The History of Color
In ancient times, scholars such as Plato and Aristotle talked about color. They suspected colors came from the elements, such as fire, air, water and earth. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci observed that yellow and blue formed green, yet nothing was done to validate these observations until Sir Isaac Newton came upon the scene.
Download this light color theory worksheet and the quiz on color theory in this article will further enrich your students’ knowledge of color application and help them in creating colorful masterpieces they can be proud of.
Fifth through Seventh
Students will be able to explain how a wide array of disciplines have impacted the study of color theory.
Students will be able to explain the difference between light color, pigment color and light.
Famous Colorists and Their Color Circles
Tell your students: Read about the evolution of color circles. Circle the misspelled words. Write the correct spelling on the lines below.
In 1660, Sir Isaac Nooton revealed the true nature of collor. He had a belief about color and he set out to prove his theory. By using a prism to refract sunlight, he discovered bright colors. He concluded that those colors were white light that was refracted into the colors of the spectrum. The spictrum colors were dark blue, light blue, green, yellow, red and purple.
In 1756, J. C. Le Blon discovered the primary nature of red, yellow and blue in pigment mixtures which artists use today. Like many inventions, it was thought to be impossible, but later became well approved throughout Europe.
Famous Colorists Timeline:
Assignment: Men from a variety of professions were interested in color theory. Develop a timeline in the space below to show the progression of the study of color theory and the professions. Write the name of the colorist and the date.
- J. C. Le Blon (Painter,1756) – wrote the first printed statement about the fundamental nature of red, yellow, and blue in pigment mixtures, which led to the ‘red, yellow and blue theory’.
- Moses Harris (Engraver,1766) – developed the first red, yellow, and blue color chart.
- Ignaz Schiffermuller (Artist, 1772) – developed the first illustrated color circle.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Artist, 1810) – created a color circle and a color triangle.
- M. E. Chevreul (Chemist, 1839) – endorsed the red, yellow and blue theory and was an important influence in the French painting schools of Impressionism.
- Charles Blanc (Art Critic, 1873) – created a color circle in the shape of a pointed star.
- Charles Hayter (Architect, 1826) – designed a color compendium (summary) of red, yellow, and blue
After him, a succession of others further developed and improved upon his theory. Nearly a hundred years later, Thomas Young, a physician, used six lamps containing the the colors Newton discovered. He observed that by changing or omitting light raays, those six colors could be reduced to three primary light colors (red, green, and dark blue). He added them together again and produced white light. He superimposed the six colors in pairs and produced three secondary light colors (yellow, purple and light blue).
A Little Art Talk
Unscramble the terms.
1. loorc eehwl ___________________
2. tuenlar ____________________
3. ynomrah ____________________
4. consedray loocr ___________________
5. roloc yroeht ____________________
1. Something you use on your hair _____________________
2. A light bulb is good for this ____________________
3. Your first choice ____________________
4. It has a pitch and vibration __________________
5. How much an item is worth ____________________
6. A gymnast needs this ____________________
7. Putting two or more things together ____________________
8. It works like a camera ____________________
9. Two or more people singing nicely ___________________
10. An ice skating style ____________________
Break it Down
See how many words you can make out of Harmonious (Color). You should find at least 12 words.
1. _________________ 2. _______________
3. _________________ 4. _______________
5. _________________ 6. _______________
7. _________________ 8. _______________
9. _________________ 10. _______________
11. ________________ 12. _______________
Answers to worksheet
- Timeline - 1756, 1766, 1772, 1810, 1826, 1839, 1873
- Proofreading - Newton, belief, sunlight, light, spectrum, yellow, rays, today
- A Little Art Talk (Unscramble) - color wheel, neutral, harmony, secondary color, color theory
- Riddle - brush, light, primary, tone, value, balance, composition, eye, harmony, free form
- Word Challenge - harm, arm, on, an, son, moo, or, mar, nor, an, sin, us; Note: Twelve words are a minimum number that is acceptable. Students may find more words, if they so choose.
Show What You Know
In addition to the information presented in the light color theory worksheet(s), some prior knowledge of color theory is presumed. The following quiz on color theory is designed to enrich your student’s knowledge of the concept.
Circle the correct letter in each statement.
