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Art Lessons for Kids: Color Theory Made Easy

I'm an artist from NYC living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I've been making art since 1994, and I've taught art to kids and adults for 8 years.

A sample project using water-soluble oil pastels

A sample project using water-soluble oil pastels

Teaching Children About Color Theory

I've been teaching oil painting classes for about six years. While many kids excel naturally in art, almost every child is stumped by color theory. How can we teach children about color theory? Try this project.

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, but there is also a very good exercise in learning complementary 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.

Primary Colors

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Yellow

When artists talk about complementary colors, they are talking about the opposite colors to the primary colors. Complementary colors also exist exactly opposite of one another on a color wheel.

Complementary Colors

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

One way to remember the three sets of compliments is 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 complementary colors used? Artists use compliments for several different reasons. One thing they use them for is to make Pop Art. When using only complementary 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 dark green. If you use the complementary 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: Red, orange and yellow. These are associated with things that are warm: the sun, ovens, summertime, overheated cars, sweaters, and exercise.
  • Cool colors: Blue, violet, and green. These 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.

Materials for Color Theory Project

  • Template with concentric circles (see photo below). I made mine in iweb, but you can also make a template in Photoshop, 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. Note: When I create this project for a class, I make one template and photocopy it.
  • Pencil
  • Colors: I have used oil pastels, 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 it's done. If you use materials that require water, you may want thicker paper to start with.
This is the template I used to begin the project.

This is the template I used to begin the project.


  1. Outline your hand on top of the concentric circles. If you have tiny hands and want a challenge, you can outline two hands!
  2. 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.
  3. 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 the 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 that gets better each time you do it!

Students hard at work learning color theory

Students hard at work learning color theory


dgirl on September 16, 2020:

that was so much fun

Maya on August 14, 2020:

this is cool my 10 year old liked makeing it keep up the good work

alexander bahadur on July 16, 2020:

This thing is stupid on June 23, 2020:

I hate this thing and my children hate it too yw

JADE on January 15, 2020:


Ethlyn the crazy! on October 14, 2019:

How do you do this,bcause I don't know

Kelly on August 10, 2019:

How do i make it? is it printable? can i make one for my son? or for myself? anwser me once you find this comment. Thank you! :)

Kelly on August 10, 2019:

I love this and so do my family but also this is really awesome thanks Time for learning!

Lia on August 08, 2019:

this is so cool

cyrus on June 13, 2019:

i love this,this is asome

jon on March 13, 2019:

i love it sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,,,

annabelle on September 10, 2018:

this is so COOL i lovve it!

Jojo Siwa on August 24, 2018:


RainbowGirl34 on August 14, 2018:


JORDYN on January 16, 2018:


Dawn on October 08, 2017:

Love this. Thank you!

Happeness on March 14, 2017:

That was nice and so creative.

kaiti on December 28, 2016:

omgosh this is awesome

ryan on December 08, 2016:

I love that drawing. it's like wow!

Lisa B on August 24, 2016:

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!

gracie on October 27, 2015:

i love it ;)

hope doss on July 06, 2015:


hi on November 13, 2013:

thhi is a cool project

Miah Martin on September 18, 2013:

This really helped me!

Cassie on April 23, 2012:

The page is great. I appreciate the info!

alicia miller on April 04, 2012:

i like to color a lot

Munsell Color on January 27, 2012:

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:

Laura Spector (author) from Chiang Mai, Thailand on September 14, 2011:

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!

Alejandra on September 14, 2011:

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

Laura Spector (author) from Chiang Mai, Thailand on July 03, 2011:

Markomitic - Thanks so much! Cheers!

markomitic from Toronto on June 28, 2011:

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

Laura Spector (author) from Chiang Mai, Thailand on August 30, 2010:

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!

jennifer on August 26, 2010:

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 (author) from Chiang Mai, Thailand on August 08, 2010:

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

Support Med. from Michigan on August 08, 2010:

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

Laura Spector (author) from Chiang Mai, Thailand on July 14, 2009:

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

\Brenda Scully on July 14, 2009:

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