Complementary Color Experiments

Complementary Color Experiments lesson plan

Discover complementary colors! Then see how your brain can trick your eye into seeing images.

  • 1.

    Experiment 1--Complementary colors. Have you ever mixed primary colors—red, blue, and yellow—to make secondary colors (green, purple, and orange)? Try it with Crayola Dry-Erase Markers on an individual white board. Work quickly for best results!

  • 2.

    After you have mixed secondary colors, erase your experiments. Draw your own color wheel. Figure out how to place the primary and secondary colors in their correct order! Look at a color wheel to verify your placement.

  • 3.

    Colors that appear directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors (red/green, yellow/purple, and blue/orange). What sports teams or other groups use complementary colors in their logos? Why do these colors "pop" when you look at them?

  • 4.

    Together, read a book such as Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle. The concept of complementary color is fascinating at any age!

  • 5.

    Experiment 2--Optical illusion. With a red dry-erase marker, draw a small heart in a corner of a white board. Place a black dot in the center of the remaining white space.

  • 6.

    Stare at the center of the red heart while you slowly count to 10. Then shift your gaze to the black dot. Do you see a green heart floating in the white space? Try this experiment with several other colors and simple images. How can you explain this colo


  • Students experiment with color mixing and differentiate between primary and secondary colors.
  • Students use their observational skills in visual experiments with complementary colors.
  • Students gain an understanding of the interrelationships of art, science, and storytelling through their reading of Hello, Red Fox.


  • Create a color wheel with a compass, ruler, and paint on white paper.
  • Illustrate an original story in Eric Carle’s graphic style.
  • Young children or students with learning differences might benefit from engaging in these experiments in several short sessions. Introduce Hello, Red Fox first and then learn about the color wheel.
  • Invite a science teacher or other expert to explain how the brain creates the illusion of an image in a complementary color.
  • Assessment: Note the neatness and accuracy of individual color wheels. Ask students to turn in reflective writing describing what they learned and how they felt about it. Or ask students to demonstrate the concept for their families and bring in a note fr