1. What is color theory?
(a) an understanding of color problems
(b) an understanding of how colors mix and their visual impact
(c) an understanding of how to create harmonious color combinations
(d) all of the above.
2. What helps an artist visualize color relationships?
(a) mixing different pigments
(b) color wheels
(c) a good pair of glasses
3. Color wheels were once called:
(a) color spirals
(b) color blocks
(c) color circles
4. Ancient scholars believed colors came from nature and included the following elements:
(a) fire, air, water
(b) fire, air, earth
(c) fire, air, water, earth
5. The first scientist to reveal the true nature of color was:
(a) Sir Isaac Newton
(b) Leonardo da Vinci
6. Primary colors are:
(a) red, blue, orange
(b) red, blue, purple
(c) red, blue, yellow
7. Secondary colors are:
(a) green, yellow, red
(b) blue, red, yellow
(c) green, purple, orange
8. Intermediate colors are:
(a) blue-violet, red-orange
(b) blue-green, red-violet, yellow-orange
(c) (a) and (b)
9. The warm colors are:
(a) yellow, yellow-orange, orange
(b) red-orange, red, red-violet
(c) (a) and (b)
10. The cool colors are:
(a) yellow-green, green, blue-green
(b) blue, blue-violet, violet
(c) (a) and (b)
11. Warm colors in a picture:
(a) appear near
(b) appear far
(c) makes no difference to the eye
12. Cool colors in a picture:
(a) makes no difference to the eye
(b) appear far
(c) appear near
13. Color circles and color wheels are:
(a) different reference tools for color theory
(b) same reference tools for color
(c) not a reference tool for color theory
14. Artists paint with:
(a) light colors
(b) pigment colors
(c) nature colors
15. White light comes from
(a) the moon
(b) the sun
(c) the stars
16. A prism is
(a) a black form that colors whatever is viewed through it
(b) a transparent body that is used to deviate or disperse a beam of light
(c) a decorative piece of glass
True or False:
1. An understanding of color theory is only necessary for artists. ____________________
2. Pastel shades are made by mixing black with a color. ___________________
3. Color pigments come from natural substances such as minerals and earth. ____________________
4. Black and white pigments only come from manufactured materials. ___________________
5. To make a gray tone, it is easier to add a little white at a time to black. ___________________
6. Color circles have always been circular. ____________________
7. A contrasting color for red is orange. ______________________
8. When all three primaries are mixed together, you get the brightest color. ____________________
9. Colors can only be mixed on paper, palette, or some other surface. ___________________
10. Darker colors are weaker than lighter colors. ____________________
Answers to quiz
- Multiple Choice - 1) d 2) b 3) c 4) c 5) a 6) c 7) c 8) c 9) c 10) c 11) a 12) b 13) b 14) b 15) b 16) b
- True or False - 1. False (other professions study color theory), 2. False (white is mixed to make pastels, 3. True, 4. False (they come from nature ), 5. False (add a little black at a time to white), 6. False (they have been composed in a variety of shapes), 7. False (it is green), 8. False (you get a neutral gray or brown), 9. False (they can be mixed optically), 10. False (darker colors are stronger).
This light color theory worksheet and quiz is a good first start to help students gain further knowledge and confidence in their painting decisions and abilities. Further study would be beneficial by combining some art lessons with science so that students can get an understanding of how the various pigment colors are developed. In addition, combining art with social studies is a good way to help students understand how color affects the feelings and emotions of people. For example, it would be instructive if they understood why color consultants paint rooms in schools and hospitals a certain color. While they may notice that fire trucks are painted bright red, school buses are often painted bright yellow, and some fire hydrants are painted a bright red and yellow, these strong colors are not appropriate for most indoor areas, e.g., classrooms, operating rooms in hospitals, nurseries for babies, etc. In their discussions, they might come to realize on their own how certain colors can affect their feelings and emotions.
- Parramon, Jose M., The Book of Color, Watson-Guptill Pulications,New York, 1993.
- Ideas for worksheet and quiz were derived from the author’s experience as a teacher.
- Image: Crayons by Brookiepoo1024/Photobucket
- Birren, Faber, Principles of Color, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1987.
- Topal, Cathy Weisman, Children and Painting, Davis Publications, Inc., Worcester, Massachusetts, 1991.