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Classroom Color | Arts & Activities
Mar 2019

Classroom Color

Classroom Color

Each academic year, art teachers at every level address the element of color with their classes and seek new avenues to make the experience a rich and rewarding one.

After the introductory color wheel and value exercises are completed, students usually have an abstract notion of how analogous and complimentary theory work.

Rather than keep this at the notebook level, junior art coordinator Lisa Gale gives all grade nine students at Merivale High School a chance to work on a very satisfying and non-threatening assignment, that allows them to explore color relationships, and to put into practice the color exercises they had previously completed.

OUR MUSIC TEACHERS had lamented the lack of vibrant posters in their studio and hoped the art department could provide some to inspire ensembles at their 7 a.m. rehearsals. With this in mind, musical instruments provided the perfect subject for a set of large, colorful paintings to fill the void.

The ninth-grade art class visited the band room to draw the instruments they found interesting. Those with smart phones were encouraged to photograph the instruments from a variety of angles. The students also could do research in our library and consult a variety of Internet sources that they could use for preliminary studies.

My students had chosen to draw a wide range of instruments and, while some of the drawings were more realistic and better proportioned than others, I reminded them all that this was a color exercise and that any reasonable effort would work well.

Students made preliminary line drawings of their chosen instruments in their sketchbooks. Once satisfied with their compositions, they divided their image area (the instrument and the background) into at least four distinct parts. Then, rather than paint their subjects realistically, they assigned to each area a distinct color scheme we had discussed in class.

The sketches were then rendered on 20″ x 26″ card stock and painted with acrylic. The results were impressive. For those who usually experience difficulty with their formal drawing skills, the project was a confidence builder.

While some took a linear approach to divide their space, others followed a less traditional path. Students employed a variety of approaches to the problem, including warm and cool color schemes, complementary and analogous areas, primary and secondary color blocks and a variety of monochromatic and chromatic scales, which transformed their simple line drawings into expressive and lyrical works of art that are perfect for a studio setting. The music teachers and their students were pleased with the results, which we then mounted and installed in the band room.

This exercise can be used with most any age group and be easily tailored to fit any subject for an impressive series of original works suitable for display. It is a perfect opportunity for art teachers to collaborate with science, social science, English and language departments.

ENRICHMENT. While this class used inexpensive acrylic paint, the exercise could also be completed with terrific results using tempera, gouache, markers or pencil crayons. 







Lily carefully adds paint to the neck of her violin.


High school students will …
recognize the impact that differing color schemes bring to a composition.
become familiar with the lexicon of color terms.
be able to recognize color schemes employed by artists when critically examining works of art.

Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Sketchbooks and pencils
Acrylic paint, 00 and #10 paintbrushes
Large sheets of card stock
Access to the library and Internet for research

Irv Osterer is Department Head–Fine Arts and Technology, at Merivale High School in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor. 


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