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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Drawing for Kids: Tips from Artist and Illustrator, Bill Dougal


Lets talk about Drawing for Kids – Kids like to Draw! They start scribbling at around 18 months and don’t really care too much about the final product – the process of drawing and seeing marks appear on the page is enough for them to get hooked. Later most will begin to use shapes and color selection to represent objects and people. I still have some of Lucas’s early drawings, and you can see genuine attempts to represent characters from Thomas and Friends. I use the word ‘genuine attempt’ because often I would challenge him to draw a character, but sometimes our little ones might just be drawing at random, and only recognize meaning to their creation ‘after’ it appears in front of them. What I found is that it’s important to ask questions about their work and engage them in dialogue. ‘What’s this?’ or ‘Who do we know who is this color?’ are nice simple questions to get the conversation started with little ones.

See Also: 7 Easy Tips to Turn Kids Drawings into Movies

I can’t remember Lucas’s age, but I made a note of what he said each item was. You can see clearly that he uses color to distinguish between shapes.

I’ve been really interested in how drawing has played into Lucas’s creative development. His imagination regularly plays out on the page and one of his favorite activities continues to be making stories. My wife sometimes shows him YouTube videos of how to draw an animal and I have found some cool drawing apps from the Apple App Store. One of my favorites is the Mastermind Kit from OSMO, which combines technology with traditional drawing styles on paper. This is important as Lucas is not a fan of drawing on the iPad itself and likes the feel (or perhaps freedom) of a pencil and paper.

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Observing Lucas I feel there are two parallels in play – one is the creation of a story and the other is the development of drawing skills. Last month I pumped into Artist and Illustrator Bill Dougal, who has over thirty years of experience as a professional artist, specializing in Caricature Drawing and Advertising for children’s books. I asked Bill to provide some advice on how parents might better cultivate drawing skills in our little ones.

Why do you think most children like to draw? For example, my boy loves to act out stories on paper. I’ve introduced him to some great apps on the iPad, but he keeps coming back to the crayon.

“Making a mark” in the world may be a basic human desire. Perhaps it proves ones’s existence, and a quality of uniqueness. Young kids want to try things out. A child thinking, “ Let’s see if I can draw a circle.”, is like he or she thinking, “Let’s see if I can jump from the chair to the sofa.”

How does the act of drawing engage Creative Thinking Skills in children? More importantly, is there a way to expand upon these skills?

Once you draw a line, you have to think how the next one should be. Options include placement, size, shape, style etc.

Are their any drawing techniques or styles that you think parents can introduce to their children at an early age?

Picture making skills can be advanced if the child understands the process. Steps include; idea, planning drawing, assessment, chances, and finishing. This may be advanced for the very young. A simpler version is; Draw something, think how it can be better, then draw it again.

Tots can explore examples of variety. For instance, different kinds of lines, i.e. scribbly, jaggedy, dashed etc. They could also try different kinds of compositions, i.e. sparse, busy, or weighted to various areas of the paper.

You can learn more about Bill’s website on his website dougalart.com/education

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Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.

Paper and Crayons: 7 ways to go from drawing to interactive storytelling

My boy has always enjoyed drawing, give him some crayons, paper, scissors, and a stapler, and he’ll happily work independently to produce his latest adventure book. However, this month I’ve noticed a subtle change in his use of these tools. Rather than making books to express his imagination, he’s started to play games. Like his book designs, he starts by drawing something that he’s recently been exposed to or learn about in school. (This morning it was about Hermit Crabs, though I don’t really know what these are or where they came from). After he’s drawn and colored his characters, he cuts them out and uses them as props or puppets in his play. He then takes another piece of paper (or multiple pieces of paper) and draws the setting for his game. Today it was London, but other times it’s a different continent world depending on whether it’s set on earth or in space. Once all the pieces are assembled together, he embarks on a massive interactive story experience, and it’s really wondrous to watch.

This morning the Hermit Crabs, and their separate shells, went to visit my mom in London, he felt the need to call her via FaceTime so that she could join in the game – which she happily did, and with her help he added, modified, and erased (or scribbled over) items from his paper to keep up with the evolving story. I’ve also noticed that the drawings appear more simple and less time is spent then when he typically draws – perhaps this is because of the speed in which the characters change.

Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.
Notice the sun and the weather clouds. They were drawn at different points in the evolving story.

Interestingly enough he rejected my offer to help improve the design of his paper puppets by trying to attach a stick – obviously he’s content and I should know better and not interfere with his setup.

Anyway, this has got me thinking about ways one might cultivate this type of interactive experience with paper crayons, so I’ve reflected on his journey and shared my theory on how this activity evolved from simply drawing. Below are seven things that I think have played a part in his ability to generate and interact with the stories that he create – feel free to let me know if I’m missing anymore!

  1. Read, Read, Read! There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence about how important it is to read to your children. We started reading to Lucas when he was three months, and buy nine months it was certainly a well established routine. He now absolutely loves books, but more importantly the stories that are locked up inside. I’m working on his younger brother now, but confess I’ve started a little late – yep second child syndrome here we come!
  2. Expose your children to different topics. See it as a library of ideas that they can draw upon in their games and drawings. Try and show picture of videos via the Internet. If he or she is talking about snakes – show videos and pictures of snakes.
  3. Find a supply of cheep paper and crayons and don’t get too setemental – you cannot keep EVERY thing they produce when it’s in mass quantity like Lucas – who needs a plain piece of paper for every new game. Scrap paper does not suffice.
  4. Made a conscious effort to integrate paper and crayons into his play when out in public – I’m saying this because I am a conscious effort to avoid becoming over reliant on the iPad*.
  5. Early on we asked questions about his drawings, and praised the detail of his imagination as opposed to focusing on his drawing skills. Though we also played some drawing tutorials on YouTube, which he seemed to like.
  6. I’ve discussed with him the idea that most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. I accompany this with an effort to avoid bringing the game or story to an abrupt end because it’s bath time. Instead I suggest that you try and give advanced warning when they need to rap it up and if this isn’t working sit down with them and help facilitate it’s conclusion.
  7. Finally, be sure to sit down and challenge them to share the creation. This is important because part of storytelling, it ‘telling’ the story. They need an audience, which is why I think he wanted to call my mom this morning, as both myself, and the wife were busy getting ready for work.


One of Lucas’s first paintings. Notice how the colors represent different engines from Thomas the Tank Engine.

I think there’s a lot more to this story and I’m really loving the concept of an interactive story generated with paper and crayons, but unfortunately my train has arrived at the station and so I must depart.

*We’re going through so much paper so recently I’ve actually tried to encourage him to draw on the iPad, but he’s not having it!

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