Exploring Color Theory Dads for Creativity

Exploring Color Theory: Tips from Artist and Animator, Samantha Olschan


If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you twice – my eldest loves to draw. I’m sure I’m not alone in having a child who appears unable to resist the need to express their understanding for our world through paper and pencil. Recently he’s begun to experiment with color, and so I thought it wise to seek the advice from transmedia artist Samantha Olschan, who’s worked across broadcast design, animation, compositing, and time-based visualization for television and film.

In the 3 Question Interview below, Samantha shares her insight into exploring color theory, as well as offering some ideas on how parents can heighten a child’s ability to better observe the world around them by noticing color – after all it’s all about creating and making, and every little helps!


 See Also: Drawing tips from artist and illustrator, Bill Dougal


What’s the big deal about color?

Color is incredibly powerful and plays a significant role in our visual experiences (whether we acknowledge it or not). Color has been known to increase memory, engagement, and participation, but also informs and attracts us. Think about your favorite piece of art, or your favorite brand’s logo, a favorite t-shirt or team jersey, the color of a loved ones eyes- the colors of these objects likely carry significant psychological and/or emotional attachment. Color is also incredibly complex and its implied meaning varies from person-to-person depending on culture, time, geography.

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 In what ways can young children benefit from exploring color

Color and shape are the building blocks for so many things your child will learn. By exploring color, children can begin to build practices that will help with communication and creative problem solving skills. From observation, to differentiation, to sorting to listening skills. Color also offers abstract thinking skills and can help children understand more complex (things) like perceived emotion, tone and mood. This is especially true when you ask young children about artwork (both their own and the work of other artists) The real head fake comes when you and/or your child realize just how much you can learn about and through color- color is math (color measurement in mixing & sequencing), color is chemistry (the evolution of pigments & color mixing), color is visualized cultures (history and humanities) color is art & design (art history, art making, designed objects, theater, performance, gaming, lighting, interactive experiences)- but most importantly, color is a fun and expressive tool.

I can’t remember my eldest’s age, but I made a note of what he said each item was. You can see clearly that even at an early age he useed color to distinguish between shapes.


How might parents and educators facilitate young children exploring color at home or in the classroom?

There are so many ways that you can use color and teach color, but I urge children (and adults) to constantly play with color and take “creative breaks” often. Something as simple as going to a local paint or hardware store for paint swatches can be adapted into a fun game of “color swatch memory” (just take home swatches, cut, flip, and play!) or “name that color” (i love guessing what colors are named before actually reading their names!)

Right now, I’m obsessed with the Nameless Paint Kit (http://www.viralnova.com/nameless-paint/) which completely eliminates the need for color naming. What we call Green is simply Yellow dot + Blue dot. It’s a great way for children, art students and adults, alike, to learn about color.

Nameless Paint Kit, is a great tool to introduce your child to mixing and making colors

With winter approaching, painting on snow with water color or diluted food coloring is a great way to take art and color outdoors and out of context.

Sequencing color on construction paper garlands to learn numbers, color and pattern. Using multi colored 8×11 construction paper, cut 2 inch strips. Link the strips together in a long chain and have your child repeat this sequence with color. This is a great activity that can also be adapted using everyday object like crayons, or small toys, or cutout shapes of construction paper to help with sorting skills with color and shape. 

iSpy- a classic game that can use color to help children learn to differentiate and observe their environment. For older children you can adapt this into “photo safari” (using a digital camera or phone) or scavenger hunt (collecting colored objects along a journey). Simply create a list that outlines what colors and shapes they are expected to find and see how they creatively solve the problem!

Art history color games- create an experience or game at a museum or looking at pictures of famous art. Ask your child to identify pieces of art that they like, and ask them what colors they see, or how the colors make them feel. Have them investigate how these colors are similar or different (For example: Rothko’s red vc Coca Cola Red, Yves Klein Blue vs Vermeer’s Blue, Klimt’s Gold vs Tutamkamen’s Mask Gold. ) Its a great way to introduce how color is used to communicate ideas and even more abstract concepts in storytelling, art and branding.

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Helping with Homework: Turkeys, Art & Creativity with My Son


Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for a multitude of reasons; family, dinner plans, travel, traffic, and family all contribute to The Holiday Headaches. However, nothing is more challenging than being an oversized turkey in your underwear just trying to hide from becoming Thanksgiving dinner.

