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Tempera Painting, Lesson 2: Color Mixing


In this lesson, students will mix the three primary colors to create the three secondary colors. They will paint geometric and freeform shapes.  

Grade Level

Tempera Paint

  • Unit & Lessons

Materials and Tools

  • Tempera paint (red, yellow, and blue) 
  • Trays 
  • Water bowls 
  • 1” flat paintbrushes 
  • Paper towels 
  • 12 x 18” paper  
  • Plastic cups 
  • Table coverings 


Students will understand that: 

  • Mixing primary colors creates secondary colors. 
  • Freeform shapes are different from geometric shapes.  

​​Students will be able to: 

  • Create secondary colors by mixing primary colors. 
  • Paint a variety of freeform and geometric shapes.



Introduce: There are three colors on my tray today — red, yellow, and blue. These are called the primary colors. Do you know what makes the primary colors special? We can mix these colors to create the secondary colors — green, orange, and purple.   

Demonstrate: We are going to make shapes with our paintbrush. What shape should I paint? Students will suggest geometric shapes. Shapes that have names, like circle, square, and triangle, are called geometric shapes 

  • I’m going to start with blue. I’m going to dip my brush and get just a little bit of paint. Create a shape on your paper.  
  • Next, I want to add yellow. Should I just dip my brush in the yellow? No? Why not? We have to clean our brushes between each color. I can use the water that I have on my tray. 
  • Demonstrate cleaning the brush. Gently press both sides of the paint brush on the bottom of the water container and then pat dry on the towel. Be careful no not to splash the water on others’ paintings. 
  • Add yellow to your blue shape. What color do you see? Green! What do we think would happen if I add more yellow to this green? Would it get lighter or darker? Let’s try! I’ll clean my brush and then dip it in the yellow. Now let’s add it to my green…it became a lighter green! 
  • Next, let’s try and make orange. What two colors do you think make orange? Yes, yellow, and red. Let’s start with red. What is another geometric shape I can paint? Make a yellow shape on the paper then clean the brush. Now I’m going to dip my brush into the red and add it to the yellow. Let’s see what happens! It made orange! What does this orange remind you of? 
  • Let’s try to make one more secondary color — purple! This time, I am going to invent a new shape. When we create our own shapes, they are called freeform shapes. Paint a freeform red shape on your paper describing it as you make it. I think I’ll make it a spikey and curvy shape. Now let’s clean the brush and add some blue. What did it make? If it’s not quite purple, add a little more red, blue, or water to dilute it. 
  • Now it’s time for you to explore mixing colors and making shapes! How many different types of each secondary color can you mix? Try to fill your whole paper with shapes and colors! 

Work time

  •  During work time, students should be encouraged to:  
  • Create each of the secondary colors from the three primary colors.  
  • Create geometric and freeform shapes using different lines. 
  • Try different ratios of paint to create different values of the secondary colors. 

Clean Up   

  • It’s time to stop painting! Please put your paintbrushes on the tray. We will collect your paintings and give you a wipe to clean your hands. 
  • Ask a student to collect the brushes in a tall deli container or small bucket and bring them to the sink. If desired, instruct the students on how to carefully clean the brushes. 
  • The adults in the room should collect the paintings, while students stay seated. (Students sometimes hold the paintings upright, causing drips.) If you are planning a gallery walk reflection, leave the paintings on the tables until the reflection is done.  
  • Hand out baby wipes for students to clean their hands. 
  • Place the lids on the paint cups and carefully collect them.  
  • Decide in advance where the wet paintings will dry. Paintings can be placed on top of bookshelves, on the window sills and/or on an empty table. Use newspaper or newsprint to protect surfaces. 
  • Collect table coverings. 


Gather students in a circle on the rug, or around a table. Select 2-3 student artworks with a range of different secondary colors to discuss.  

  • What colors do you notice? How do you think the artist made that color? 
  • Ask students to reflect on their own process: what new colors did you make today? How did you make them?  
  • Did anyone make a color they have never seen before? How did you make it? What name would you give that color?  


Adaptations for Upper Grades 

  • Ask students to completely fill the page with varied shapes and colors.  
  • Give students individual palettes and teach them how to mix on a palette.  
  • Mix tertiary colors – red violet, blue violet, red orange, etc. 
  • After mixing colors, make a sketch of their painting, labeling each area with emotion words that describe the feeling of each color. 

Adaptations for Students with Disabilities 

  • Use adaptive paint brushes to support different grips. 
  • If the class is small, sit together with students at a table and paint side by side.  
  • During free painting time, provide individualized support and remodeling if necessary. 
  • This lesson can be broken down into 3 lessons with students mixing one secondary color per lesson if students need more time to explore color mixing.  

Adaptations for Multilingual Learners 

  • Create a word wall with the vocabulary words (in English and relevant languages). 
  • ​​Emphasize and repeat key vocabulary words.​ 
  • Invite students to teach the class the names of colors in their home language. 
  • Ask students: what does this color remind you of? What name would you give this color?  


​​Primary colors, secondary colors, geometric shape, freeform shape​ 


Wassily Kandinsky, Swinging