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Lesson Plans


Re: Color Wheels

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Mark Alexander (mamjam)
Mon, 1 Sep 1997 10:57:48 -0500

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There is more than one color theory. However, the RED, YELLOW, BLUE
primaries with ORANGE, GREEN, VIOLET secondary color theory seems to be the
most popular in art classrooms these days. This color theory is
traditionally illustrated by the color wheel with six or twelve colors.

Some art teachers apparently feel that the color wheel gets better mileage
when balanced properly, with lighter yellow at the top and heavier blue and
red near the bottom.

I prefer to spin the color wheel, randomly choosing the top color. If
students are confused when yellow isn't at the top, they've missed the
logic of the wheel shape. The roundness of the wheel, like the roundness of
King Arthur's table, is intended to imply that no one color is more
important than another. The actual position each color holds on the color
wheel is less important than the relationships between colors. It is my
belief that the students need to visualize the color wheel at different
attitudes, so that they can remember the color relationships, not just the
color's position on a static chart. The round shape of the color wheel is a
beautifully logical diagram of the special relationships these colors have
with one another.

I tend to make a big deal out of complements starting in the third grade. I
try to get the students to mix neutral grays and browns, and to mix a
little bit of complementary color in the paint to reduce color intensity.
But they need to learn how to remember what the complementary colors are.
Being on a cart and not having a room in which to permanently display the
color wheel, I'm frequently looking for ways to describe these color
relationships verbally.

To do this I keep pieces of red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and violet
construction paper handy on the cart. I hold them up and ask a student to
pick one color.

If the student picks RED, I ask, "is red a primary or secondary color? If
red is primary, then what are the remaining two primary colors? Blue and
yellow? O. K., then mix blue and yellow together and you'll have green,
which is red's complementary color!"

If the student picks ORANGE, I ask, "Is orange a primary or a secondary
color? If orange is a secondary color, then it is made by mixing two
primary colors together. Which two primary colors make orange? Red and
yellow? O. K., then what primary color is left? Blue, then is the
complementary color of orange."

I find this exercise gets them to think of the relationships between the
colors, rather than just their position. We make and use color wheels as a
way to reinforce the understanding of these relationships.

I hope this helps some of you,

Mark Alexander
1-8 Art on the Cart
Lee H. Kellogg School
Falls Village, Connecticut 06031

"We are healthy only to the extent
that our ideas are humane."
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


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