This paint activity based on Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings is all about experimenting with color.
When van Gogh began painting he used dark colors. But when he moved to Paris and saw the colorful, light-filled paintings of the Impressionists, he began to lighten his palette (the paints he used). Some of his sunflower paintings were painted during this time, and they were experiments in using lighter colors.
Have fun mixing different colors with yellow. Think of your papers as pages from an art sketchbook, and label the mixtures. Make notes of what you like and what didn’t work.
In this post you’ll find:
- Supply list
- Step-by-step directions
- Helpful hints
- Clean-up tips
- 5 Variations and/or adaptations for different ages
- 6 Ways this activity aids children’s mental, physical, and social development
- Molly photo
Let’s get started!
- Sturdy paper
- Tempera paints work best for mixing
- Brushes in a variety of sizes
- White paper plate for mixing tempera paints
- Draw a big sunflower, or part of one in one part of the paper, leaving space for the color mixes
- Draw separate petals or boxes for trying the color mixes
Tempera Paint Experiments
- Pour several small puddles of yellow on your paper plate.
- Add just tiny drops of red to one yellow puddle, tiny drops of brown to another yellow puddle. Mix before adding any more of the darker color.
- If you want a lighter yellow, (a tint) pour a small puddle of white paint and add just a few drops of yellow. Mix.
- Label your color swatches with what you did.
- Paint your sunflower with the mixtures you like best.
- Use lots of paint and let your brush strokes show like van Gogh.
Hints for Tempera Paints
- Always add just a little of the darker color at a time to the lighter color and mix in between each addition. You may be surprised how little of the darker color is needed.
- Don’t wet your paper before painting.
- Tempera paints dry quickly, so if you want to blend different colors, you’ll need to work fairly quickly. Experiment.
- To create a textured center, use a small piece of sponge or round-tipped brush to paint the center of the sunflower. Go up and down with the brush or sponge.
- Don’t have any brown paint? No problem. Just mix a little yellow, red, and blue (the primaries) to create brown. Experiment with different amounts of the 3 colors to make different browns!
Clean up Hints:
- Be sure to put a plastic table cloth or large paper under your work
- Have lots of paper towels handy
- Have a wastebasket close for paper plates and paper towels
- A dish washing tub is great for gathering all supplies for washing
- Lay brushes flat on paper towels to dry so they keep their shape
5 Variations and/or adaptations for different ages:
- Some children may prefer to just paint swatches of their color mixtures all around their papers, without drawing boxes. Many artists do that as they experiment.
- Older children may really enjoy seeing how many different color mixtures they can create.
- Paint a sunflower on another paper and make it into a card or poster.
- Paint the background around your sunflower a bright blue.
- Children may want to experiment with mixing other colors, too.
6 Ways this activity aids children’s mental, physical, and social development
- This activity will give children lots of ways to experiment with color and show them why artists do these experiments to decide which mixtures best fits their projects.
- Children will also develop fine motor skills as they mix and paint.
- Discussing the colors they choose and why builds vocabulary and social skills.
- When children make choices in creating art, it enhances problem-solving skills, and helps them see that trying different colors and paints can be fun.
- Art gives children opportunities to explore their interests and talents.
- Making art enhances creativity and refreshes minds and eyes tired from screens.
- Palette—what we mix paints on—such as a paintbox cover or a paper or plastic plate
- Palette can also mean the colors that an artist uses for a painting. We might speak of a light palette for many Impressionists, but a darker palette for an artist like Rembrandt.
- Hue—an undiluted color
- Tint—a hue plus white
Before You Go
Molly and I would love to know if you enjoyed this art activity and any variations or other ideas you came up with!
If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpiece for your whole family!
Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages. Add link
Molly hopes you enjoy mixing color combinations and painting a large sunflower! We hope you’ll come back next time for the beginning of a new series on a great artist!
Molly thought you’d like the gold rabbit brush against the dark green cedars in this photo taken today.