colors depending on the form the visual media takes.

ryb color wheel model (subtractive)

Red, Yellow, and Blue are the primary colors that most visual, fine artists use to create all the other colors they may need for a painting, drawing, or ceramics glaze.

These three colors fall into the subtractive theory and cannot be made by mixing other colors. When combined in different proportions, any two of these primaries will create a secondary color.

Secondary colors combined with their adjacent primary colors on the color wheel will produce tertiary colors. This RYB Color Wheel is often referred to as the Triacic Color Wheel and is used for most artworks that are not digital or created with an ink printer.

CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black). This is also a subtractive theory since adding all the colors will theoretically give you black.

It is based on the Munsell color wheel (discussed below) and is primarily used for ink cartridges printers.

rgb color wheel model (additive)

Red, Green, and Blue are the primary colors of the additive theory since adding all three will give you white light.

As mentioned in the Words You Need to Understand section above, this theory and primary set of colors are used in digital displays.

triadic vs munsell color wheel

The history of the color wheel and the differences between each color wheel (Newton, Harris, Geothe, Munsell, Triadic, etc.) is far beyond the scope of this article.

The Triadic color wheel is used for fine artists, the Munsell color wheel is used for graphics art such as printing, and the additive RGB wheel is used for digital displays on electronic devices.

How Colors Affect Each Other

how colors affect each other

The interpretation of color and its effects are not uniform or standardized. For example, due to its green foundation, a Yellow-green Chartreuse may appear cool when painted onto a pure white canvas.

Still, it may be interpreted as a warm color when surrounded by pure blue.

The following is just a brief introduction to some of the ways color effects can be manipulated.

context

Context means the environment in which the color or color combinations are found and the conditions under which the color is viewed.

We perceive colors because when light hits paint on a canvas or pencil on paper, all the colors in the ray of light are absorbed by that color, except the color we see.

For example, when light hits a red spot of paint, the yellow and blue are absorbed by the area while the Red is reflected back to our eye, so we perceive the spot as red.

This isn’t as simple when many colors are next to each other on the surface. The reflected light from each color mixes with the reflected light from all the different colors surrounding it, causing these reflections to mix to some degree and change how we perceive the colors, either in value, intensity, color, or all three.

For this reason, some artists cut a small hole in a piece of paper when trying to match a color from a reference photo or painting.

Placing the paper over the reference so the hole only shows the color to be matched allows the artist to only see the reflection of that color which allows it to be matched more easily.

harmony

Color harmony refers to the use of color combinations in a way that makes them feel natural together.

We are used to seeing certain colors together in nature while other colors paired together are not so common and feel unnatural. This will make more sense in a moment when we discuss Color Schemes.

Selecting colors that fit naturally together can add a sense of calm, stability, or predictability.

discord

Colors rarely seen together in natural environments or synthetic colors not found in organic substances, like neon, can cause discord or chaos. Soft greens and yellows with a spot of hot pink may make you feel uneasy.

This is not to say you shouldn’t use clashing colors; you need to understand how they affect the viewer to use them effectively.

Suppose you wanted to focus the viewer on a specific part of a painting full of soft greens and yellows. In that case, add a dash of hot pink in that spot to create a focal point for their attention.

How Color Affects Us Subconsciously

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Artists, designers, and filmmakers understand color has the potential to communicate volumes to audiences in a simple, primal, and non-verbal way. In movies, the themes and plots can be enhanced with color to make the messages more robust than relying only on dialogue to drive the plot.

Think of the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch.

the scream

The face shows emotions of terror, but imagine how less effective the painting would be if the colors were less intense and more realistic. The heavily saturated oranges and blues are opposites, so they scream chaos and disharmony (pun intended).

Warm and cool colors are only warm colors or cool colors based on the other colors around them. Becuase of this, color associations can change.

For example, cool colors like blue violet, can be cool if placed next to yellow or warm if placed next to green.

Below are a few commonly accepted associations for some basic colors. Remember, the context has much to do with how people interpret the color.

  • Blue: Cold, calm, seclusion, depression, sadness
  • Green: Nature, growth, life, ominousness, progress, material value
  • Yellow: Sickness, madness, caution, naivete, immaturity, timidness
  • Orange: Warmth, friendliness, happiness, outgoing, nourishment
  • Red: Love, passion, danger, power, anger, violence
  • Purple: Royalty, mysticism, fantasy, eroticism, prosperity, lack of inhibition

marketing

Nowhere is color studied or used more for psychological effects than in marketing. Hundreds of thousands of controlled surveys and experiments have been conducted to determine how color can manipulate and drive consumer behavior.

