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Self-Portrait Unit
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Lesson Plan
Self-Portrait Unit, Lesson 3
Learning Color Relationships

Unit Overview
Lesson 1: Learning How To Draw Facial Features
Lesson 2: Self-Portrait Drawing with Stick and Ink and Ink Washes
Lesson 4: Self-Portrait Painting

Activity: Learning Color Relationships Through Color Mixing

Video/Web: No one specific video or segment is used for this lesson, but the Looking at Painting web site gallery offers many examples of paintings where color is noteworthy. These color-mixing exercises give the student a chance to review color theory and to become more comfortable working with brush and paint. This lesson is a precursor to the painting lesson that follows.

Grade Level: high school

Length of Lesson: 8 days

Students will

  1. be able to mix paint and match colors.
  2. be able to select color schemes that work.
  3. gain a working vocabulary for dealing with color.
  4. learn to use color as an important element in their artworks.

Kentucky Core Content for Assessment:
AH-H-4.1.41, AH-H-4.1.32, AH-H-4.2.31, AH-H-4.2.37

Critical Vocabulary:
cool colors
warm colors
analogous colors

Warm-Up Discussion
Ask the following questions to prompt discussion before beginning the exercises:

  1. What does nuance of color mean? (Have on hand many different nuances of a selected color as shown in paint chips. You may get chips from paint and wallpaper stores, discount stores such as Wal-Mart, home improvement stores such as Home Depot, and others.)
  2. Do you know how to blend paint to obtain those nuances? (Assure the students that they will after completing all the color-mixing exercises.)
  3. What mental images can be activated by the use of a color word (“feeling blue,” “in the red,” “green with envy,” etc.)?

Instructional Strategies and Activities
Begin by demonstrating the following techniques:

  1. the amount of paint to put on the palette
  2. where supplies are located
  3. proper clean-up procedure
  4. what types of marks various brushes make
  5. how much water to use to thin the paint to make it spreadable
  6. how to mix any two primary colors to make secondary and intermediate colors
  7. proper care of paintbrushes (See Arttalk teacher’s edition, pp. 353-54.)

Next, have the students mix primary colors to create secondary and intermediate colors. (These can be painted onto a pre-drawn color wheel or onto small cards which can then be cut into various shapes and pasted into the correct color wheel order.)

Demonstrate how to gradually dull the intensity of a color by adding small amounts of the complementary color. Point out that rich grays can be mixed without using any black or white. Have students mix two complementary colors to gradually dull each one until a neutral gray is obtained.

Show how to produce tints (light values) and shades (dark values) of a color. For the light values, show students how to add a teeny amount of color to white. For the dark values, show them how to add a tiny amount of black to the color. Stress mixing lights and darks in this way so they can quickly obtain the values they are trying to mix.

Have students use white and black to create a value scale of a selected color. Paint white at one end of the scale and black at the other so they can see the relationships among the tints and shades.

Show examples of paintings where the use of color is noteworthy. Many can be found in the Looking at Painting web site gallery, or you may show slides, transparencies, or examples from art books. Appropriate artists might include Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Josef Albers.

Have students look through art history books to see how artists of different time periods or cultures have used color in their paintings. Ask each student to select three different paintings and analyze how the artist used color. Responses might include the following:

  • “Some artists use colors realistically.” (such as in the landscapes of John Constable and the cityscapes by Richard Estes)
  • “Some artists use color to create a mood.” (such as Picasso during his Blue Period)
  • “Some artists use color as symbols.” (such as Odilon Redon or Marc Chagall)
  • “Some artists just study relationships among colors with no reference to real objects.” (like Mark Rothko and Josef Albers)

Using the color wheel as a guide, talk about ways to select and organize colors in a painting. Include descriptions/discussions of monochromatic color schemes as well as color schemes based on complementary, warm and cool, and analogous colors.

Have each student select a color scheme to use in a painting exercise. Then have them complete the exercise according to the following instructions:

  1. On the back of your paper, write the name of the color scheme and the colors you will be using.
  2. Divide a 9" X 12" piece of drawing paper by drawing four lines from one edge to the opposite edge. Vary the spacing between the lines.
  3. Now draw four lines going from one to the other of the remaining two sides, again varying the spaces between.
  4. Draw a shape that intersects most of the line segments but is still as simple as possible.
  5. Referring to your notes about your selected color scheme, paint the shapes in your design created by the intersecting lines.

opaque paint—tempera or acrylic
heavier paper or canvas for painting
water containers
mixing palettes
rags or paper towels

Brommer, Gerald F. and Nancy K. Kinne. Exploring Painting. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications Inc., 1995.

Gatto, Joseph A., Albert W. Porter, and Jack Selleck. Exploring Visual Design. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications Inc., 2000.

Ragans, Rosalind. Arttalk. Teacher’s wraparound edition. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Clark, Gilbert and Enid Zimmerman. ART/design: Communicating Visually. Blauvelt, NY: Art Education Inc., 1978.

Web site: Looking at Painting ( gallery

Supplemental Idea
When mixing colors, start with a very small amount of paint to change the original; increase the amount gradually in order to be conservative with the supplies. Have students bring clean Styrofoam meat trays to use as mixing palettes. They can wash and reuse them.

Assessment and Scoring Guide
Distinguished: Student demonstrates extensive understanding of color mixing and of the vocabulary used. Student completes all aspects of lesson within time frame determined by the teacher.
Proficient: Student has a broad understanding of color mixing and vocabulary. Student completes most of the lesson.
Apprentice: Student shows a basic understanding of color mixing and completes some of the assignment.
Novice: Student shows a limited understanding of color mixing and completes very little of the assignment.

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