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July Is Color Theory Month!

July 26, 2015 | By Rachel Zink

You know that yellow and blue make green. Red and blue make purple. Yellow and red make orange.

But do you know about complementary colors? Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors? Analogous colors? Color families? Warm and cool colors?

Many of us learned the very basic elements of color theory in elementary school, but the finer details have escaped us in our, ahem, more “mature” years. That’s why, during Printmaking + Color Theory Month, Arts For Life teachers have been concentrating on a variety of lessons designed to truly impress upon students the very important role color has in artistic composition. For example, in this Complementary Color Names lesson, students learn how complementary color pairs (which point to each other on the color wheel) make each other pop when placed together. And in this Overlapping Glassware lesson, they explore the brilliant effects of layering color.

Five-year-old Uriah has really been putting his color theory skills to work this July.

Uriah, who comes to Duke Children’s Hospital for a multi-day stretch of medication a few times a year, loves visiting the art table, meeting new friends, and getting to explore different artistic mediums—though painting is his favorite. With his big personality, silliness, amazing laugh, and inventive storytelling, Uriah brings contagious joy to all those around him.

Uriah is pictured above with Arts For Life Durham intern Beril as they work together on a watercolor sunset painting. Durham Program Director Mary Margaret Fulk, who was observing during this lesson, recalls the moment:

Uriah's Animal FriendsBeril kept reminding Uriah (as he was layering the colors on top of one another) which colors make new colors. She was trying to get him to use warm colors for the safari sunset…but he just couldn’t resist the blues and greens.

I told him, “Uriah, sometimes we have to be careful how we choose colors, because we don’t need to mix them all. Because when we mix them all we get…”

Before I could finish he replied, “YEAH, I know. You get BROWN.”

And then he proceeded to mix them anyway, because he’s five!

Uriah stayed true to his artistic process in this case, forgoing a traditional warm-colored sunset for an analogous one with yellows, greens, and blues. Along the way, he learned some pretty complex color theory. This interaction between student and teacher exemplifies two of the cornerstones of Arts For Life’s teaching philosophy: honoring process over product and seizing the “teachable moments” as a way to encourage love of learning.

The result of this particular lesson is not only evident in the finished piece, but also in the pride Uriah exudes when he talks about it. After stepping back from his finished sunset painting, which he calls “Animal Friends,” he said, “WOAH! This is my best YET!”