Packages are often brightly colored and use a color scheme to grab people’s attention and help products to stand out among countless other products on the same shelf.

If you want to “sell” the concepts of your art or want to force an emotional reaction from the viewer, using color effectively can be a powerful tool.

Color Schemes

Color Schemes are generalized pairings of hues or colors that have proven to work successfully together to create specific effects in visual media. Some people refer to these schemes as color palettes.

Think of a color combination template that you can apply to your preferred palette of colors to create a desired mood or encourage a particular interpretation from the viewer.

Below is a description of the most common color schemes used in art and design.

monochromatic color scheme

Monochromatic works use one hue in different shades to create the artwork . The painting, drawing, or design would be predominantly all Blue-green with subtle variations of tints, shades, and tones by adding white, black, or gray.

A monochromatic color scheme like this might communicate drudgery, sterility, or depression.

analogous color scheme

A painting with analogous colors would utilize 3 hues next to each other on the color wheel. The example above is using the analogous colors of orange, yellow, and green.

analogous meaning in art

Usually, artists will choose one of the 3 colors to be dominant, and the 2 other colors next to it in the color wheel on either side would be used in lesser amounts.

An analogous color scheme can be used to create a mood of harmony, naturalness, or safety because analogous colors are so closely related.

complementary color scheme

Artworks using a complementary color scheme are made with 2 dominant colors. One color is often chosen as the dominant one. Its opposite, or complement, which can be found directly across from it on the color wheel, is used in a slightly smaller proportion.

The example above uses the complementary colors of yellow and purple.

Understanding Color Wheel transformed

The main pairings of complementary colors are orange and blue, purple and yellow, and red and green.

Since any complement pairs will include all 3 primaries (i.e., orange-blue is red + yellow and blue), you can use other colors in the artwork, but usually in much smaller amounts than the 2 dominant colors.

Complementary color schemes still have some harmony (opposites attract). However, complementary colors create a bit of tension which creates interest.

In split complementary color schemes, artists will again pick one dominant color. Still, this time, instead of choosing its opposite, they choose the 2 colors on either side of the opposite. For example, instead of blue and orange, it would be blue and red-orange, and yellow-orange.

split complementary color scheme

The example above uses the split complementary colors of purple, yellow green and yellow orange.

Split complementary works still have contrast, but it tends to be slightly more subtle than the complementary colors scheme. You might use this scheme to casually suggest a hint of caution.

triadic color scheme

To create a triadic color scheme, imagine an equilateral triangle drawn inside the color wheel with each triangle point resting on a color. You will either end up with the 3 primary colors, the 3 secondary colors, or 3 tertiary colors (notice there are 2 sets of potential groupings of tertiary colors).

The painting above is using the triadic colors purple, orange and green.

color relationships in art

One color should be dominant, as with all the color schemes (except monochromatic).

Triadic color schemes often portray a sense of stability and balance. Even though 1 color is dominant, adding the other 2 colors makes the work feel more stable, yet complex, psychologically.

color theory drawings

A tetradic color scheme is also called a double complementary color scheme. If you choose one dominant color, skip over the color next to it (in either direction) to a color 2 spaces away, you then cross the color wheel from each of the 2 original colors to find their complements.

In the image above, you can see the tetradic colors of green, indigo, orange and red.

tetradic color scheme

Artworks using the tetradic color scheme will feel more complex. The work will appear busy because you are focusing on 4 colors instead of 3, as in the other schemes. You may use this to emphasize the bustle of a busy city street.

color in artwork

Anders Zorn was a Swedish artist well-known to oil painting enthusiasts but largely unknown to the general public. He used a palette limited to just 4 colors.

Such a limited palette would be extremely challenging for novices and intermediates. Still, for advanced artists, the 4 colors Vermillion (substituted with Cadmium Red in modern times), Flake White (Titanium White is the contemporary substitution), Ivory Black, and Yellow Ochre present some advantages.

With only 4 colors to manage, it is easier for artists to travel or paint outdoors on location. Still, more importantly, it creates a sense of harmony in each painting and the artists’ entire portfolio. Using many pre-made colors in one artwork can make the painting feel artificial and disjointed.

The disadvantage is that when mixing colors with this palette, it is easy to create dull colors, often called “mud.”

