U1LA3.3 Color Palettes & Design

What are our best practices for working with color?

Overview && Teacher Feedback

In this learning activity students add color to the drawing they made in activity 1. They learn to apply the background, fill, and stroke functions (used in scales of gray until now), to define colors and add transparency. Both the RGB (Red, green, blue) and HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness) color models are applied.
Students apply the programming concepts they learned in the previous unit (variables, randomness) to color manipulation, defining color ranges and palettes.
This lesson is primarily about color use and does not introduce any new color concepts. If you feel your students have a strong art or design background, you can safely skip most of this lesson; but it’s a helpful time to nurture creativity and encourage students to make meaningful decisions about their art.
It’s okay if you are not art-confident here! There are tools to help with color, students just need to be aware that colors play a HUGE role in design.
For the Do-Now:
  • Recommended group size, ~4 students. You could do this in pairs, but it is not suggested to have a group larger than 4.
  • If you have students who wear glasses, ask them to take them off for this activity!
  • After students finish, allow them to share their findings. As the teacher, take notes about findings and facilitate common themes in their findings.
Curious students might want to look into Brutalism - its purposefully disconcerting design, but even it adheres to color palette rules!


Students will be able to:
Students will understand how to pick a color palette and use color wisely.

Suggested Duration

~1 period (45 minutes)

NYS Standards

9-12.CT.4 Implement a program using a combination of student-defined and third-party functions to organize the computation.
9-12.DL.1 Type proficiently on a keyboard.
9-12.DL.2 Communicate and work collaboratively with others using digital tools to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

Blueprint Foundations Student Outcomes

  • Describe how I might use patterns to express an idea.
  • Explain why using patterns is necessary when creating with a computer.


  • Color palette - in the digital world, refers to the full range of colors that can be displayed on a device screen or other interface
  • Primary Color - any of a group of colors from which all other colors can be obtained by mixing.
  • Secondary Color - a color resulting from the mixing of two primary colors.
  • Accent Color - are colors that are used for emphasis in a color scheme.
  • Complementary Colors - colors directly opposite each other in the color spectrum, such as red and green or blue and orange, that when combined in the right proportions, produce white light.
  • Analogous Colors - groups of three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, sharing a common color, with one being the dominant color, which tends to be a primary or secondary color, and a tertiary. Red, orange, and red-orange are examples.

Planning Notes

Planning Notes
Materials Needed
This lesson can be optional if your students have a solid arts background and already have an understanding of color.
The only new topics in this lesson are related to design and application of prior topics.
You don’t need to print or make anything, but you might want to have some websites or art handy that your students would respond well to.


Some Fine Art: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 (For reference: Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo, Kehinde Willey, Olafur Eliasson, Mondrian, Amy Sherald, Jean-Michel Basquiat)


Formative Assessment: Colorize a Past Project
Summative Assessment: End of Unit Project (Abstract Album Art)

Do Now/Warm Up (5 min)

Give each group of students an art piece from the resources above.
Ask them to:
  • Identify the 3-5 major color groups present in the image. (Ex; there might be a lot of BLUES or a lot of GOLDs. They don’t need to list light gold, dark gold, etc unless it’s a monochromatic piece.)
  • Decide which color appears the MOST and which appears the LEAST.
  • Is there anything else you notice about the colors in regards to hue and saturation?
You're looking for these answers (or will help guide students toward this thinking):
  • Few pieces use EVERY color available Most have a tone - muted, bright, etc.
  • If they use something outside the tone, it is minimal and used to draw attention.
  • Most have one predominant color and maybe some supporting colors.
You might want to ask questions like:
  • Where does your eye go?
  • What is the most interesting part of the image, based on color? Why is this interesting?

Color Palettes

Review what students just went over. It may be useful to pull up a website or two that have a definite color scheme (Youtube, Buzzfeed, etc) and demonstrate that these concepts are applied not just to fine art, but also to design.
Explain that as students begin using color in their work, they will need to start considering how to use color. Color can create mood, and it should also be used sparingly otherwise it will look like a headache.
Introduce Adobe Color Picker and briefly show students some of the different color options. (Located on the left) The RGB values are shown beneath each color, and palettes can be clicked/dragged customized.
After the introduction, students need an opportunity to practice and play. Students will pick a past project (something they designed in either LA1 or LA2), to go back and colorize using an Adobe Color Picker Palette.
Students can work alone on whatever project they most want to colorize. Discourage students from starting a fresh design, as the time it takes them to get the shapes placed where they want will probably take way too long.
Students should pick a color palette from the Adobe Color Picker and try to limit themselves to using ONLY these colors. They should try to be mindful of what colors they are using more and less than others.

Wrap Up

Give students the opportunity to share their work!
During the class period, circulate and prepare several students to share. They should put their projects on the board and share a struggle and a success from the project.
Prompt the class to aid in the struggle and celebrate the success, and as a teacher, simply facilitate.
If/When you collect this project, you may want students to answer questions like:
  1. 1.
    Describe your color palette.
  2. 2.
    Explain the mood or feeling associated with this color palette.
  3. 3.
    What color did you primarily use? What colors did you use sparingly? Why?


Students should attempt to incorporate variables that control color but remain within their palette if they finish early.