Art Lessons for Kids - Color Theory Made Easy

A sample project using water soluble oil pastels.
A sample project using water soluble oil pastels.
This is the template I used to begin the project.
This is the template I used to begin the project.

Students Hard At Work Learning Color Theory

A variation on this project is to use Colored Pencils with older students.
A variation on this project is to use Colored Pencils with older students.

A Cool Way to Make a Hot Project!

I've been teaching oil painting classes for about six years now. Every student has their strengths, but one thing that most of them have in common is they get stumped when it comes to which colors to use.

This is a great project for both reminding adults and teaching children about the basic principles of color theory. Not only is there an immediate example of warm and cool colors, there is also a very good exercise in learning complimentary colors!

First of all, since we don't have a color wheel in front of us, I'll just go ahead and explain that all colors come from the Primary colors, which are: Red, Blue and Yellow.

When artists talk about Complimentary Colors, they are talking about the opposite colors to the Primary Colors. Complimentary colors also exist exactly opposite of one another on a color wheel.

Here are the complimentary colors:

  • Red and Green
  • Blue and Orange
  • Yellow and Violet

One way to remember the three sets of compliments is to to try to remember a theme of where you've seen them before: Red and Green remind me of Christmas. Blue and Orange remind me of the colors of a sports team. And, Yellow and Violet remind me of a Wizard's hat - a purple hat with yellow moons and stars.

How are complimentary colors used? Artists use compliments for several different reasons. One thing they use them for is to make Pop Art. When using only complimentary colors in a painting, the colors tend to POP right off the canvas! Another way to use them, is as a shadow color. For example, if you have a red cup, instead of using grey or black for the shadow, try using a dark green. If you use the complimentary color as the shadow (and make it a little darker by adding a tiny bit of black to the color- especially with paints), it makes the whole work of art a little more interesting.

The other aspect of this project is to learn Warm and Cool colors. Warm colors are generally colors that are associated with things that are warm: The sun, ovens, summertime, overheated cars, sweaters and exercising. Cool colors remind us of things that are cool: Swimming pools, snow, ice tea, rainy days, the sea and a breeze. Warm and cool colors are helpful to remember when you're trying to figure out what colors to paint or color your picture.

What you'll need to make your Color Theory Project:

  • A white sheet of paper with concentric circles on it. I made mine in iweb. You can make one in Photoshop or Adobe InDesign, or any other program that allows you to make circles. If you don't have a computer, try using a compass instead. If you're working with little children, try to make the rings a little bit bigger than you would for older kids.

* When I create this project for a class, I make one template and photocopy it.

  • A pencil
  • Colors. I have used oil pastel, watercolor pencils, acrylic paint, watercolors, water soluble oil pastels and crayons. Any of these will work well, as long as you get solid, strong colors. Using materials that will be opaque will make the project more fun to look at after its done. If you use materials that require water, you may want a thicker paper to start with.

How to Make Your Hot Hand Cool:

  • Outline your hand on top of the concentric circles. If you have tiny hands and want a challenge, you can outline two hands!
  • Start with your background Cool colors: Blue, Violet and Green. Count out the stripes to make sure you don't miss any. I usually make a mark inside each stripe so I don't lose track of which color I'm using.
  • After you finish your background, take out your Warm colors: Red, Orange and Yellow. Match up the colors to their compliments and fill them in. Don't forget little shapes of the fingers that may overlap into two different colors!

This is a great project to keep "handy" when you're ready to move on to more difficult coloring or painting projects. If you would like to preserve it, I would recommend framing it. Or, if you want to store it, store it flat with a clean sheet of white paper on top of it to prevent smearing.

And, remember: Art, like any other skill is a practice which gets better each time you do it!

If you liked this project, check out Color Theory Made Easy - Monochromatic Colors!

More by this Author

Comments 18 comments

\Brenda Scully 7 years ago

Thoroughly enjoyed this hub.... going to look for more now...

Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 7 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Thanks Brenda! I hope you enjoy. I'm looking forward to seeing what you're up to as well.

Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

Your article is very enjoyable. Fun and important for children as well. Voted/rated.

Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 6 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Thank you Support Med. I'm glad to hear from you and hope you are able to share the information with others!

jennifer 6 years ago

just did this with some kids! thanks for the idea, they enjoyed it and its a great way to teach them about complimentary colors.

Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 6 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Jennifer, It's great to hear from you! Thank you for sharing the information. i'm always happy to know the exercises are helping children to learn more about art making!

markomitic profile image

markomitic 5 years ago from Toronto

Yes, I will spread this hub. Nice info. Good for all. Thank you.

Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 5 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Markomitic - Thanks so much! Cheers!

Alejandra 5 years ago

Hello! This article is great! Where can I find the templates? Thank you!

Laura Spector profile image

Laura Spector 5 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand Author

Alejandra, Thank you! I actually don't have a template online. I made the one you see using concentric circles on photoshop. However, I am going to launch a website later this year based on children's projects and music. I'll make sure to write a hub about it when it's open. (I'll have templates to download on that site when it launches!). Cheers!

Munsell Color 4 years ago

This is an excellent way to teach children about color theory! The Munsell Color Diary also makes it very easy to teach color theory. You can see that here:

alicia miller 4 years ago

i like to color a lot

Cassie 4 years ago

The page is great. I appreciate the info!

Miah Martin 3 years ago

This really helped me!

hi 2 years ago

thhi is a cool project

hope doss 15 months ago


gracie 12 months ago

i love it ;)

Lisa B 2 months ago

This is a great article and my kids really enjoyed doing this, but I believe that the correct word would be "complementary", not "complimentary". I don't usually point out these kind of mistakes (I find it annoying when others do it) but since this is an educational article, I thought you might want to correct it. Excellent article on everything else, though!

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