Mixing colours

Children learn to appreciate subtle colour differences by mixing colours and painting with them. They learn how to make colours lighter or darker and, through painting, what combinations give interesting or useful effects. Colour mixing exercises can be organised informally as part of a painting class. With increasing experience, children will learn to analyse colours from observation and will be able to distinguish and mix more subtle colours.

The colour wheel is useful for studying colour. The order of the colours corresponds to the order of colours in the rainbow. The relationships between the colours can be seen when they are placed in a circle, from which general rules about mixing and painting with colours can be developed. The children will be interested to learn about the colour wheel, but an over-theoretical approach to colour should not replace ‘hands-on’ exploratory activities. Yellow, red and blue cannot be made by mixing other colour pigments, and are therefore known as primary colours. Mixed in suitable combinations, however, they can produce all the other colours.

A minimum number of colours that can combine to form a maximum number of colours is what is required for colour mixing and painting. Orange, green and violet are made by mixing adjacent primary colours, and they lie between them on the colour wheel. They are called secondary colours. When all three primaries are mixed together, they neutralise or dull one another, and, depending on the proportion of each primary used, produce neutral greys or browns. Colours are said to be warm or cool, depending on how much red or blue, respectively, they contain.