Sunday, December 31, 2006

ART & SCIENCE: Color Mixing teaching notes

Introduction to Color Cycles
Using TEMPERA PAINTS with Young Students

This is a sample overview. Students should have a minimum of 5 sessions to be comfortable with painting. Day One: making geometric/organic shapes, using only two colors to see how many hues and tones you can get. Day Two: using three colors create overlapping layers (landscapes)l Day Three: a follow up on landscapes. Day Four could be partner painting using really big paper (18 x 22”). Day Five: portfolio & closure.

OBJECTIVE: To incorporate science and art. Choose a theme from the science standards: the elements (air, earth, fire, water), an environment (land, sea, sky), cycles (weather, day/night, seasons, etc.) Prepare by studying science lesson/ concept you wish to enhance with art. Create art using thumbnail drawings, tempera paints, and afterwards, have a complimenting session. Then brainstorm to show what concepts students have learned. This project spans about 2-3 one+ hour sessions.

PRE-PLANNING:: DAY TWO: Each student will create thumbnail drawings: For each student have white paper, pencil, or water-base black felt tip pens; and items to draw. They could be from magazine & calendar pictures of animals, plants, ecosystems, landscapes, etc.

I like to begin DAY ONE & TWO with landscapes composed of layers or organic triangles. I demonstrate nature’s dendritic triangles with calendar photos of landscapes: we count layers and look for triangles. Have students individually come up with drawing/painting ideas, using contour or solid (not sketchy) line (this could develop into another lesson on biological illustration).


· Each student should have a piece of 12 x 18 inches, 80 lb. white Sulfite paper. ,Unlike most drawing paper, .it can withstand the stress of heavy-handed painting. I never let a student throw away paper when they say they made a mistake. I always emphasize that there are no mistakes in art. I tell them to transform a mistake and turn it into art. I’ve even washed the paper and had them began again. They’re usually surprised at how good it comes out.

· Large ice cube trays with the 3 primary colors (actually I use 4:colors: yellow, magenta, cyan sky blue AND ultramarine blue). Jaz or Sargeant temperas are best brands to use. Two students can share a paint set. This way they can also keep tabs on each other to NOT pollute the paint. Color mixing happens ONLY on the paper. Start light (yellow), and work toward dark colors. You can’t undo dark colors but you can darken light colors.

· Stiff poster paint brushes 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide. Dollar Store is your best source. I also keep on hand, small round stiff brushes for details. Our brushes don’t live in the water containers (too many accidents) they snooze on the damp sponges which are better than paper towels for taking excess water off brushes. The paper, water, sponges and brushes are set up like a Japanese dinner setting. A tray is also useful to distribute supplies.

· Cello sponges cut in half to rest brushes upon can to be used to take excess water off brushes, and used for clean up at the end. That way,, we don’t use paper towels at all.
· Water containers. I use pint yogurt containers for each student. I keep extras to change dirty water.. Small buckets for storing sponges, brushes, and for water changing. I change their dirty paint water early and often. I think of this part as art catering.

When it comes to desks, I’m a minimalist. I don’t cover the desks with newspaper. They’re usually made of Formica and tempera paint wipes right up. Cleanup is a snap; Student are responsible for clean up. Just like the care and feeding of art supplies, I tell them that clean up is part of the art process.

Two students can share a water container, (but it’s better if each has their own) and an ice tray arranged with 3 primary (printer) colors, Cyan (sky blue/turquoise), Magenta (red hot pink), and Yellow. (For watercolor on paper, I use Crayola 07-W mixing paint sets to get the right shade of magenta & turquoise. I often remove the black and the orange paints. There’s no green.)

ART SCIENCE VOCABULARY: Layers, overlapping, composition, balance, contour line, wet-on-wet, texture, osmosis, color-mixing, brush strokes, wash, etc. Add to this list! Create a science list of terms.

Utilize the Visual Arts Framework components: Artistic Perception (planning), Creative Expression (hands-on), Historical and Culture context (models), & Aesthetic Valuing (sharing) with the Science Framework vocabulary: Observe. Ask questions. Make a Hypothesis. Experiment. Make a Conclusion. Share what you’ve learned. What surprised you? etc. Artists and scientist use many similar skill sets: observation and hypothesis are key components.


1. Have students draw ideas on white paper (I use copy paper folded into a squares.) I do a lot of pre-drawing warm-up exercises using a solid contour line which we’ll also practice in class. Black felt tip pens also discourage sketchy lines. I prefer Eberhardt-Faber water base pens.

2. Using calendar photos and pictures for reference, students can also draw detailed individual things, objects, landscapes.

3. Paint in all yellow and light green areas first. Start light and work to dark colors. You can’t lighten paint. This is a good place to use scientific inquiry to demonstrate color mixing. I often ask students to observe their paint trays and I ask them to tell me what colors are missing. I write the three primary colors on the board as equations.