You might notice the absence of blue because Ivory Black (as with most blacks) has a blue tint, so creating purples and greens is still possible.

The palettes of some other famous painters can be found below.

art using color

John Singer Sargent: Flake White, Mars Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Vermilion, Mars Red, Madder Deep, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Emerald Green, Ivory Black, Raw Sienna, and Mars Brown.

at color painting

Pierre August Renoir: Flake White, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Dutch Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Light, Naples Orange, genuine Cadmium Vermilion Red Light, and Alizarin Crimson.

art by color

Rembrandt Van Rin: Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Ochre, Kassel Earth, Azurite, Lead White, Lead-tin Yellow, Vermillion, Smalt, Carmine, Madder, and Bone Black.

Choosing and Using a Palette of Colors

All this information may make it easier or harder for you to choose a set of colors or what artists call their palette. Below are some tips to help you apply the information above to your work.

warm and cool of each hue or color family

A useful strategy is selecting a warm and cool of each primary color plus a white.

different whites

Your choice of white can influence the mixtures of other colors. Zinc White is cooler, Titanium White is more neutral, and Foundation White has a warm cast.

using pre-made black

Most pre-made blacks have a cool cast or tone, whereas making your own blacks with combinations like Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, and Raw Umber allows you to control the temperature to warm, cool, or neutral.

Mixing white with pre-made blacks will make gray, but many artists “liven up” their grays by creating their own black (mentioned above) to mix with white.

You can add very small amounts of a complementary color to make your original color less intense or saturated. The more of the complementary color you add, the grayer it will become.

You can play with these techniques to control the temperature of your grays to make them cooler or warmer to match the mood or temperature of your painting.

Some tips will help you be more effective when mixing paint , regardless of which colors you select for your palette.

  • Use a non-absorbent tool like a palette knife to mix your paint. Clean this tool well before picking up a new color.
  • Add tiny amounts of darker or stronger colors into the lighter, weaker ones. If you try to make Green by adding yellow to blue, you will have to use a lot more yellow to get the Green you want than if you add little dabs of blue into the Yellow.
  • Use the same color palette as the color of the surface you will paint on. Some artists use a glass palette and slide a piece of colored paper under the glass that corresponds to the dominant color of the canvas (see the section How Colors Affect Each Other  above).
  • ·Avoid using more than 3 colors in one mixture to avoid creating “dead” colors.

There is no substitution for experimentation when learning about color theory as it applies to painting or other forms of art or design. However, reading tips and tricks from experts and seeing examples of what they look like in practice can make experimentation more efficient and enjoyable.

Here are some helpful books to explore.

color harmony in paintings

The best book on color I have seen is Color Harmony in Your Paintings by Margaret Kessler.

It is effective because it is written in simple-to-understand terms yet detailed enough to keep advanced artists engaged. There are plenty of examples with great images to illustrate each concept. It’s one of the best oil painting books available, but its lessons apply to any medium.

how to study color theory

Color by Betty Edwards : A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors is a good book for beginners looking to understand the basics of color.

how to understand color theory

A great book for practical applications is Color Theory : An essential guide to color-from basic principles to practical applications by Patti Mollica.

study color theory

For more advanced artists willing to wade through complex material, Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition by Joseph Albers gives university-level content on color theory.

This article is packed with useful information on color theory for artists. Don’t feel bad if you need to read it several times to absorb all the facts, concepts, and advice.

To learn more about art concepts like this, check out this article ranking the top art courses online .

If video is your preferred medium of learning more about color and how to use it effectively, try this Color Theory Bootcamp Course from New Master’s Academy.

Related posts:

  • How to Mix Paint Colors Like a Pro (Ultimate Mixing Guide)
  • What is Color Harmony In Art and How Do You Use It?
  • Oil Color Chart Exercises for Artists (Master Your Paint Pallette)
  • 27 Easy Monochromatic Painting Ideas
  • Oil Painting for Beginners: How to Paint With Oils

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The Elements of Art: Color

Grade Level: 1–2

Students will be introduced to one of the basic elements of art—color—through analysis of works of art by Monet, Matisse, and Kandinsky. Class discussion focused on these paintings will help students understand how artists use color to convey atmosphere and mood. They will then test their color expertise by completing a downloadable worksheet and coloring a photograph of Rouen Cathedral.

monet-rouen-nga

Left: Claude Monet French, 1840–1926 Rouen Cathedral, West Façade , 1894 oil on canvas, 100.1 x 65.9 cm (39 3/8 x 25 15/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection

Right: Claude Monet French, 1840–1926 Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight , 1894 oil on canvas, 100.1 x 65.8 cm (39 3/8 x 25 7/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection

Curriculum Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Smart Board or computer with ability to project images from slideshow
  • Writing materials
  • Oil pastels or crayons
  • Copies of the "Colorful Language" worksheet and faded image of Rouen Cathedral
  • 11 x 14 paper
  • Watercolors and brushes

Warm-up Questions

Are these paintings of the same building? How are they similar and different?

