An Annotated Art Lesson

MountOlive COLOR2
What’s “Wrong” with this Color?

Some of us, as children, were denied coloring books. Now coloring, especially for adults, is a big trend. Here is a fun art lesson that also might (vicariously) make up for our own lost youth while also imparting valuable art skills and knowledge.

In the case of this lesson with 5th graders from Mount Olive Elementary school in Fort Mitchell, Alabama, we thought “coloring” would be just the thing to help these students learn a few basics of color theory.


They were to learn about a very few things: warm colors, cool colors and complementary colors. Of course, along the way, we had to mention primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors and color mixing, but those were just the results of setting up some “teachable moments,” and not the main objectives.

We introduced Pop Art through Andy Warhol’s 10 Marilyns silkscreen print that he created in 1967.

10 Marilyns

While Warhol did his own combinations, not adhering to our parameters (after all, how was he to know?), his piece is a wonderful example of how color can energize any image.

Students had four choices: a Tiger (school mascot), a Moorish tile design (multicultural), President Barack Obama (contemporary Pop icon), or a blank set of squares (that all-important anti-coloring voice) where they could create their own designs.

We used watercolor pencils, to which we applied small amounts of water toward the end of the lesson. That allowed some lovely variety of intensity of color a well as differing line quality.

For a school that has never had any focused art program, it was impressive how much the teachers and students already did know, and it was fun to see them immediately embrace the concepts and materials.

I should add that all this was possible due to an Arts in Education grant from the Alabama State Department of Education. At a time when we shake our heads at over-testing and lack of funding for the arts, here was an opening in the clouds where the sun definitely shined in.

How do we measure this sunshine? By one student asking one simple question: “Are you coming back tomorrow?” And by one teacher (a realist) asking another simple question: “Are you coming back next year?”

MountOlive Collage