Start with the primary colors and learn how to layer watercolor paints to create the secondary colors.

Painting with primary colors….

The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow.  With those colors, and black and white, an artist can create all the colors of their imagination. It’s exciting to move beyond the colors that come as part of the paint “set.”  Knowing how to create original colors will give your young artists tons of options and add lots of interest to their artwork.

This exercise involves painting layers of translucent watercolors to create new colors, as opposed to mixing wet paint, then painting. This technique is called glazing.  Glazing involves layering colors of watercolor over previously painted, and dry, watercolor.  Because the layers are translucent the colors visually mix together and create a new color. It’s a great watercolor technique for your kids to know and will allow them to add depth and interest to their artwork!

Watercolor supplies…

The supplies for this watercolor painting are pretty basic.  You’ll need watercolor paints, of course!  The set pictured is a Prima pastel watercolor set. Any basic watercolor set will have the colors you need for this exercise.  For larger classroom student use I recommend Crayola student watercolors! 

Paper makes all the difference when painting with watercolors.  Lightweight copy paper is not likely to hold up to watercolor.  Student grade watercolor paper is slightly more expensive but will give your young artist that real watercolor experience.  I like this bulk package of 120 sheets of student grade watercolor paper.  They’re small and perfect for exercises like this! If watercolor paper isn’t available try card stock or something of that weight.

Your students will also need a soft brush and access to clean water!

blue watercolor circles

Glazing with watercolors….

Choose a single primary color to begin your painting with.  I chose blue. Paint a series of simple shapes, maybe just circles or blobs. Encourage your young artists to play around with the intensity of the color by adding more or less water.

The ideas here is to experiment with the layering of colors and the creation of new colors.  There will be plenty of time later for painting more realistic forms. Encourage your kiddos to keep it simple here so they can focus on making new colors!

Paint multiple circles or shapes.  Although mine are shown in a row- this isn’t necessary.  Paint a number of circles anywhere on the paper.  They can be large or small, extend off the paper, or even overlap.

Because glazing involves layering different colors of dry paint this color mixing exercise does require a bit of wait time between layers. After painting the first color of shapes- take a break and come back when the paint is dry!

red and blue watercolor circles overlap to create purple

Layering colors with watercolors….

The process I’m showing you involves layering colors on top of a previous color that’s already dry.  Watercolors are translucent so the two colors layered will produce a third color, in this case a secondary color.

Encourage your students to use a light touch.  Although the previous layer of watercolors is dry it can still be muddied if a scrubbing action is taken with the brush.  This exercise is a great time to practice holding that brush lightly!

I chose to use blue as my second primary color.  Notice that the blue shapes overlap the red shapes, but not completely. That leaves room for the third primary color (yellow) to be added into the glazing process.  After the blue paint is dry repeat the same process with yellow paint, overlapping all three colors in some places.

Do you want to paint alongside me…

Follow along in the video above. As I paint you can too!  Sometimes seeing is the best way to teach and learn!

mixing red yellow and blue watercolors to create secondary colors

More color mixing ideas….

If your student is ready for some basic color theory check out this free one page printable about the relationship between the colors! 

And this color mixing chart will inspire your kiddo to move beyond mixing primary and secondary colors with room for dozens of colors!

Painters tape and tempera provide the backbone for this fun exercise in mixing secondary colors!

primary color watercolors dots make secondary colors by glazing

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The Artists and the Elements is a year long art curriculum designed to connect the elements of art, art history, and fun, hands on art projects!