Mixing Primary into Secondary


You would be surprised how many children and adults do not know which primary colors make the secondary. I did two versions of this lesson for the younger elementary kids and the older ones.

The younger kids, 1st grade-2nd, did the ice pops. I did find the lesson online but I changed it up a little. We did this following our How to use a brush Winter Style lesson. I did just a lesson on mixing colors on white paper. I told them we were going to make magic today. The paint brush is your magic wand. We started out by making sure our brushes were super clean. We put some yellow on the paper, cleaned the brush, put a tiny amount of blue on the tip, said the magic words and they mixed green. They were really amazed. Same things with yellow and red for orange, make sure you reinforce just dipping the tip of the brush into the red (and blue) because they are such strong colors. Last we do red and blue to make purple.

I closed this lesson by having the kids take a look around the table at their friend’s colors. Are all the greens exactly the same? Some are more yellow and some are more blue. Why? This is how you can introduce the intermediate colors. Why would you want a green that is more blue? Why would you want a green that is more yellow? This can be a nice conclusion.

The older kids, 3rd through 5th, did the color wheels. They already knew the primary and secondary colors. We traced a circle on white paper, used rules to draw 3 lines through the circle, and outlined in sharpie. Then as a class we painted in the primary colors, skipping a space between each color. So you have red, blank, yellow, blank, blue, blank. This is where they mess up. Some kids will just go again and know that they two colors surrounding the blank spaces need to be mixed in there, so red and yellow to make orange in the middle. Others you have to do it step by step.

Moving on to the Ice Pops. I actually got observed for this lesson, and because it was a step by step process it was deemed not creative enough. Which is fine, but I think the lesson served its purpose because after all the kids knew exactly how to make orange, green and purple, and they had fun. I pre-drew the ice pop shape, and even color coded labeled them with Y O R, for yellow, orange, red. They already had an introduction to mixing so it was applying last weeks skills. I still did it step by step so no one was left behind. Some kids liked painting the top, then bottom, then mixing the middle. Others painted the whole top and middle yellow then added red on the bottom going up to make the orange middle. Depends on the students.

The background was choosing horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines in a pattern. So before they did that we reviewed all those words. We used PAINT CAKES! My favorite. And any colors they wanted. Cut, glue, done.

Kandinsky Color Theory

We all see Kandinsky inspired art in like every single art teaching book. I decided to use Kandinsky as a way to finalize our color theory unit. Students learned how to paint a color wheel, how to mix primary into secondary, what the complementary colors are, what the warm and cool colors are the order of the rainbow. These were all mini lessons leading up to this.

After all the mini lessons we reviewed by playing the color game, where I give them stripes of all 6 colors and you ask questions like what is the opposite of blue and they quietly raise the orange strip. Students can lead this game at their tables or with the whole class. Put the strips in rainbow order, wave the warm colors, wave the secondary colors. You can see who remembers and who will need extra attention.

I show them the Kandinsky circles and we talk about color feelings and choices. They know a lot about color and they know about what feelings a color can portray from the warm/cool lesson.

This whole painting is planned on a worksheet. I give them a handout with 6 boxes and on top it reminds them all the color combinations. They have to color in with markers/crayons/colored pencils their entire project before they get to paint on big paper. 4 out of the 6 boxes have to be a pattern of one of these: primary colors, secondary colors, complementary colors, rainbow order, warm or cool colors. The 5th and 6th box are free color order, and students usually just pick from the list.


Once their planning sheet is filled we practice painting in rings on a smaller paper to gain confidence before they head over to the big paper. I tape their planning paper to the back so they can refer to it and follow their plan.

If they mess up explain the beauty of painting that we can always wait for it to dry and paint over it! To keep my sanity I previously pour out paint into cups and keep 1 brush per cup and a water cup with extra brushes. They know not to mess with the colors and always make sure their brush is super clean before switching colors. Tickle the bottom of the water bucket, wipe the excess water on the edge of the bucket, dab it on paper. Tickle, tickle, tickle, wipe wipe wipe, dab, dab dab. They like that.

Secondary Colored Sunsets

fullsizerender1I did this project with PK to teach them how to mix primary colors into secondary colors. Each day they’d make a new color. We started on the carpet and I’d find someone wearing the color of the day (green, orange, purple). Make a big deal abut that color! Today we are painting with green (or orange or purple) but oops! I ran out of green paint! What do I do?! Amazingly some PK students will tell you to mix blue and yellow together, if not show them a magic trick! Put yellow all over the page, making sure to use a lot of paint to keep it nice and juicy. Now I will make magic, adding only a little but of blue and spreading it around. The kids will be very excited to see the magic happen. Talk about all the things that are green (orange, purple) and make a list. You can also add texture to the green paper by using scratch brushes or a pencil point and talk about texture. This will give them something to do when they’re done making the color.

Each child receives a new paper that I previously had written their names on the back and taped to either a covered table or whatever you use to keep the table clean because this will get messy. Taping the paper down really helps because then the kids don’t have to touch the paper.

Give them cups of yellow paint and tell them to cover the whole paper yellow. remind them to keep the paint nice and juicy because if it dries you can’t make magic. Walk around the room and as you see the papers turn yellow hand out the blue cups. Remind them to only dip the tip of the brush into the blue so the magic will work. Blue is a strong color so you only need a little.

As the papers turn you can hand out some tools for scratching and they love to do this. By the third color the kids get the process and do it on their own. I recommend big fat brushes for the kids who don’t have the grip yet.

I keep a table set up with the color of the day crayons and paper so that as they finish and clean their hands they can go there and continue to color in the color of the day. This will give you time to get the paintings on the drying rack.

Before you let them leave show two versions of the color. So if you’re doing green show a green that is more yellow and one that is more blue. Ask what the differences are and let them tell you. Ask why they think they are different. They can see how to achieve a darker blue green by adding more blue, or a lighter yellow green by adding less blue and talk about what you’d use these colors for!

Last day, assembling the sunsets. Purple is for the background, orange for the sun, green for the grass. Show them how it is done on the carpet first. I make a half circle on the back of all the oranges for them to cut and follow the line. The rays can be done 2 different ways. Kids can cut them or rip them, depending on their ability with scissors. Show them to add glue to the back of their pieces first, then glue it down on the purple paper. Show them how to cut the grass, by ripping or cutting a strip and ripping or cutting halfway along the strip. Glue it all together and done!

Feel Good Words

Originally this project belonged to a friend of mine. She called it Feel Good Words. It is based off of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE stamp. I did it with 4th and 5th grades.

Prior to this the students learned color theory. They made their own color wheels, learning how to mix primary to secondary first. From the color wheel we saw that it puts the colors into rainbow order, how complementary colors are opposite one another, and grouping of warm and cool colors. You have to do all this before which turns this project into a nice unit. I will post on how I taught each color relationship in future posts.

Students brainstormed 4 letter feel good words in groups, then chose which one they wanted. Be sure to remind them they’ll be stuck with this word for a while.

We also looked at the work of Romero Brito who uses patterns in his work. This is for breaking up the letters and boxes so there is more room for color.

Out of the 4 boxes they had to follow the rules of color theory. One box could only have primary  colors, the next could be in rainbow order, or just warm colors or just cool.

They made a mini version of it on their worksheet using pencil then markers. Once that was planned out they got started on the big paper. Pencil first, then paint!