Color is what we see because of reflected light. Light contains different wavelengths of energy that our eyes and brain "see" as different colors. When light hits an object, we see the colored light that reflects off the object.

Red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors. With paints of just these three colors, artists can mix them to create all the other colors. When artists mix pigments of the primary colors, they make secondary colors.

Red + Blue = Purple Red + Yellow = Orange Blue + Yellow = Green

Did you know that your computer screen also works by using three primary colors? But here, since the colors are light from the monitor and not paints, the three primaries are not the same. Instead, your computer screen mixes other colors from red, blue, and green.

One important thing painters know: using complementary colors—the ones across from each other on the color wheel (red-green, blue-orange, and yellow-purple)—make both colors seem brighter and more intense. They seem to vibrate and pop out at you, the viewer.

Warm colors—reds, yellows, oranges, and red-violets—are those of fire and the sun. They appear to project. Cool colors—blues, blue-greens, and blue-violets—are those of ice and the ocean. They appear to recede.

Guided Practice

To get students thinking about color and the moods or feelings that colors can convey, read a book that focuses on color, such as The Day the Crayons Quit  by Drew Daywalt.

Then view the slideshow below to introduce students to three artists—Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Wassily Kandinsky—and the way they used color in their paintings.

Slideshow: Monet, Matisse, and Kandinsky on Color

art assignment color

West façade of Rouen Cathedral Clarence Ward Archive Department of Image Collections National Gallery of Art, Library, Washington, DC

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, Effects of Sunlight, Sunset, 1892 oil on canvas © Musée Marmottan, Paris, France / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, Foggy Weather, 1894 oil on canvas © Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, the west portal, dull weather, 1894 oil on canvas © Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France / Peter Willi / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, evening, harmony in brown, 1894 oil on canvas © Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France / Peter Willi / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral at Sunset, 1894 oil on canvas © Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia/ The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral in Full Sunlight: Harmony in Blue and Gold, 1894 oil on canvas © Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France / Lauros / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, Harmony in White, Morning Light, 1894 oil on canvas © Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France / Lauros / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library

art assignment color

Claude Monet Rouen Cathedral, Blue Harmony, Morning Sunlight, 1894 oil on canvas © Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France / Lauros / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library

A French window with its sill lined with flowerpots opens into a view of boats floating in a body of water in this loosely painted, vibrantly colored, stylized, vertical painting. The doors open inward, and they are painted with coral orange and cranberry red. The wall behind the door to the left is peacock blue and the wall to our right is fuchsia pink, and those colors are reflected in the opposite windows of the doors. Three flowerpots in crimson red, marmalade orange, or royal blue sit on the windowsill in front of us. Foliage in the pots is painted with short strokes of cardinal red and turquoise blue. Over the window, a two-paned transom window pierces a forest-green wall. The view through the panes has a band of salmon pink across the top and dabs of celery green and banana yellow below. The dabs and dashes of pine and lime green continue down the sides of the window and across the sill, suggesting vines growing up around the opening. A band of ultramarine blue beyond the flowerpots could be a balcony. Several rust-orange masts of ships with hulls painted with swipes of indigo blue, flamingo pink, forest green, and marigold orange float in the water beyond. The water is painted with parallel strokes in pale pink and butter yellow. The sky above is painted with thick, wavy lines of steel blue, periwinkle purple, and seafoam green. The artist signed the work in red paint in the lower right, “Henri Matisse.”

Henri Matisse French, 1869–1954 Open Window, Collioure , 1905 oil on canvas, 55.3 x 46 cm (21 3/4 x 18 1/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney

Black lines and one small, black triangular shape stand out against patches of color, in indigo and sky blue, pumpkin orange, butter yellow, emerald green, and ruby red, against a white background in this vertical, abstract painting. The paint seems thinly applied, resembling watercolor. Near the lower right corner, the black shape is roughly triangular and has five curving, parallel lines emanating from the bottom. Given the title of this painting, Improvisation 31, Sea Battle, the black lines could represent tall masts and outlines of sails amid areas of vibrant color that make up a boat and water around it.