This was just the challenge that was leveled from Mrs. Lefebvre to her first grade class, and was sent home as a “family homework” assignment [helping with homework!].   My son, Logan, came home on a Thursday and explained to me that we had to come up with a disguise for his paper cutout of Tom The Turkey to help save him from becoming dinner. He further explained that last year all of the first grade students had turned his or her turkey into SpongeBob or Spiderman, and that he had to come up with an idea to help “hide” his turkey.

SEE ALSO: 3 Question Interview with Science Wiz, Marc Balanda

As we sat down to discuss options, his first idea was to copy the first two ideas that had already been mentioned in the teacher’s homework handout. I challenged him and told him that these ideas have already been taken, and that he would have to come up with his own. He sat for a while and only repeated designs that were discussed in class.

I asked him to think about things that he and I like to do, something that he finds interesting, and told him that he would find his inspiration there (of course it took some time to explain the concept of inspiration!).

Then the light bulb went on…Logan stated, “we are going to make a cowboy costume for Tom!”

Logan began by describing what this costume should look like, and on his artistic command, I cut out a pair of cowboy boots, a vest, and a hat. He watched me spray paint one boot and then took over and finished the rest under careful watch. Using masking tape, we planned where the sky would meet the grass, and again shared in the spray-painting duties.

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Once the background dried, Logan’s inspiration really kicked in:
 He told me that the cowboy would need to be roasting a marshmallow and that we would need to build him a fire. He ran outside to get some sticks and rocks and together we glued them in a circle. He placed the stick in Tom’s hand and ran to get a cotton ball to complete his masterpiece. I was patient as he placed and replaced his rocks, glued his fingers together, and thought about how he could add more. Soon Tom was clothed and looking well disguised.

In my work as an associate principal, I have the privilege of observing some of the most impactful art teachers in the profession. During a recent observation I watched a teacher challenge her students to tell her “What is Art?”


I took a moment to start this conversation with Logan and asked him, to tell me what he thinks art is. He told me that it is “beautiful” and “colorful” and sometimes it is “expensive.” I explained that art sometimes has deeper meaning, and that ordinary things, like a rock, can stand for something else, like the number of kids in your class.   I told him it was like a secret meaning and he gets to be the creator…pretty heavy stuff for a 6 year-old!   Then he jumped up. He told me that we “needed 17 stars, one for each kid in my class and a crescent moon that would watch over all the stars, that would be Mrs. Lefebvre.”

I think the final product is proof that our art homework was a success, but like art well done there was a deeper meaning to this experience.

The project took patience, listening, and finding new ways to communicate with my son. In the end, I’m not sure who inspired whom, but I know I was reminded of some very important lessons that will be helpful in art and life.

  • First – Anyone can be an artist. It does not take a masters’ degree in the arts to create meaning and share ideas.
  • Second – It takes patience to allow your little artist to make a mess, take risks, and test theories (and some acetone to remove the glue from the countertop). It took reflection and creativity on dad’s part to incorporate lessons I have learned from talented teachers to help inspire my son. It took courage to test those lessons on my 6 year-old and hope that he would understand.
  • Third – Being fully present and disconnected from the interruptions of the digital world truly helped bring out the creative process. It allowed me to enjoy each moment with my son as we worked on this “family homework” As a result, he has created a project with his dad that he is overwhelmingly proud of, and is excited to share with his classmates.
  • More importantly, he brought the picture to class on Monday and asked Mrs. Lefebvre when he would get the next “family homework” assignment. I have to admit, I can’t wait to see what “we” can do next!


Article by Dr. Jason Tracy

Jason Tracy is an associate principal at Amity Regional High School.  He has served as a school counselor and conducted research focused in the areas of social-emotional development, self-concept, and school climate.  He spends his free time engaged in fostering the academic, social, and athletic development of his two young sons.

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Science Ideas for Kids

Science for Kids: 3 Question Interview with Science Wiz, Marc Balanda


A few weekends back I went to a kid’s birthday party. It was a family friend and I was looking forward to it in the same way I look forward to all kid parties, though I confess I wasn’t expecting anything different or out the norm – but then out walked a Wacky Scientist. I didn’t recognize him at first, but on closer expectation I realized it was the Dad of the Birthday Boy.

