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Catherine Rubin

Collaborative for Elementary Learning

In Color, Catherine Rubin introduces children to the concept of warm and cool colors and encourages them to use contrasting colors in the creation of cut-paper collages. Children are offered the opportunity to work in groups as well as individually as they explore ways in which color can communicate ideas and convey mood.

Lesson Focus

Introduction to color relationships with a focus on warm and cool colors and the ways artists use them to create artwork. The students will assemble a cut-paper collage using a variety of colors.

Time Requirement

Two one-hour class periods: one hour for instruction and group warm-up activity and one hour for individual hands-on work.

Skill Development

Creative Problem Solving
Students will:
  • transform ideas from imagination to visual form.
  • brainstorm ideas during group work.
  • modify and eliminate parts of a design.
  • experiment with design concepts to produce different effects.
Perceptual and Technical Skills
Students will:
  • practice using colored paper, scissors, and glue to produce art work.
  • classify art works by color, style, mood, etc.
Responding to Art Works
Students will:
  • view and compare reproductions to stimulate classroom discussion.
  • speculate on meanings of subjects and themes in works of art.
Critical Thinking Skills
Students will:
  • plan and organize visual execution of ideas.
  • make informed decisions based on personal aesthetic criteria.
  • discern elements of art and principles of organization in a work of art.
  • perceive and describe works of art.


Color will enable students to recognize and describe how artists use color to evoke mood and communicate ideas. They will also create their own art works reflecting this understanding of color, specifically contrasting warm and cool colors.

Artists/Art Works That Reflect Color Techniques

  • Romare Bearden (Carolina Shout)
  • Stuart Davis (Combination Concrete)
  • Henri Matisse (Beasts of the Sea)
  • Faith Ringgold
  • Sarah Mary Taylor

Connections to Educational Standards

The following Kentucky Academic Expectations are all related to Colors:

  • 2.22: Students create works of art and make presentations to convey a point of view.
  • 2.23: Students analyze their own and others' artistic products.
  • 2.24: Students appreciate creativity and values of the arts and the humanities.
  • 2.25: In the products they make and the performances they present, students show that they understand how time, place, and society influence the arts and humanities such as languages, literature, and history.

Materials Needed

  • 9" x 24" or longer white paper (background paper for group activity) 18" x 24" or 12" x 18" white or colored paper, one piece per student (background paper for individual work)
  • assorted colors of 9" x 12" sulfite construction paper (Tru-Ray and Pacon are two possible brands)
  • scissors
  • glue (glue sticks are less messy)
  • art reproductions (see "Resources" below, under "Suggested Reproductions")

Alternative Materials

Sulfite construction paper is recommended because it has especially vibrant color. However, if sulfite paper is unavailable in your area, you can substitute regular construction paper in bright colors.

To alter the surface of the construction paper, students may choose to draw or color on the paper, creating more visual and textural interest. Students may also use bright colors cut out from magazines to create their collages. Or they can paint pieces of paper and use those in the collages.

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. appliqué: stitchery technique in which layers of cloth are stitched or glued to a background cloth to form a design.
  2. collage: art work made of materials attached or glued to a flat surface; i.e., cut paper, photographs, string, fabric, etc.
  3. folk art: art that originates among the common people, who transmit the artistic culture of their group through succeeding generations.
  4. improvisation: creating something on the spur of the moment, without any preparation.
  5. cool colors: family of related colors ranging from the greens through the blues and violets. Usually associated with water, the sky, and foliage. They appear to recede in space.
  6. warm colors: family of related colors ranging from the reds through the oranges and yellows. Usually associated with fire, the sun, and the earth. They appear to advance in space.

Lesson Instructions

Pre-Lesson Motivation

Introduce the lesson by talking about how colors create mood. Some colors are warm and exciting; others are cool and peaceful. The ways colors are combined in a picture help create the mood. You can also talk about how emotions are linked symbolically with colors, as in "tickled pink," "green with envy," "feeling blue," etc. (Ask students to come up with some examples.) Have students brainstorm and list things they associate with warm and cool colors.

Display reproductions and point out how the artist's choice of colors helps create the mood of the picture. Ask students to identify the colors they see, encouraging them to use descriptive words. What do they think was the artist's intent? What is the mood/feeling they see in the picture?