Wassily Kandinsky Russian, 1866–1944 Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) , 1913 oil on canvas, 140.7 x 119.7 cm (55 3/8 x 47 1/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

French artist Claude Monet liked to paint the same subject over and over again, at different times of day and in different types of weather. He painted Rouen cathedral in France some thirty times, but what fascinated him most was not the building—it was, he said, the surrounding atmosphere. Rather than quick studies of changing light effects, these pictures, slowly reworked in the studio, are carefully considered explorations of color and mood:

  • Each painting uses Rouen Cathedral to record time (morning or late afternoon) and weather (sunlight or mist). Examine the way Monet used color and texture: Can you tell from the shadows in the doorways which painting might have been done in the morning and which in the afternoon? (Don't forget that the sun rises in the east and these paintings show the west façade or front of the building.)  How do the colors change in sunlight, fog, and mist?
  • Do you see any clear outlines? Is it possible to determine exactly where one surface ends and another begins? If line does not define the forms in this painting, what does? ( Answer: color! )

Around 1905 several artists, including Matisse, exhibited pictures in which heightened color was used to express a strong emotional response to nature. The painters were called " fauves ," or wild beasts.  The freshness and strength of the tones in Open Window, Collioure are typical of the fauves; Matisse's contrasts are subtle, giving this work a sense of serenity and radiance. Show students this painting (second to last image in the slideshow) to answer the following questions:

  • Would you rather go sailing or stay in your cool room admiring the view? 
  • Describe the colors. How are they different from what you see in nature? What color would you usually use to color the ocean? Have you ever seen a pink sea? ( Perhaps if it’s reflecting a sunset… )
  • How big do you think this painting is? It’s actually only 21 3/4 x 18 1/8 inches. See how Matisse transformed the effect of a small canvas into expansive pictorial space through the device of the open window and eye-popping color.

Wassily Kandinsky, raised in Odessa, Russia, learned to play the cello and piano as a child. As an artist, he drew connections between art and music and believed that colors and shapes could affect our mood. Show students Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) (last image in the slideshow) without revealing the name of the title:

  • What colors do you see in this painting? What do the colors in this painting make you feel? happy? sad? scared?
  • What do you think is happening in this painting?
  • After students have hypothesized what the scene depicts, let them know the title contains the phrase “sea battle.” Now have them analyze the painting: Can you find two tall-masted ships locked in combat? Can they spot any canon fire? What is the sea like that day? The weather?

Download a  faded version of the photograph of the west façade of Rouen Cathedral  in Paris that Monet painted at all time of day and in all types of weather (the original photograph is the first image in the slideshow). Students will select a time of day and type of weather and then color over this faded image using appropriate hues in oil pastel (preferable to cover image, but crayons could also be used).

As an alternative that can accommodate students with visual impairments, print out a larger version of the images on 11 x 14 paper. Trace the lines of each image with hot glue to create a raised surface that students can feel. Then give students a plain piece of paper to lay over the image outlined in hot glue. Students can then create a texture rubbing with crayon over the paper. As a final step the students can paint over the crayon rubbing with watercolors. 

art assignment color

On a printed version of the image, trace the lines with hot glue to create a raised surface that students can feel. 

art assignment color

Give students a plain piece of paper to layer on top of the hot glue tracing to create a crayon rubbing.

art assignment color

Paint over the crayon rubbing with watercolors.

Tracing in hot glue

Now that students have investigated various uses of color in three artists’ works, they will fill out the  “Colorful Language” worksheet  to test their knowledge of color. Next, students will select one work of art from the slideshow as if it were a postcard of somewhere they visited. They will then write a short letter to a friend or family member describing what they saw, what time of day it was, and what the weather was like using the colors from the work of art as their guide. 

The Elements of Art  is supported by the Robert Lehman Foundation

National Core Arts Standards

VA:Cr2.1.1  Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.

VA:Cr2.2.1  Demonstrate safe and proper procedures for using materials, tools, and equipment while making art.

VA:Cr3.1.1  Use art vocabulary to describe choices while creating art.

VA:Re7.1.2  Perceive and describe aesthetic characteristics of one’s natural world and constructed environments.

VA:Re7.2.1  Compare images that represent the same subject.

VA:Re8.1.2  Interpret art by identifying the mood suggested by a work of art and describing relevant subject matter and characteristics of form.

