Striking Studies in Art

An hour of peaceful artistry awaited a group of Class 7 students as they picked up aprons from a bin outside the art studio and ambled into the cozy space. Their teacher, Marianne Brand, was busy setting up the supplies for the day’s lesson, an immersive exploration of color in all its brilliance.

On each table she placed a rainbow of acrylic paints and a selection of brushes, while her class filled cups with water and brought out their works-in-progress. During an earlier meeting, the students had drawn side-by-side images in pencil. Some used stencils to make geometric patterns. Others sketched free-hand. Their twin designs would form the foundation for the next step.

To begin, Ms. Brand introduced these young artists to the interconnected concepts of contrasting and monochromatic color schemes, explaining that contrasting colors are opposite hues while monochromatic ones represent variations of the same color. She also noted that every color has a specific value, which refers to its relationship between light and dark. (White and lighter colors are assigned higher values; black and darker ones have lower values).

Fortified with this knowledge, the students now had the chance to tell their own color stories. With Ms. Brand’s help, they squirted blobs of paint on their work surfaces and used little spatulas to mix the various portions together. Only when they were satisfied with a particularly enhanced color did they swirl their brushes in and start to paint.

For the next 30 minutes, a quiet calm descended on the sixth-floor studio as the students set aside any outside distractions to give in to their imaginations. Choosing from bottles of yellow, purple, dark-blue, pink, green, orange and more, they experimented with myriad combinations, carefully applying paint to their drawings in vibrant strokes.

Ms. Brand, who teaches Middle and Upper School Art, observed each student’s evolving work, offering guidance and encouragement. “See how pretty that looks with the red shining through,” she remarked to one. “You should try the grey tones. They’re really beautiful,” she said to a second. She reminded the class not to add white on top of other colors because “it will look muddy.” Instead, she instructed them to put a bit of white on the side and mix in a tiny amount at a time. Ms. Brand also stressed that smaller brushes are best for achieving a more polished look, especially in areas with intricate details.

The students passed paints and brushes to one another, praising their classmates’ efforts and helping to problem solve. When one student accidentally used the same color on both sides of the paper, a student nearby suggested a solution. Mindful of waste, others shared excess paint they no longer needed. They chatted and laughed while executing their striking color studies.

As their paintings took shape, it was clear that each seventh grader interpreted this assignment in a unique way. One illuminated half the piece with colors in the purple, pink and lavender families, with the other half featuring eye-catching teal, navy, black and grey. Another juxtaposed her cool pastel tones with pops of electric yellow, rich blue, and vivid orange. “I like this side of mine better because it matches,” remarked a third about her nearly complete abstract piece.

With 10 minutes left, Ms. Brand announced it was time to clean up, setting off a flurry of activity. The students stored their work on a drying rack, helped wipe the tables, returned the paints and brushes to a cabinet, and, of course, washed their hands. When the art room was tidy, she invited them to draw in their art notebooks for the remainder of class.

When time was up, Ms. Brand sent this energized group on their way. “Okay, Class 7, you can go now!” she exclaimed. “Don’t forget to put your aprons away.” During their next class, these Middle School students will complete their color comparisons and get ready for more enriching experiences in Middle School Art.