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Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 5 of 10 | Arts & Activities
Dec 2015

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 5 of 10

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 5 of 10

Lesson 5 of 10

Creative Color Wheels
by Debi West

As I was designing my curriculum for my secondary intro visual art students, I realized that they needed to better understand color theories, as this is an important part of their art learning foundation.

I have also realized over the years that simply telling our students about color harmonies and then testing them isn’t a very successful teaching strategy. I believe that students have to spend some time experimenting and enjoying some creative freedom while they learn about various color theories and that is how the “Creative Color Wheels”  lesson came to fruition.


Students showcased all 12 colors found on a traditional wheel with the media and method of their choice. Clockwise, from top left: trash-can lid with dyed recyclables by Celine; skirt by Jamie; colorful cookie cake by Sahna; fingerprint by Luke.



Is there an art teacher who wouldn’t love this fabulous color-wheel T-shirt?



Katlyn’s “feathery” color-wheel pillow.



Brendan shows off his color-wheel table fan, with its very own colorful slogan: “FANtasize with Colors. It’s so Fantastic!”

This lesson begins with my walking students through the color harmonies, such as primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, analogous colors, complementary color schemes, monochromatic, and then discuss color vocabulary  such as tints, shades, tones, hues, intensity, saturation, local color, etc… The list is long and of course, each teacher can choose to teach these depending on their local and state standards and assessments.

Once all of the information is covered, I then open up the lesson to make it completely student centered, hands-on and project based. The lesson is, quite literally, anything they want it to be, as long as the objectives are met. And those objectives are simple:

1. Their final piece must be in the round, hence, a wheel shape

2. Their final piece must depict all 12 color harmonies

That’s it! So of course students immediately want to know what media they can use … and my response is, “whatever you want, you tell me!” And then they want to know the size and, once again, my response is, “I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see what you come up with!”

Students review their notes and then begin doing some research via Pinterest or Google images, getting ideas to springboard from. Their first homework assignment is to be prepared to share at least three ideas that they will begin the following day. The ideas that come in are incredible! Each year, my students seem to get more creative and, thus far, I have seen fans, dresses, cakes, slushies, maps, wreaths, dream catchers, shoes, garbage lids with recycled dyed “trash,” balls, and more.

I think by opening up the parameters in regard to the media and size limitations, it allows our students the creativity to move to a level they might not have gone to without this freedom and I am always beyond impressed with the results. At this point in the year my students are familiar with various media, with the elements and principles of art, and with the sophisticated craftsmanship and care that is needed (and expected) in a high school visual art course.

I do have several students who want to sew or cook at home, so then the challenge is: what will they complete during class time? The solution was pretty simple, they will create the ad, or marketing tool, that will accompany their actual creative color wheel!

As students work on their projects over the week, they get more and more excited to have the opportunity to present their art to the class. And, by the time we complete all of the presentations, they are more than ready for their quiz and I am content knowing that students have mastered and authentically learned about color theory on many different levels!

Next up … Midterm Triptychs!

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Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.



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