Part 1: Warm-Up Group Activity

  1. Divide students into groups of no more than six.
  2. Designate some groups as cool-color groups (blues, greens) and some as warm-color groups (reds, oranges, yellows).
  3. Give each group a sheet of white background paper, 9" x 24" or longer.
  4. Give the cool-color groups a variety of cool-color construction paper, 9" x 12" and 12" x 18" (greens, blues, and violets).
  5. Give the warm-color groups a variety of warm-color construction paper (reds, oranges, and yellows).
  6. Have students brainstorm within their group to come up with a theme for a cool- or warm-color collage.
  7. Have the students use scissors to cut large shapes from the colored paper. Next have them start arranging the shapes on the background paper. Students do not use pencils. Instead, they use scissors as a drawing tool. Emphasize that they need to experiment with sizes, shapes, and the arrangement of their collage. Encourage them to cut big, interesting shapes and to overlap the shapes on the background paper.
  8. After students have worked on arranging the shapes, give them glue or a glue stick to start gluing their collages.

Response to Art/Lead-In to Individual Activity

Hang the warm and cool compositions together and discuss the mood evoked, the choices of colors and themes, etc. This is also an opportunity to discuss how the individual groups worked together.

As a further response to the warm-up activity or as a lead-in to the individual activity, have students further analyze their group art work. Were they able to arrange colors and shapes in a unified composition? Were their designs varied and complete? How did the colors they chose relate to one another? Talk about how working like this is improvisational-as soon as you put another color on the background, the colors start to interact or "talk" (sometimes they scream) to one another. Each new color changes the picture. What kinds of "conversations" are the colors and shapes in their art work having?

Part 2: Individual Activity

  1. Have each student choose a theme or story for an individual collage and think about what colors would best convey the theme.
  2. Allow each student to choose a sheet of paper for background (18" x 24" or 12" x 18") and three colors (9" x 12") to cut and arrange on the background.
  3. Follow Steps 7 and 8 from the group activity above.

Response to Art

  • After students have worked on their collages for about 25 minutes, ask them to take a "walking break" and look at the pictures their peers have been working on.
  • Hang and discuss students' art works (see above).

Exhibition Suggestion

Have students title their pictures. If you choose to display the pieces at school, you might try arranging them according to their colors-from hottest to coolest, for example. The students could determine what the order should be.

Another possibility would be to exhibit the collages in various community locations-everyday places like dentists' offices, restaurants, or banks rather than museums. Students could choose places they think would fit the mood or idea of their pieces.


Students could create another paper collage. If their first collage was abstract, they might do a representational collage, or vice versa. A book that demonstrates a representational approach to a collage-like technique (appliqué) is Mary E. Lyons' Stitching Stars: The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers. It contains photographs of quilts created in the 19th century by a former slave.

Students might also create their own narrative collages-collages that tell a story. An interesting book to share with the children is Arctic Memories by Normee Ekoomiak. It includes photographs of Inuit narrative fabric collages, with the story each one tells printed beside it.

Students could also design a flag, using sayings and/or symbols particularly meaningful to them. Good examples of such flags may be found in Asafo! African Flags of the Fante.


Children's Books
Ekoomiak, Normee. Arctic Memories. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. Lyons, Mary E. Stitching Stars: The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

Munthe, Nelly. Meet Matisse. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1983. Introduction to the cut-outs of Matisse with lessons on how to do them. Excellent lessons on color and shape.

Yenawine, Philip. Colors. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1991. Discusses thoughts and feelings conveyed by colors and how they contribute to a work of art. Very user-friendly, with great reproductions.

Books for Teachers and Students
Adler, Peter and Nicholas Barnard. Asafo! African Flags of the Fante. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992.

Elderfield, John. The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse. New York: Braziller, 1978. Waniman, Maude Southwell. Signs and Symbols: African Images in African-American Quilts. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Suggested Reproductions
Reproductions may be ordered from Shorewood Publications, 27 Glen Road, Sandy Hook, CT 06482.

#624 Beasts of the Sea by Henri Matisse
#1399 Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
#1407 Combination Concrete by Stuart Davis
#1818 Carolina Shout by Romare Bearden

Related Materials
The Folk Art Society of Kentucky has a catalog of works by Sarah Mary Taylor and another folk artist from Mississippi, Mary Tillman Smith. You can purchase the catalog for $4.50, including shipping. Write to the Folk Art Society of Kentucky, Box 22564, Henry Clay Station, Lexington, KY 40522.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951

Last Updated: Monday, 29-Dec-2008 15:23:24 EST