Saturday, July 20, 2013

Complex Color Wheel 2013

Complex Color Wheel, Art 1

This is a very cool project to introduce basic color theory to Art 1 students. I love this assignment because it has simple color mixing but it also looks pretty awesome when the design is complete. Painting in the black background in particular really makes these color wheels POP!   ^ - ^

The concept of this project is to use the primary colors to mix and create all the other colors of the color wheel. Students must also create a value scale of tints going in toward the center of the color wheel. Pure colors are on the outside edge. By gradually adding white the colors get lighter in tone as they move toward the center.


  1. Square Painting Paper
  2. Paper plate ( To trace circle on paper)
  3. Ruler (To find the center of circle and divide the sections)
  4. Protractor (To divide the circle into 12 sections)
  5. Printer paper (for tracing design onto circle)
  6. Tempera paint (Black, red, blue, yellow, and white)
  7. Palette of some form.
  8. Variety of paint brush sizes
  9. Plastic cup for water
  10. Paper towels


  1. Take the square painting paper and use the paper plate to trace a circle in the middle.
  2. Use the ruler to find the middle of the circle. This step is very important for the rest of the process to work correctly. Make sure your students take their time with this part. If they are having trouble getting things to line up later in the process it's possible they didn't center their design in the beginning.
  3. Use the ruler to draw a line through the middle to divide the circle in half.
  4. Next, use the protractor to divide the circle into twelve 30 degree sections.
  5. Then take the printer paper and trace one of those 30 degree sections. Use the section you traced as a template to brainstorm sketches. 
  6. Now it's time to come up with your design! Use the printer paper template. When drawing your design you can just do sort of random lines that divide the section into 6 smaller sections. Your lines should go from side to side never top to bottom. 
  7. Once the student has their design drawn out then they use the template to trace their design over and over into each of the 12 sections to create the complete circular pattern. Note that every time the students trace into one sections, they will have to flip the paper over to trace in the next section.
  8. Once the entire design is drawn out in pencil, the student will use their paint to begin mixing colors and painting in their designs. The goal is to create all of the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the outside edge of the design and then as the colors go towards the center of the circle, the students add white to create a gradual tint of the outside color.
  9. The last step is to take black paint and paint all of the background. I find that the colors all pop and stand out more when you add the black background.
  10. Now stand back and let everyone take in the complexities of your awesome complex color wheel.
If you want to see pictures of the same project from the year before then click the link below :)

Student Examples


  1. When you say "printer paper," do you mean ordinary white copy paper or carbon paper? Not sure how to get the pattern onto the project. With carbon paper, it could transfer. With ordinary copy paper, we could cut out and trace the design (like cutting out a snowflake pattern). I'm working with 9-12 yo's.

    1. I mean normal copy paper that you put in your printer.

      Transferring is easy. All you do is draw your design on one side of the paper then flip it over and put it up on a window so that you can see through the paper with the light shining through. Then redraw your design on the other side of the paper so that it's exactly the same on both sides. Next, when lay your design on top of your color wheel paper you trace over you lines and press down. When you lift up your paper because of the graphite on both sides it will have transfer to your color wheel paper.

      I hope that actually makes sense. Let me know if it doesn't.