VA:Re9.1.2  Use learned art vocabulary to express preferences about artwork.

High resolution image of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Façade

High resolution image of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight

Borrow the DVD Seeing Color: Object, Light, Observer

Download family-oriented guides to Monet and Matisse

Find out more about Monet’s series paintings

Explore works of art by the Fauves, featuring Matisse

Register for evening and weekend teacher professional development workshops and apply to participate in the summer teacher institute

Draw Paint Academy

A Guide to Color Schemes in Art and How to Use Them Effectively

This is a detailed guide on color schemes. I’ll discuss what they are, the different types, and provide master examples.

What Are Color Schemes in Art?

Analogous color scheme, complementary color scheme, split-complementary color scheme, triadic color scheme, rectangular color scheme, monochromatic color scheme, thanks for reading.

I’ll walk you through the entire process using one of my recent paintings. You’ll see how I go from idea all the way through to reflecting on the finished painting.

Painting the Landscape (Free Workshop)

A color scheme is used to describe the overall selection of colors in an artwork. The major color schemes in art are analogous , complementary, split-complementary, triadic, rectangular and monochromatic. These color schemes utilize colors at certain locations on the color wheel.

Before I get into it, I should point out that I don’t really think about color schemes all that much whilst I’m painting. Color is not so simple that you can just apply a color scheme and everything will work out. But it is important that you understand what the popular color schemes mean as they are frequently referenced to describe the use of color in art.

Analogous Color Scheme

An analogous color scheme uses colors which are next to each other on the color wheel. For example, blues and greens, or oranges and yellows. These colors have a close relationship with each other.

There is not that much hue contrast between analogous colors, so you need to make sure you are creating enough contrast using the other elements like value or saturation.

When I think of analogous colors, Claude Monet’s paintings first come to mind. In this painting, Monet used mostly blues and some greens. There is hardly any hue contrast in this painting. Monet relied more so on value and saturation contrast.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, 1897-1899

Below is one of Monet’s paintings from his water lilies series. It features all kinds of greens, blues and purples. There are some red accents used for the flowers, but I still consider this to be an analogous painting as red is not a dominant color here.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-17

In Vincent van Gogh’s flower painting below, he used an analogous color scheme of yellows and greens. He also made clever use of line to outline the flowers.

Vincent van Gogh, A Field Of Yellow Flowers, 1889

Below is a  warm analogous color scheme with mostly reds, oranges and blacks.

Claude Monet, Sunset On The Seine In Winter, 1880

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. When placed next to each other, there is an extremely strong contrasting and vibrant effect. If overused, your painting may become jarring and uncomfortable to look at.

You should select a dominant color and use the other color as an accent. In van Gogh’s sunflower painting below, he used a dull background of blue to complement the orange for the flowers.

Vincent van Gogh, The Paris Sunflowers, 1887

Here is another example of an orange and blue complementary color scheme. In this case, both colors are relatively strong and they fight for your attention.

Vincent van Gogh, Mulberry Tree, 1889

Below is a more subtle blue and orange complementary color scheme by John Singer Sargent. The blues of the water complement the oranges of the female subject and the shore.

John Singer Sargent, Fisherwoman, 1913

The painting below by Childe Hassam demonstrates just how sophisticated a complementary color scheme can look. Hassam used directional brushwork, broken color and value contrast to create such interest with so few colors.

Childe Hassam, Rocks, 1907

A split-complementary color scheme utilizes a base color and two secondary colors. It is similar to the complementary color scheme, but one of the complements is split. 

Below is an example of a split-complementary color scheme by Claude Monet, with orange contrasting against the greens and blues.

Claude Monet, Regatta At Argenteuil, 1872

A triadic color scheme utilizes colors which are evenly spaced on the color wheel. For example, yellow, blue and orange, like in the painting below by Johannes Vermeer. 

If using a triadic color scheme, I suggest you pick a dominant color and two secondary colors. Otherwise, it would be tricky to balance all three colors without it appearing jarring to look at.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c.1660

A rectangular color scheme utilizes four colors positioned around the color wheel in the shape of a rectangle. This is a tricky color scheme to manage, as there are four colors involved.

Monet’s painting below of poplars features a rectangular color scheme of orange, yellow, green and purple. However, the purple is fairly weak and used more so as a secondary color to complement the stronger greens, yellows and oranges.

Claude Monet, Poplars

In the painting below by van Gogh, there are four fairly distinct color shapes – yellow for the flowers, green for the vase, blue-green for the wall and a dull orange for the desk.

