Teaching Line and Color

Student 12

I’d like to share with you this sixth grade project that I’m featuring, but before I do, I think a little of my philosophy of art education is in order: I believe that my job as an art teacher is to teach my students to see the world not as objects with familiar names (rocks, trees, rivers, clouds, etc.) but rather as objects created from a combination of line, shape, value, form, texture, space, and color. I call this the Genesis approach to art, and suggest that it is the way that Adam first saw the world when given the task of naming the animals.

With sixth graders I focus on one of those seven visual elements at a time starting with LINE. After presenting the vocabulary of line, I challenge them to begin an abstract composition by placing one horizontal line on an 11 x 14 piece of card stock. The rule is that every line must begin and end on another line. Therefore, these first horizontal lines must begin on the edge of the format since the four edges are the first “lines” in the composition. I then encourage them to study the resulting two shapes and consider where they would like to add another three horizontal lines. Following the horizontal lines I tell them to place seven vertical lines any place in the composition as long as they start and stop on a line, but they can cross a line. We then go back and add another 3-5 horizontal lines before placing 11 right diagonals followed by 11 left diagonals, and finally 11 curved lines. They should end up with about 45 spaces that are no smaller than their thumb nor bigger than their fist.

This project has allowed the students to review and use the vocabulary of line while exploring the process of visualizing and designing compositions. It is also the beginning phase of a project that we come back to when I teach color theory.

After reviewing the basics of the Prang Theory of color mixing, I give the students red, blue, and yellow tempera paint and guide them through the process of actually mixing their own green, violet, and orange paint. They are amazed to see this process actually happen even though they have heard about it before. The students then paint two shapes on their linear abstracts with each of the six colors. Following that, with sixth graders, I have them make tints by adding a little of each color to white, and then they make shades by adding a little of the complimentary color to the three primaries and three secondaries. After painting shapes on the linear abstract with the tints and shades, I let them mix anything to finish painting the abstract. After it has dried, they go back over their lines with a black marker. The results are quite stunning, don’t you think?

When I’ve had more time and/or more experienced students I also explore color temperature and intensity with them, but the above exercise lays a good foundation for both line and color.

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