Color Theory Practice - Lessons

Color Theory Practice

Submitted by: Jan Butler
Unit: Color Theory in Practice

Grades: Two through eighth grade

Jan has done this lesson with 2nd and 3rd graders and now her 7th and 8th graders. She found it worked out well with both groups.


From Jan:

I discovered that 7th graders needed some work on mixing paint colors. Using Tempera Paint. on a white Mat board. I made a color wheel first and had them copy mine. I asked them to use only primary colors and black and white to get every other color. Fist they made a clock face about 10" diameter. Finding the center they made two more concentric circles inside the large one. Then they had to divide the circle into 12 equal wedges. The concept of a clock worked well for this.


While they applied color, starting with three primary colors, I reminded them of terms like: hue, primary color, secondary, tertiary, shades (add black), tints (add white); intensity, warm, cool, tone and value. I told them a little of the history of the color wheel naming Isaac Newton, Goethe and Itten.  I asked them to write these terms on their board. They could approach it any way they liked. I told them also to mix some browns and put them in the margins.



For a different twist to this, see Melissa Spellman's Complimentary colors


After working two class periods on the color wheel we went on to put color mixing into practice. I made a 12 part grid with a marker on a laminated poster of Van Gogh’s "The Starry Night."I had every one choose one section and match the colors as closely as possible to paint that section. I cut heavy drawing paper into 12 sections and labeled them to match the grid. I made a smaller grid with reference numbers and names as the kids chose the section they wanted to paint. Because our group was only 7 students I painted 2 sections and 3 others also painted 2 sections to complete the painting. Because we used tempera, we found out we could not get certain colors. As we started to put it together everyone was so amazed at how good it looked. And they now have a better understanding of color mixing and what kind of colors and brush strokes Van Gogh used.



Book: Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night.- This painting at the Museum of Modern Art is explored as well as how he used color to convey the effects of darkness onto a canvas.


Submitted by: Stephanie Corder, AZ Academy~ U.S. Virgin Islands
UNIT: Color Theory
Grade Level: Middle school through high school



To learn the basic rules of color relationships, tints, and shades by creating a color wheel.



Canvas Panels. (Posterboard., Tag board. or heavy Watercolor Paper.)
Compasses. and Protractors.
Acrylic Paint. (Tempera Paint. or Watercolor Paint.)
Brushes. of various sizes



  1. Demonstrate (if necessary) how to find the center of the canvas and create three concentric circles divided into 12 equal sections. Draw in some free-form shapes for each section.

  2. Explain the various color families, demonstrate where they go; and have students lightly write which color goes where.

  3. Have them fill in the primary colors in the specified area; with one section of the area being a tint of the color, then the "True" hue of the color and finally a shade of the color, then repeat the process with the secondary and tertiary colors until the wheel is complete.


Basic color theory; color relationships, hues, tints and shades.



Although most of these turned out gorgeous, in the future, I plan to do the edible color wheel project before this to help make the color relationships easier to understand.


[Edible Color Wheel]



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