Vincent van Gogh, The Arles Sunflowers, 1888 (First Version)

A monochromatic color scheme utilizes just one color with varying levels of saturation and value. In oil painting, many artists start with a monochromatic layer then build color on top. This way, the value structure can be established without having to worry about multiple colors.

Below are two examples of almost monochrome color schemes for the painting below, with their being mostly varying tones of blue. But there is some hue variance.

Claude Monet, Morning on the Seine, 1897

I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and I hope you found it helpful. Feel free to share it with friends. If you ever want to learn more, check out my  Painting Academy  course.

Happy painting!

art assignment color

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Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page .

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20 comments on “A Guide to Color Schemes in Art and How to Use Them Effectively”

Thankyou. All of this colour wheel information, complete with pictorial references has broken the code for me at last. I think I understand now. Thankyou again

your welcome beibi

This is the best reference I have read regarding colour theory! Thank you so much.

A Rectangle Color Scheme is called a Tetradic or Double Complementary Color Scheme

Before your article my colors have been random, now you give me direction! Thanks

Thanku very much…I actually understood what I was reading for once 😁 Really appreciated Cheers Kaz

This is truly helpful

It is a very good and important colour lesson to learn thoroughly and retain. Thank you Dan

For stable color tones, monochromatic is the best to select.

ive been trying to teach myself color schemes since ive mostly been trying to make them up myself this has helped a lot. thank you!

CAN SOME ONE TELL ME ONE THING THEY LEARNED.

This helped me alot, Thxs Beibi :& this website made me hard.

If you don’t think about color schemes while painting, what ARE you thinking regarding color as you paint? Thanks…this is good stuff JRS

Very helpful. Thanks! But/and, Yellow, Blue and Orange, are not equidistant on the color wheel. How are they triadic? Seems like the “orange” is really a slightly orangey red?

I see your point, but I think that like the blues of the composition by Vermeer you can see the dark shaded blues of the jar, the tinted blues of the table cloth and the intense blues of her apron set against the yellowish tones of the blouse, straw basket, and bread with accents of the “redish” hues of her dress and terracotta pottery, which plays into the ~60/40/10 “rule” of color theory.

Perhaps word choice from orange to reddish would be a good edit.

I’m so pleased and happy with this knowledge and examples thanks a lot

Thanks Dan – still getting my head around it – especially the split complementary colour scheme. Not sure if this has to have two secondary colours in it or if I am overthinking? Anyway- there will always be those who comment badly – however- your post is great! Thanks for sharing

Thank you for this detailed post. Well-articulated and helpful. I also believe that knowing how to use color effectively is an essential skill for any artist. Color can be used to create moods or to evoke emotions. Different color combinations can be used to create a visually exciting image or to convey a certain message. A good color scheme can make a piece of artwork much more powerful. Having a basic understanding of color theory, the principles of color harmony, and color psychology can help you create a successful art piece. With the help of a color wheel, you can easily create a great color scheme.

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Exploring Color Theory

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  • Color Theory
  • Assignments
  • Using Comparison Boxes
  • Using Scale Chart

Color Theory Assignment Suggestions

The assignment suggestions are not listed by age or difficultly level but, of course, the instructor or the person completing the assignments can decide to what degree any assignment should be done

Color Wheels

art assignment color

Painting with a Monochromatic Palette

asylum

Color Scales

On Scale Chart II practice painting color value scales. Instructions here. Do one a day for two weeks. Try to do one each for the primary colors. This exercise is surprisingly difficult to get just right. Try to be neat and don't give up.

Painting with an Intensity Scale

Self portraits.

Self Portrait 2 - Create another self portrait with only colors from any one of the split-complementary color schemes (below)

Warm and Cool Colors

Painting using a triadic palette.

Three Assignments - Create three paintings using a triadic palette. The paintings shall be - 1.still life, 2.landscape, 3.figure painting. You may choose to use any one of the triadic color schemes per painting primary, secondary or tertiary triad.

Triadic Colors

These are the colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel.

Optional Assignment

Finding Color Schemes in Paintings - Look at the color groups below . Look through paintings and try to identify paintings that have a color scheme such as: complementary, split complementary, warm colors, cool colors, monochromatic, primary, secondary, etc.

