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Exploring Color Mixing is STEAM Education

How do you learn how to mix color? By dipping your brush in different paints over and over. Why should we teach students to mix colors? This is the beginning of STEAM for students: they practice the Engineering Design Cycle when they learn to mix colors: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve (which means repeat).

Students in Katie Kelly’s class at Olive Elementary School in Novato practiced color mixing while making paintings of sculptures they had already created. The students are working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman through our Arts Unite Us (AUU) program. Through AUU, YIA is the only provider of arts education programming to many students experiencing disabilities in Marin County.

It was fun to look at the black and white sculptures and transform them into vibrant, colorful paintings. We made beautiful secondary colors and learned that if we mixed everything together, we ended up with a muddy brown!

Color mixing is something you can only learn by doing. We practiced the basics –  red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow make green, and red and blue make purple. But through experimentation we learned that we could make myriad shades of oranges, greens and purples by adjusting how much red, yellow, or blue we used.

Students looked carefully at the shapes they had used in their sculptures and repeated them in their paintings. On some, the shapes were quite clear, while on others, the shapes were hiding under more freeform lines.

At the end of class we put our work together and talked about what connections we could see in the shapes, colors and lines that we used. It was interesting to see that even though we used the same paint, the way we made our marks was unique.

Painting Sculptures and Exploring Color

TK Students at Short Elementary School spent a lively morning painting their shape sculptures with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman and teacher Maggie Dawes.

During the previous week, the young artists practiced naming their shapes and building sculptures out of circles, squares, rectangles and triangles cut from foam core. When the sculptures were dry, they chose two primary colors to investigate what would happen when they mixed them.

There were “oohs” and “ahhs” around the room as students discovered red and blue make purple and blue and yellow make green. Using flat brushes, students worked hard to get paint in all the corners to cover everything.

As the sculptures dried, we talked about how many different purples and greens we saw. The lesson provided good opportunities for reflection and for looking at art through a math problem: blue + yellow = ?

For students who did not attend preschool, it was the first time they had ever painted. Large brushes with long handles created good opportunities for fine motor skills practice. The children who were absent will use the third primary combination next week, combining red and yellow to make orange.