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Art teachers were STEAM-ing before STEAM was cool!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Optical Color Mixing With a Dollar Store Top

I love teaching art, but if I *had* to choose something else to teach, it would be science. Science and nature are just unlimited stimulation for a curious mind! Don't worry, I'm not changing my blog's focus! But the science of color kind of creeps in now and then in art and this time I decided to embrace it and surprise my students with a color theory lesson that was a bit, ahem, over the top (groan!)


When doing research on optical color mixing, I found a couple of neat mechanical devices used by scientists to test optical color mixing and immediately thought: TOPS! Could the simple tops I had on hand from the dollar store be used to make a version of Newton's Color Wheel (or Color Top) and teach the children about color mixing in art? Yep!

Pointillists such as George Seurat are frequently thought of when discussing optical color mixing, but many other artists use it too such as the Impressionists and modern artists such as Chuck Close and modern printing (such as in newspapers and magazines also use optical color mixing).

Here are some sites to get you started on your journey:

"Mixing in the Eye," From Drawing From Life by Fred Hatt
"Newton's Color Wheel," From The Department of Physics at Kenyon College
"Color Mixing Wheel-Sick Science," From Steve Spangler Science

I abolutely LOVE the article by Fred Hatt about color mixing in art! Talk about one-stop shopping in terms of info and images!

So, let's get started!

Optical Color Mixing With a Dollar Store Top

Supplies Needed:
  • Top (ours are from the dollar store and were packed two tops per package--what a deal!)
  • White card stock
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Tape, optionnal
  • Sharpies in Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and black
Directions to prepare the tops:

1. Measure the diameter of the top. Ours were about 2 1/2." Create a series of circles that are the diameter of your top on the white card stock. 

2. Use the pencil and the ruler to divide up the circles into quarters, sixths, rings, etc. using the images below or from the links I've provided. It's good to do a few serious experiments first and then leave a few of the circles blank to create some wild tops using your imagination.

3. Color in the circles with various color combos, experimenting with the colors of the rainbow, or a the primaries, or just black and white. Use nice, bold colored markers and do a nice job coloring the sections in (no streaky coloring).

4. Cut out the colored circles and use the hole punch to make a circle in the center to fit over the "handle" of the top. You can secure the paper piece to your top with a rolled bit of tape, if desired.

5. Spin your top and observe what happens.

Some variations to try:

Use the primaries (Red/Yellow/Blue) to make
Secondary colors (Orange/Green/Purple) from the Color Wheel
Now try this one: divide the circle in sixths, color and spin.
What happens? How is this different than if you mixed
all of these colors of paint together?
(Spoiler alert: Pure White Light is created--
see below in the "How does this work?" section).
This experiment also works with value--try different combos
of white and black and see of you can get different tints and shades.
And now have some fun! Try your own color combinations
and see how they turn out! Which of your creations are your
favorites? Which creations surprised you?
How does this work?

When the wheel spins, your eye cannot keep up with the individual colors on the top, so the colors appear to blend. That is how you can create different shades of gray or secondary colors from the primaries. However, when you use the colors of the rainbow something interesting occurs (spoiler alert!). Instead of mixing together and forming black (that's what would happen if you mixed all those colors of paint together on your palette), a pale gray occurs (it is supposed to be white). Pure white light will be created if all of the colors in a rainbow are visually mixed together in perfect balance. Pure white light is a hard thing to create but your color wheel top with six colors will come very close.

Have fun with your experiments!

1 comment:

  1. Great idea! I've been invited to teach basic color theory to a group of cub scouts, all former students of mine, and this could be a fun approach. Pinning! I like the idea that I don't need to use paint.

    ReplyDelete

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