To children, colour is one of the most attractive qualities of the visual world, from the subtle colours of the natural world to the bright colours of their toys, clothes and books. They need lots of opportunities to observe colour in the environment, to notice how artists use colour and to use colour expressively in their own work. Paint is the most suitable medium for exploring colour, because it is fluid and easily mixed, and young children will enjoy exploring how it behaves, as well as how it feels.
Children will use paint to draw with. Younger children use colour without any direct colour relationship to the object or figure being painted. As they mature they will use colour morenaturalistically as they try for greater realism in their work. It is important that all children have access to a wide variety of paint and colour materials and tools, and opportunities to explore their expressive possibilities. Their experience of colour and texture can be expandedwith, for example, crayons, markers and pastels, through paper and fabric collage, in print-making and through work in fabric and fibre.
Creating a colour environment in a corner of the classroom using natural and manufactured objects within a colour area will help to focus children's looking and develop awareness of colour subtleties.
Starting points for paint and colour
Children need some form of stimulus as a starting point for painting activities. They could include
Painting based on children's experience, real or imagined, gives them opportunities to
- use paint and colour to express their own lives and interests
- use colour both imaginatively and descriptively.
Young children will enjoy painting colourful pictures to do with themselves, home and play. Evoking colourful situations, such as a remembered visit to the circus, or talking about a story, poem or song that has a strong visual feeling can be stimulating ways of triggering responses.
Emotional stereotyping of colour should be avoided, for example suggesting blue for sadness: blue can also suggest lightness, clarity or joyfulness, as in a clear blue sky. Colours change their expressive dimension according to individual use.
Young children use colour most effectively to express feelings within the context of a theme that is personally meaningful, for example 'I am happy playing with my friend.' They should be encouraged to draw with the paint brushes rather than have them colour in drawings. Children who have attained a certain skill with drawing materials may be frustrated at not being able to achieve the same amount of detailwith paint. Themes that call for a broader response and that would enable them to enjoy free-flowing colour should be suggested, for example 'a big colourful bird/fish/alien', 'a big picture of me in my Halloween outfit'.
EXEMPLAR 14 - Painting: 'Adventure' (third and fourth classes)
EXEMPLAR 15 - Painting: 'Winter' (fifth and sixth classes)
As they progress, children will use colour expressively to create rich and varied detail, pattern and rhythm in their art work. With experience, they will use colour and tone to suggest three-dimensional form in objects, and they will experiment with warm and cool colours and tones to suggest space in depth on a page.
Colour materials could include tempera paint, crayons, oil pastels, coloured pencils and inks, according to the children's levels of experience. Younger children will enjoy the tactile experience of paint, using a variety of instruments, for example brushes, sticks and sponges. Similar varieties of paper to those suggested for drawing would be suitable.
Children at infant level use colour for the sheer enjoyment of it. With encouragement they will make marks and shapes that are free and spontaneous. Exploratory colour exercises in paint could begin with primary colours (red, yellow and blue), using one colour at a time with a little of the other two so that they can become familiar with nuances of hue. With experience they will discover the magic of making new colours as they mix paint. More experienced children will experiment with complementary colours (for example red and green) to create lively effects and with muted colours for quieter effects.
Ways of suggesting space on a page will be explored with warm colours (for example 'advancing' orange-reds and yellows) and cool colours (for example 'receding' blues and blue-greens). Ways of creating textural effects using brush and paint for textural variety will also be explored. Attempts at suggesting form using colour and tone can be explored when the children's observational powers and their awareness of the subtleties of colour and tone are sufficiently developed. A colour study would give children the opportunity to create a range of colours and tones within a colour area.
Opportunities to notice colour in the environment help children to
- develop visual awareness
- develop sensitivity to colour
- investigate and analyse colour in the natural and built environments.
While children's early preoccupations are with mark-making and developing symbols, they are very drawn to colour. It is important therefore to help them develop awareness of colour in the immediate environment as early as possible and to help them identify primary and secondary colours, as well as lighter and darker colours. To broaden their experience of colour, play colourmatching games and colour-sorting games with a variety of colour materials, including fabric and fibre. With guidance, they will begin to notice colour subtleties. As they progress, observation and analysis of colour in the environment become increasingly important. Noticing the everyday use of complementary, related and neutralised (dulled) colours and having opportunities to experiment with them will help the children to understand the effects that can be created with colour.
It is important that children have lots of opportunities to look attentively at the work of artists, to see how artists use colour and to experience the impact of great paintings. It is very enriching for them to see paintings (or slides or prints) that relate to their work in hand or are a stimulus for further work or simply for the sheer enjoyment they afford. Children need guidance in looking at paintings so as to understand what the artist intended and how he/she went about it. They also need time to reflect on what they see and to make their own personal response to it. It is important that children are exposed to a wide variety of painting styles. An awareness of non-realist art styles from western and other cultures can help to balance older children's striving after realism. Discussions on values in art, on what makes for 'good' art and on what they see as the relative merits of, for example, expressionism and realism in art, can help them to look critically but constructively at their own work and at the work of others.
