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Students learn art history and paint a picture utilizing a color scheme in this color wheel lesson




4, 5, 6  

Title – Scheming with Colors
By – Randi Lynn Mrvos
Primary Subject – Art
Grade Level – 4-6

Objective: To practice using color schemes

Time: Approximately 1-2 hours.

Vocabulary: Monochromatic, analogous, complementary, split complementary, triadic, tetrad complementary

Picture of a color wheel, white construction paper; 12-set oil pastels (Junior Artist Set by Cray-Pas, about $2.00), 9″ x 12″ white drawing paper.

Color theory explains harmonious relationships between colors. The color wheel is a tool that helps us visualize these relationships. By using three colors adjacent to each other, colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, three colors equally spaced around the color wheel, or two pairs of colors opposite each other, harmonious color relationships are produced. In addition to showing relationships, the color wheel is used to show warm colors (red, yellow, orange) and cool colors (purple, blue, and green).

Monochromatic Scheme

The monochromatic scheme uses one color with black or white added to produce a range of values. This scheme is elegant and easy on the eyes.

Examples of monochromatic scheme paintings:
Marc Chagall, “Les Amants Sur Le Toit”
Pablo Picasso, “The Tragedy”

Analogous Scheme

The analogous scheme is composed of three “neighbor” colors, positioned next to each on the color wheel. One color dominates, while the other two enrich the composition.

Examples of analogous scheme paintings:
Vincent Van Gogh, “The Iris” 1889
Henri Rousseau, “The Snake Charmer”

Complementary Scheme

The complementary scheme is made of two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. This combination gives high-contrast, by using a warm color with a cool color.

Examples of complementary scheme paintings:
Gustave Caillebotte, “L’homme au balcon, boulevard Haussman”
Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Onions”


1. Have each student choose a color scheme.
2. Ask students to compose a picture using oil pastels and title their work.
3. Hang the pictures on the bulletin board. Ask the class to guess which color scheme was used.

For further discussion, explain split-complementary, triadic, and tetrad complementary schemes. Ask students to compose a picture using one of these schemes. Using a color wheel will be helpful.

Split-Complementary Scheme

The split complementary scheme, a variation of the complementary, uses three colors. It uses a color, plus the colors that are on either side of the original color’s complement. With this scheme you get an emphasis color, and two other colors, which contrast and complement it.
Triadic Scheme

The triadic scheme is made up of three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. This scheme produces a vibrant, balanced work by using warm and cool colors.

Tetrad Complementary (Double Complementary)

The tetrad color scheme uses two pairs of complementary colors. It is the hardest scheme to use, since it requires balancing all four colors.


“Color Wheel Pro: See Color Theory in Action! “,
< >, (1/3/03).

“Master Paintings — Color theory, schemes, forms or art”, (1/2/03).

“Sanford & A Lifetime of Color: Study Art”,

E-Mail Randi Lynn Mrvos !

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