· Yellow + cyan = green.
· Blue + magenta = purple.
· Yellow = magenta = orange or red (really).

I ask them to Observe. Question. What happens if you paint blue on top of yellow?

Make a hypothesis. Experiment. Conclusion. You get green. (This makes for a great quiz later on.)

Using more water with the paint gives you pastel hues. More paint equals solid or opaque colors.

If you don’t want to limit their palettes, you can introduce pre-mixed green and red, etc. I don’t use black. (Secondary colors mixed together make mud, brown/black.) A limited palette makes for a more brilliant piece. If someone discovers how to make brown, gray, or black, we usually make a fanfare, and ask them how they did it Give them a chance to share, be the expert.

4. I demonstrate color mixing on a piece of paper taped to the board. I also explain that it’s very important to carefully rinse the brush after using each color. I demonstrate how to use the sponge to absorb excess water.

I demonstrate how to dip only the tip of the brush into the top layer of the paint. Don’t gouge or dig paint out from the bottom of the tray. It’s wasteful and usually pollutes the paint.. All the action happens in the tip of the brush, not where the metal joins the bristles. No paint on the metal flange!

I demonstrate how to use a brush, to stroke gently, as if you were petting a soft rabbit. No twirling the brush like a drill or scrubbing the wrong direction. Not like petting the cat backwards. If your paper gets hairballs, you’re scrubbing too hard. It’s literally dissolving. Teachers, don’t be afraid to get right in there and paint your own masterpiece. Kids love to see teachers modeling art, taking risks, just like them.

5. We paint for about a half an hour. Sometimes it’s only for 20 minutes. I circulate and exclaim and coo over the cool colors they’ve invented, I ask them how they got a particular color and to give an unusual color a special name. (Note Bene: the human eye can see 2 to 5 million colors, hues and tones.) I also comment on their shapes and composition, Sometimes I’ll say, “I really love this section. Don’t do anything more there. Leave it as it is It’s utterly beautiful the way the red…”and I give an example why I like it, I’m also giving them language for later when we compliment each other’s work

About half way through the lesson, we check to see if the paints are polluted. I show them how to carefully lift polluting paint off the top with a brush. I remind them to leave no white areas on their paper. All areas need paint on them, except maybe teentsy areas of white are OK. Don’t leave a white area for their name. I use a stabillo pencil to write their names directly on top of the wet paint on the bottom of the page. Stabillo pencils love wet paint to write on.

6. Clean up. I usually assign a few students to collect brushes, to put the brushes in a bucket and wash them all at once, not individually. Students can squeeze excess water out of their sponges into their water containers and use sponge to clean their desks. That way I keep sink traffic to a minimum. Dirty sponges go into another bucket to wash later.

Palettes are inspected and cleaned with a sponge if the yellow is polluted. Otherwise, I just leave paint in the tray for the next session. Wrap them in a cleaning bag or plastic wrap and they’ll keep fresh for weeks. If you get the large matching ice cube trays, they’ll stack nicely and make a seal, and will keep paint wet for a long time. If paint dries out, I reconstitute it with a little fresh diluted paint on top. Let it sit about a day to reconstitute. I also generally thin the paints in the bottle as it’s too thick.

7. Peer complimenting/aesthetic valuing session. I lay out a large block of finished paintings on the floor. We gather around all the beautiful art. I model a compliment with, “I like they way this part has colors that blend...” etc. Then that student will say, “Thank you.” And choose a painting they like and give it a compliment: “I like the way this person …” and that student will say, “Thank you.” And so on in a daisy chain until everybody has had a turn.

Try to limit their compliment to under a minute each or they’ll all get restless. I ask the student whose art is about to be complimented to be ready to choose some art as soon as their compliment is finished.

Look in the Visual & Performing Arts Framework for other ideas and vocabulary. Don’t forget to display the art on a hall wall so other students can admire their work. Kids naturally like to look at peer art.

Sample work Landscapes (tempera, art)
Klee Quilts (art) tempera

This lesson, developed from a Young Audiences format (see below) was for an arts workshop
Arts Council of Sonoma County ARTS Education Alliance
ARTS Integration: Bringing Creativity to the Classroom April 1, 2006
Arts Education Alliance ARTS Integration

Drawings of students late 1990s mid-2000s

Three drawings, Scotland, ca 2006

Loch Tunnel
Loch reflection
Argyle Butte

I have no idea when these drawings were done, they were from old calendar photos, I've a vague memory of drawing them after I had returned from Scotland. But I could've drawn them much earlier. The scan date is 6/2006. I was teaching at Cleveland Elementary School in Oakland, and had to come up with lot of drawing ideas. This morphed into a pastel, and a painting exercise based on layers.