Color Schemes and Group Terms

Artists can use color groups for their palette to make a visually pleasing color scheme. Analogous Color Scheme uses any three or more colors on the color wheel that have a color in common and are adjacent on the color wheel. See possible example: Edward Hopper - Compartment C, Car 293 Complementary Color Scheme uses colors that are across from each other on the color wheel. See possible example: Vincent van Gogh - Noon: Rest From Work Monochromatic Color Scheme uses one color and all of the tints, tones, and shades of that color.

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5 New Ideas for Teaching Advanced Color Theory

Break Through Colour Cards

By the time students get to high school, they either know the basics of color theory already or they move through the information pretty quickly. For this reason, I’m a huge advocate of getting rid of your color wheel lesson.

There are so many more resources out there that give kids the same exposure. It’s time to move on to more advanced ideas.

Whether you are looking at things digitally, listening to podcasts, reading articles , or working with color cards, there are some fascinating activities and information awaiting your kids.

Here are 5 of my favorite resources:

1. color matching game.

screenshot of color matching game

This is a really addictive, online  color theory game that asks you to find hues, intensities, and color combinations throughout the color spectrum. The brief amount of time you are given to complete the activities adds excitement, and the score at the end gamifies the process. Try it out yourself first, then see if your students can beat your score!

2. Hue Acuity Test

screenshot of hue acuity test

After students have mastered the color matching game, it’s time for the Hue Acuity Test . This isn’t timed, which is a good thing–you can spend quite a while dragging and dropping the different hues to get them in just the right order. It’s definitely a challenge, and it’s a great tool to show the wide array of subtleties and differences that can exist within a single hue.

3. Blendoku

screenshot of blendoku

If your students are really fascinated by this game, have them take a look at the Blendoku app for your phone or device. It’s a great game for training your brain to see color flows. You make connections between hues, sorting them into all kinds of different columns. It begins simply, but as you progress, the color changes become extremely subtle and the grids become more complex. Blendoku 2 was just recently released as well and is worth your time.

4. BreakThroughColour Cards

Break Through Colour Cards

I just got my hands on a couple sets of these cards , and let me tell you something. They. Are. Amazing. They can work really well for teaching the basics–organizing colors by family, matching hue to value, and playing with color schemes. More importantly, though, they do an incredible job of teaching advanced color theory.

In fact, if you’re a fan of Blendoku, BreakThroughColour is kind of like an analog version, as you can manipulate the deck of cards in much the same way. Try and create a color flow or mix the cards up and see if you can get them back in sequence!

color cube

The color cube you can create asks you to look at color in three dimensions, organized by hue, value, and intensity. It’s different from the way we traditionally think about color theory, but it is a more thorough and intuitive way of dealing with color.

Information on the back of each card shows how colors are mixed, how to reach the intensity, and where the value falls on a scale of 1 to 100. There is an in-depth web site with all kinds of color activities and some very informative directions about how color works.

screenshot of cards

The activities are great to take back to your classroom and illustrate all of the ideas about color theory you have been trying to pass along to your students. Although these cards are probably best suited for the high school level, don’t let that stop you from trying them out with small groups of younger students. If you are there to guide them one-on-one, they can definitely master the basics!

It’s an exciting time for BreakThroughColour as many more resources are in development for teachers. If you’d like to keep up with all the latest developments, you can sign up for the newsletter  here  or get in touch with Tracy, the creator,  here . And, if you’re interested in getting your hands on the cards, you can see all of your options right here !

5. Podcasts

If any or all of these things have engaged your students, they might enjoy listening to a podcast on color. The most entertaining is definitely the episode on color from Radiolab . The ever-popular Stuff You Should Know podcast is informative as well. As a teacher, you’ll definitely want to check out Art Ed Radio’s color theory episode featuring Andrea Slusarski . Each of these is a great source of information on color theory, the science behind color, and why it is so fascinating.

There are so many incredible tools for teaching color. With the plethora of resources available, you can be sure to find something to engage and interest your students. At the very least, you can quit teaching that tired color wheel lesson and move on to something better.

If you’re looking for even more amazing resources for color theory, be sure to sign up for the Summer 2016 Art Ed Now Online Conference where Andrea Slusarski will share how you can engage your students by merging color and science. You’ll walk away with tons of new knowledge to amaze your students!

Have you tried any of these activities with your students?

What are your other favorite resources for teaching color theory?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.

art assignment color

Timothy Bogatz

Tim Bogatz is AOEU’s Content & PD Event Manager and a former AOEU Writer and high school art educator. He focuses on creativity development, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills in the art room.

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COMMENTS

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