EXEMPLAR 16 - Painting from observation: still life (fifth and sixth classes)
Paint and colour resources
Tempera is the most suitable painting medium for primary art programmes. Liquid tempera can be applied freely, has good covering capacity and can produce vivid and subtle effects. A full basic colour range is essential to ensure purposeful colour mixing and matching. Children can experiment in combining tempera with crayon or pastel, for example, for mixed-media effects. Buy the best-quality strong, deep, saturated colours possible.
- Two reds: crimson: essential for mixing purples vermilion: essential for mixing oranges
- Two blues: ultramarine cerulean or cyan
- Two yellows: cadmium yellow yellow ochre: a yellow earth colour yellow should be kept in large supply
- One green: viridian a variety of greens can be mixed from the basic yellows and blues
- One brown: burnt sienna
- White: four times as much as any other
Umber and lemon yellow are also recommended, but not at the expense of the reds or blues. It is advisable to have a large supply of the basic colours, from which to mix oranges, purples and pastel shades. Mixing colours allows for greater versatility. Skills and a store of experiences are developed through striving to achieve the desired colours and shades.
Other colour resources
- Oil crayons
- Oil pastels
- Coloured pencils
- Coloured paper, including tissue paper.
- Hands and fingers (pre-school)
- Plastic spatulas
- Palette knives
- Brushes: they come in a range of sizes and are made from bristle, mohair, soft hair or nylon. Each child should be able to use at least one large and one small brush in one piece of work. Buy the best quality possible.
- Sugar paper
- Computer paper
- Cartridge paper
- Recycled paper.
Guidelines for colour mixing
Children learn to appreciate subtle colour differences by mixing colours and painting with them. They learn how to make colours lighter or darker and, through painting, what combinations give interesting or useful effects. Colourmixing exercises can be organised informally as part of a painting class. With increasing experience, children will learn to analyse colours from observation and will be able to distinguish and mix more subtle colours.
The colour wheel is useful for studying colour. The order of the colours corresponds to the order of colours in the rainbow. The relationships between the colours can be seen when they are placed in a circle, from which general rules about mixing and painting with colours can be developed. The children will be interested to learn about the colour wheel, but an over-theoretical approach to colour should not replace 'hands-on' exploratory activities.
Yellow, red and blue cannot be made by mixing other colour pigments, and are therefore known as primary colours. Mixed in suitable combinations, however,they can produce all the other colours. A minimum number of colours that can combine to form a maximum number of colours is what is required for colour mixing and painting.
Orange, green and violet are made by mixing adjacent primary colours, and they lie between them on the colourwheel. They are called secondary colours. When all three primaries are mixed together, they neutralise or dull one another, and, depending on the proportion of each primary used, produce neutral greys or browns.
Colours are said to be warm or cool, depending on how much red or blue, respectively, they contain.
The colour wheel
The colours ranging from yellow to redviolet are the warm colours. In paintings they appear to advance towards the viewer. Colours in the yellow-green to violet range are the cool colours. In paintings they appear to recede from the viewer.
Colours that are near one another on the colour wheel and are closely related, for example red, orange and yellow, are referred to as analogous or related colours. Because related colours, for example yellows and greens, do not dull one another when mixed, mixing is often the best way to lighten or darken colours without reducing their intensity.
Colours that are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example red opposite green and yellow opposite violet, are called complementary or contrasting colours, that is, a primary opposite a secondary that has beenmixed from the two remaining primaries. They create a very dramatic effect when placed side by side in a painting. When mixed together, complementary colours neutralise or dull one another and they produce neutral greys or browns.
'Tone' refers to the brightness or darkness of colour. Tones help to create the illusion of space and depth in a painting or drawing and to create atmosphere and contrast. With experience, children will use warm and cool colours, vibrant and muted colours and light and dark tones to create effects. The level of subtlety to be expected in colour mixing will depend on the children's stage of development in art.
Working with tempera paint
- Put a minimum of paint in paint containers.
- Keep a supply of clean containers or palettes (at least one per child) for mixing paints.
- Encourage children to wipe excess paint from their brushes into the paint containers.
- When cleaning brushes during a painting session, encourage children to squeeze out excess water to prevent the colours being diluted.
- Cover unlidded paint containers with, for example, plastic or tin foil to keep them moist between painting sessions.
- Never leave brushes standing in water.
- Use a lot of small lidded containers from which a group of children can spoon paint onto their mixing trayswithout leaving traces of other colours in the containers.