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Teaching Color Theory

For the Oakland County, MI STEAM Program, ART 7, Unit 1: Color - Elements of Art

99% of us take color for granted. We wake up and we see color. We take in millions of color representations all day long and most of us never think too deeply on all the hues, shades and impressions that we get from color. Behind all this subjective human perception is a much deeper understanding of color and how it works...

In the beginning, (insert your beliefs here), there was light. After the universe cooled down about 30,000 years, light filled everything. But what is light? Rays form the Sun? Stuff that comes out of your lightbulb? Again, it goes deeper. Light is a fundamental force of the universe and its hard wired into how everything interacts with everything else; everywhere.

What we think of as light is really just a sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum (that's what physicists call it). It's the energy waves that travel at about 300,000 km/s to go everywhere. The reds, blues and greens that the human eye perceives is only about 1/70th of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes can "see".

It's like being able to only play three keys on a piano. You know there's a bunch more keys, but when you tap them, they don't make any sounds you can hear. You know that the other keys are right there, but they are somehow un-hearable by you.

We have crossed over a line defining the limits of human perception and into the fact that color is more about how people are wired to perceive it. Color is a uniquely human thing to understand. There are few other animals that seem to see color the way we do. Most other creatures in the animal kingdom see colors very differently from us, or don't see the same colors at all. I could write a book on just this, but we're here to focus on how we human's see color. So away we go!

The Color Wheel: (credit: nofilsmschool)

All the stuff on this above infographic is going to be what we're discussing over the next few days. We are going to disect every part of this to give an understanding of color theory, color communications and color schemes.

Over the classes in Unit 1 - Color, we will be able to explore the following:

What You will Know:

  • How to intelligently communicate color in terms of hue, tones, shade and tints.

  • Color palette selection for complementary, tertiary, tetradic, split complementary and monochromatic color schemes. They will be able to speak on the emotional impacts of color, how to select them, and how to apply color schemes in visual communications.

  • Learn the differences between Additive vs. Subtractive color systems.

What You Will Understand:

  • Understand how the human eye "sees".

  • Understand that light is just a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

  • Know how light is perceived by people

  • How to create several types of color palettes

  • How to set up a scene to affect the emotional impact of an observer with color.

  • How color is reproduced in tradition media and in electronic devices.

What You Will Do:

  • Create a picture of the Human Eye with how it works.

  • Build a color wheel to practice color selection and mixing.

  • Download and read a paper on color theory terms from the class portal.

  • Mix primary colors together to create secondary and tertiary colors. (define a color gamut)

  • Be able to mix shades, tones and tints of a color.

  • Be able to explain what a particular color palette should be selected in visual communications to better convey the meaning of a subject.

  • Work together as a class in order to help define all the color vocabulary for color in art.

  • Build a scene (traditional or electronic media) with a selected color palette to convey an emotional idea more fully than with photorealism.

Example Grading Color Scene from Frozen (Disney credit)

Classroom Asset Management:

Downloadable resources will be captured in the class cloud drive for the Color Unit to have easy access to them. The daily lesson plans should be organized in the Google Class schedule. Class calendar links could be set up to go directly to the daily lesson plans. Advanced student assignments, homework and special lesson plans would be set up as part of the class schedule as well, based on the curriculum view for STEAM Art 7-Unit 1: Color.

​Google Classroom becomes the glue that holds all the stuff together. Within the lesson plans there is: PDF files on color theory, YouTube videos on terms and concepts, websites devoted to color tools, and forms for testing. And there needs to be a way to keep track of challenged and gifted students assignments as well. Also, at the end of the day, parents need to be informed of what's going on too.

Google Class also becomes the tool for submitting finished assignments, communicating problems and it can also be a source for the students to work together and share ideas as well. Google slides and presentation tools can also be utilized to complete the assignments. Many student have Google accounts set up already.

Note: Because the lessons are very heavy in electronic presentations and videos, a room projector of SmartBoard would be essential.

The Week of Class Concepts for Unit 1 - Color

Each daily lesson builds on an essential concept that paints the picture for the final project.

  • Day 1- Understanding Light

  • Day 2 - Color Vocabulary

  • Day 3 - Color Palettes and Color Reproduction

  • Day 4 - Emotions & Color

  • Day 5 - Combine Day 1, 2 and 3 together to create the final assignment. Build a scene with a defined color palette that has an emotional effect.

  • Day 6 - Presentation and Discussion

Curriculum Video Idea:

Potential Problems

Because Google Classroom can manage many parts of the classroom, it has a longer learning curve. The more the tool can do, the longer it takes to figure it out. My biggest fear is the amount of time it takes to get familiar with a classroom organization system. For those how are not familiar and/or comfortable with Classroom Management Systems, the more difficulty and procrastination there may be. It could be daunting for a first year teacher to get set up. If the school has a poor network, no policies on using internet resources or no school social media polices, that could be a problem as well.

Alternately, I am concerned for students who don't have access to technology. Some of the assignments will allow for the flexibility to complete assignments using traditional media or electronic media, to be fair, but research and walk away materials are electronic. I really don't want any student to feel that they cannot compete with another student because they have access to a laptop and Photoshop®.

The Sum of the Parts

By providing students with several ways to learn (videos, electronic presentations, Instructor input, cooperative learning, class discussion and peer motivation, I am hoping that each student becomes interested at some point. The week of classes touches on physics, biology, art, electronic media, traditional media and emotional intelligence. All these points of contact are deliberate for a STEAM based curriculum. There has got to be a point that each student's eyes will light up a bit. If not, I will find a way.

There is also many provisions for students to learn in their own way, through visual or instructional materials and key terms and assignments can easily be converted to ESL opportunities. Lesson Plans are easy to follow and there are many ideas for challenging advanced students as well.

Would there be homework in Art? Yes, and Gauguin it!

©2017 by Brad Zylman