Marc Balanda, who recently became principal of Brookfield High School in CT, started his career as a General Science and Biology teacher, thanks to him he says his son has a genetic predisposition to scientific concepts, so he decided to tap into his old skills and put on an awesome birthday party. After seeing things explode, expand, and change color, I figured we need a DadsforCreativity 3 Question Interview on how parents can better promote science for kids.

See Also: Daddy! I need more Input

Why do young kids love Science?

Kids are inherently curious about everything around them; they are always looking for answers to their questions. Children always  ask “why” and in some cases adults don’t know how to answer. If it is a question about the natural world and the behavior of the things in it, Science gives them what they are so desperately seeking, an answer. That only spawns more questions, that lead to unanswered questions, and hopefully more investigation. It is hard for me to understand why adults don’t like Science more, it gives us something we are looking for, answers!

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In what ways can parents engage young children in Science?

It really doesn’t take much to peak a child’s interest in the natural and physical world.  In many cases it doesn’t cost a thing.  Engaging kids in talk about what you know, or if you are risky what you might not know, gets them to ask questions, hypothesize, and test solutions.  Celery (w/leaves), food coloring, and water.  You can have a conversation about how plants “drink”.  Potato slices, salt, and water.  You can have a conversation about osmosis.  At bathtime, put a crumpled tissue in the bottom of a cup, flip it over, and submerge with a steady hand.  Ask your child, what happens to the tissue?  Slowly take it out of the water to reveal a dry tissue.  Ask why that happened.  Instant air pressure lesson!  There are tons of links to at home science on the Internet.  The more you show them, the more they want you to show them and do themselves.  

I have failed in my attempts to make a Volcano. I need help! Looking forward to trying this one.
I have failed in my attempts to make a Volcano. I need help! Looking forward to trying this one.

Ok – this question is for me. How do I make something explode like a volcano – I’m talking really REALLY big!

It really depends on the concentration of hydrogen peroxide solution you have available to you.  It will work with the usual brown bottle at your house but on a smaller scale.  I went to a beauty supply store and got 40-volume hair developer which is roughly 12% H2O2  compared to the 3% in the brown bottle.  The empty bottle has the hydrogen peroxide, food coloring (for effect), and dish soap (to increase bubbles made).  Putting the yeast into hot water “activates” them (they are living organisms) and when they go into the hydrogen peroxide solution, then the magic happens.  The yeast acts as a catalyst (speeds up a reaction) that causes the hydrogen peroxide to rapidly lose an oxygen molecule.  That molecule quickly rises through the dish soap (like blowing a bubble). Combine thousands of those reactions in a split second and you create the “volcano”.  Interestingly, the decomposition of the oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide means a chemical bond is broken and the energy has to go somewhere.  In this case, it is heat, which is why this is considered an exothermic reaction!  Be careful with the hydrogen peroxide…it is a chemical that you don’t want to get on your hands or in your eyes.

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Moviemaking with Children: Making things Disappear (The Conjurer)

Lucas likes to perform. He occasionally likes to perform magic tricks, which consist of ‘Daddy, look at this ball… I’m going to make it disappear… Now close your eyes… close your eyes… close your eyes… now open your eyes! As you can imagine the ball has ‘magically’ disappeared. This trick was very cute at first, though I had to watch out for any breakable items that might suffer when the OBJECT ‘magically’ disappeared. Recently I made the decision to burst his bubble and challenge him to make something ‘really’ disappear using the magic of film.

This can be achieved a lot easier than you may think, using a mobile device to replicate the effects used in an 1899 film called ‘The Conjurer’, Moviemaking with Children has never been easier.

This black and white movie applies a simple effect to achieve the illusion that a person has magically disappeared and then reappeared in a different location. Most of the marvel is in the performance and while it was highly innovative at the time, the same effect can be quickly accomplished using something like the iMovie app. All that is needed is a trick, performance, and a simple cut and delete in post-production. As you’ll quickly discover, keeping the camera still is an important component, so a mini tripod like the Joby is advisable, and once you get the creative juices flowing you’ll quickly generate alternative variations to the magic, and might even develop comfort to experiment with some of the special effects available in your moviemaking app.


Here’s our final version, which consists of two magic tricks, a slight tint filter to make it look old, and an upbeat jiggle.

Below is the ‘How to Video’ accompanied with a screen shot of the iMovie app for first time users. This is a great activity to open up endless possibilities for moviemaking with children.

It’s all extremely simple, and the variations are endless. So engage those creative thinking and get making! A competition in in the pipeline so get practicing now.


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