Elements of Art: Color

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13496

What would art be like without color? Not very interesting at all! Colors are everywhere and in everything! In this lesson, you'll learn about this very important element of art!


Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

One of the most important elements of art is color!

  • What would art be without it?

Colors can help artists create all sorts of things in their artwork. Let's learn about this next element in our series!

There are many different kinds of colors. The most basic of all of the colors are primary colors. These include red, blue, and yellow.

Secondary colors come next! These include purple, green, and orange. Mixing certain primary colors together creates secondary colors.

  • red + blue = purple
  • yellow + red = orange
  • blue + yellow = green

Take a look at the chart below to see all the different colors and color combinations:

color combinations

Colors can also be categorized as warm, cool, and neutral.

Warm colors include orange, yellow, and red. These colors are called warm because they remind us of things that are warm in our world and environment, like the sun and fire. In fact, you can actually see these three colors in the sun and in fire! Neat!

fire flame

Cool colors include blue, green, and purple. These colors are associated with things that are cool and refreshing in our world and environment, like the ocean, water, ice, sky, nature, and more!

ocean and sky

Neutral colors include white, gray, brown, and black.

Black and white can actually be mixed with different colors to create different tints and shades of those colors. Tints are colors with white added to them, like pink. Pink is created by mixing red and white together. Pink is a tint of red.

Shades are colors with black mixed in with them, like navy blue. Navy blue is a shade of blue.

To learn more about color and color harmony, watch COLOR THEORY BASICS: Use the Color Wheel & Color Harmonies to Choose Colors that Work Well Together from Sarah Renae Clark:

Image - Video

Artists use color in artwork for many reasons.

Sometimes, artists use specific colors to represent things in real life that they paint or draw. For example, an artist might use mostly cool colors to create a seascape.

You can see that in this painting by the famous artist Georges Seurat, titled "Port-en Bessin":

Entrance to the Harbor, 1888

Image by Georges Seurat, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

  • This would be a very different painting if the ocean were a warm color like red or orange, wouldn't it?

Definitely! It might even look a little bit scary and alarming!

The colors used in this painting represent what this artist was painting in real life, but it also gives the viewer a feeling of calmness and tranquility. This calm and tranquil feeling that the viewer might get from seeing this painting is partly because of the cool colors the artist chose to add.

Colors can represent many different things in art. Colors can change the meaning of a painting or artwork and even give the viewer clues about things like the weather, the time of day the artist is trying to show, and different environments and places in the world.

Colors can also affect the perception and the feelings of the viewer. Take a look at the two abstract artworks below.

  • Which one makes you feel more energized and alert?

Image - Video

Warm colors often make people feel more energetic, alert, and awake! That's one reason the warm color red is used on emergency signs and stop signs while cooler colors, like blue, are not.

You learned a lot about color in this lesson. Now, move on to the Got It? section to test your knowledge and to see what you remember about this incredible element of art!

Image - Button Next

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.