by Desiree Simpson, LiveArts Studio

In this project first and second year high school students, grades 9 through 12, will become familiar with color schemes and color composition. Through this project, students will understand color, color combinations and several of the compositional elements of design.

Teacher Introduction


Color and Composition is designed to teach high schools students about color and how color works compositionally. This project moves students from passive on-lookers to active participants; partakers in the creative process in the basic fundamentals of art. This project helps students see their world with greater acuity and understanding. 

The impetus for this project was sparked by years of teaching art in inner-city in-school art programs and after school programs. In most instances, students were unaware of color; how colors were mixed, or basic color theory. Over the years the fundaments of art have given way to creating craft projects. Many of the projects were often pre-prepared for students, whereby they only participated in assembly of objects. Rarely were higher-order thinking skills employed. In Color and Composition, student must execute, work-out, problem solve and think creatively, produce - and produce with a high level of proficiency.

As you facilitate this learning experience, you can draw on contemporary culture; examining how colors are used in ads, daily attire, how color affects marketing, the decision process that drives colors in our society, etc. These examples will pull students into the project with frames of reference that have resonance in their everyday lives.

You may also want to view, as well as review paintings and art works by various artists such as Archibald Motley, Robert Duncanson, Henry O. Tanner, Aaron Douglas, Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Betye Saar, and Romare Bearden, to name a few. Question students about their knowledge of these artists works in terms of the compositional elements and color schemes used. Learn what they know and don't know. Scaffold their existing information with new information, and grow new knowledge.

Once students complete this project they feel as though they have accomplished a great deal. Many feel more informed when they enter an art museum or gallery. Others look at images, and color used in society with greater sensibility and awareness, because color seems to resonate more deeply for them.

The exploration and discovery that this project brings will be an  experience that you and students will find enjoyable.

Extending the Lesson: Perhaps after the completion of the critique or project, take students on a field trip to a national museum or gallery so that they can experience volumes of works first-hand. Have students discuss the compositional elements viewed in several pieces on exhibit. Give students numerous experience in which to continue the dialogue and use of thier developing skills. Experiences such as these will only enrich thier growing knowledge.