Teaching Painting: Blue and Orange

Student painting in cool blue and orange

Student painting in cool blue and orange

After teaching my middle school students color theory and skill with using a brush I ask them to accomplish three projects each using one of the complimentary sets. This is the second one I am sharing with you. There are two projects that the students choose from. Each one is based on a palette created from the complimentary set of blue and orange. While the orange is not obvious when looking at the picture, it is essential for achieving the large range of neutral and muted tones that both of these pictures are based upon.

Materials: We use tempera paint and acrylic medium, bristle brushes, 10-well plastic palettes, and canvas paper or canvas pads. Usually for students at this stage, which I consider more advanced, I use the manufactured orange tempera rather than requiring them to make their own. It saves time and assures consistency when such a large amount of orange is going to be needed. Additionally, when there are at least two students doing the same project at the same time, I encourage one to use the turquoise tempera as their blue and the other to use the blue tempera. It is fascinating to see the variations that are available by using the two “blues.” Both are beautiful palettes.

Student painting in warm blue and orange

Student painting in warm blue and orange

All of the complimentary sets allow them to maintain color harmony while creating both warm and cool hues, bright and muted hues, and light and dark hues. In this case the orange is warm and the blue is cool.

Step One—Prepare the Palette. The student puts out blue paint in three of the wells. In the first one they mix in a small amount of orange. In the next one they increase the amount of orange. In the last one they again increase the amount of orange. This last mixture should result in a pure, true black.

Leave two empty wells, and place orange in the next three wells. In the first mix in a very small amount of blue. Increase the amount in the second and even more in the last one which should end up a dark, rich brown.

Put white paint in the four remaining wells. Select some of each of the blue mixtures to mix into three of the white wells to create tints of blues and various tints of grey. Usually, only one well is needed for a tint of one of the orange mixtures.

The student can use the pure blue and white as well if they feel the need. Sometimes, I gave the student a second white plastic palette to continue mixing and expanding their palette. Use “Press and Seal” plastic wrap over the palettes to keep the paint from drying out between painting sessions.

Step Two — Paint the Painting. I remind the student to start in the background so that they are naturally overlapping as they come forward.

I have previously worked these projects up to give them something to look at as they are painting. Very often they come back to me after painting and comment about how they actually saw in nature what the project had required of them.

These projects give them the opportunity to use the brush strokes that they learned in previous exercises. By the time they finish the last of the three complimentary paintings, their brushstrokes have become quite intuitive. Additionally, each of the three projects require them to constantly make decisions about applying the hues based on light and dark, warm and cool, and bright and muted.

It is my expectation that after teaching these very basic painting skills they will go on to adapt what they have learned to their own creative projects.

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