Teaching Painting: Red and Green

Student project painted with complimentary colors of red and green

Student project painted with complimentary colors of red and green

For the last several posts I have been sharing how I teach my middle school students to build a palette around the complimentary sets (yellow/violet, blue/orange, and today red/green). The advantage of doing this is to assure that they will have a good range of harmonious tertiaries allowing them to achieve the impression of depth with color.

The above image is one of the two choices the students choose from to create a red and green palette. While the green is not obvious when looking at the picture, it is essential for achieving the black background and the beautiful range of muted reds which allows the bright hues to really stand out.

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 green tempera rather than requiring them to make their own. It saves time and assures consistency,

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

Step One—Prepare the Palette. The student puts red paint in three of the wells. In the first one they mix in a small amount of green. In the next one they increase the amount of green. In the last one they again increase the amount of green. This last mixture should result in a very dark blood red.

Leave two empty wells, and place green in the next two wells. In the first mix in a small amount of red. Increase the amount in the second one. The result should be very close to a black.

Put white paint in the four remaining wells. Select some of each of the red mixtures to mix into three of the white wells to create tints of the red hues. Usually, only one well is needed for a tint of the purer of the green mixtures for the center of the flower.

The student can use the pure red and white as well if they feel the need. Sometimes, I give 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 by painting the background so that the petals naturally overlap. They may have to go over the background a second time to get a deep enough black. This painting also works up most easily if, after the background is painted, the student picks out a petal of the poinsettia and paints it completely before moving to an adjacent petal. That allows for better blending with tempera paint.

This is a great project to practice using dark and muted colors to make some petals look like they are behind and using lighter and brighter colors to make other petals look like they are in front.

In my next post I want to share with you how I teach the students to effectively expand a complimentary palette.

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