Ten Things Better Than a Color Wheel

Let me get right to the punch line. Don’t waste perfectly good instruction time having your students make a color wheel!

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There’s a reason there’s an uninspiring, frumpy old lady shown in this photo. Color wheels are boring! If you need to hang one in your class for reference, FINE! But there is far too much to learn to ask your students to make one. 

I may be a bit biased from one of my own teaching experiences. I once had a colleague who’s Art 1 students spent nearly the full first quarter painting a perfect color wheel. The result? By Halloween they hated art and wished they never signed up!

Here are 10 ideas better than a color wheel:

  1. Practice gesture drawing with primary paint colors.
  2. Collaboratively sort, arrange, and rearrange hundreds of different color objects or 1 inch squares from color print (magazine) pages by color groupings or relationships. 
  3. Set up a competitive painting challenge in which students complete as many tasks as possible in a given class session. Each task combines color theory and painting skills. For example: create a gradient wash with a vibrant hue. Create a natural texture using dry brush technique and a neutral color. Create a gradient blend of complimentary colors. Etc. 
  4. Play with layering color gels and filters. 
  5. Make artwork by layering colored tissue paper with a wash of glue (creating a transparent effect).
  6. Challenge your students to fill a hundred or more squares on a painting surface, each with a variation of the same hue. (Use this as the ground on which a meaningful artwork is created.)
  7. Collaboratively reproduce a “pixelated” image of a famous artwork or school mascot using food coloring and water in plastic cups arranged in a grid. (Photograph from above.)
  8. Provide precut papers with all of the necessary colors and have table groups race to arrange them into a color wheel as a warm up. 
  9. Have students use color relationships to arrange themselves in different ways according to the clothes they are wearing. 
  10. Have students photograph objects with their phones and arrange the images by color. 

And if none of these suit you fancy, just have them paint! They will learn more about mixing and using color in an authentic context than they will by making a color wheel. 

Got other ideas? I’d love to hear them!

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