This project for four to six year olds was all about colour-mixing.
The challenge: How many different colours can you mix, using only the primary colours – red, yellow and blue?
My concept was inspired by the grid-like compositions of Damien Hirst’s ubiquitous Spot Paintings (also known as the Pharmaceutical Paintings).
Hirst’s grids of coloured spots are produced by studio assistants working to his specific instructions. The spots are marked out and drawn on the canvas, and then household gloss paints are mixed to create hundreds of colours. No two colours are the same, even on Hirst’s largest canvases.
I gave each child an A3 sheet of 200 gsm white drawing paper with 24 circle outlines pre-drawn in pencil, a plastic paint palette with a squirt of each primary colour (shared between two), a small brush, and a jar of water on a paper towel for cleaning the brush between colours. My newly acquired paint palettes were ideal for this activity as they have 12 small compartments along one side, with just enough capacity to mix the quantity of colour required to paint a small circle.
I had half-expected that this project would result in a lot of grungy greys and browns, as experience has taught me that young children often end up mixing all the colours together, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! They all rose to the challenge, revelling in the discovery that they could create almost infinite colour variations!
The Big Colour Mixing Challenge was a big hit with my preschoolers. The session was punctuated by children calling out excitedly to each other, “Wow!”, “Look at this colour I mixed!”, “Do you like this one?”, “How did you make that colour?”…
The children already knew the basic combinations (blue + yellow = green, blue + red = purple, red + yellow = orange) but by the end of the 45 minute class they had figured out the recipes for all sorts of shades. At one point, everyone was trying to make the perfect ‘gold’, and were telling each other across the table “you need a little bit of yellow, some red, a touch of blue etc”.
Nearly everyone filled their entire grid of 24 spots, and some children even requested a second sheet of paper. I think the rows of coloured spots look quite beautiful in their own right, but I had bigger ambitions for these spot paintings, far beyond a lesson in colour theory…