Shirley Huller White

Grade 9-12: Art Education

This lesson was developed in association with art educator Lotte Calnek.

All lessons presented here implement project and inquiry-based learning strategies, and meet or exceed Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework standards.

Artwork presented here may NOT be reproduced in any way.

Art Lesson/Unit: Grade Levels 9-12

Complementary & Split Complementary Colors: Post Impressionist Painting Techniques

Enduring Understandings:

  • Artists often use complementary and split complementary color combinations to create harmonious or sharp color contrasts within a work of art.
  • Complementary colors are located directly across one another on the color wheel.
  • Split complementary colors are the two colors adjacent to a complementary color on the color wheel.
  • Post Impressionist artists often painted with vibrant brush strokes, exaggerated and brilliant color, or pure, flat color, and heavy outlines – conveying emotional responses to natural landscapes.

Essential Questions:

  • How may the use of a color wheel help you understand complementary and split complementary color theory?
  • Why may you select certain complementary and split complementary colors that create harmonious or sharp contrasts within your work of art?
  • How will you create a painting inspired by the concepts and techniques of Post Impressionist artists?

Exemplars and Inspirations:

This lesson is inspired by examples of Post Impressionist and contemporary landscape paintings.

Materials and Techniques:

  • High quality, black & white photographic references of landscapes: focus on shape, value, and composition
  • Color wheels created by students in previous lesson
  • Primed canvas or heavy-weight paper for painting
  • Gesso if heavy-weight paper is used
  • Acrylic paint and a variety of paint brushes
  • Palettes, paper towels or paint rags, water cups
  • Graphite drawing pencils and erasers
  • Drawing from reference and imaginative drawing techniques


  • Students may choose to interpret black & white photographic reference in a naturalistic or abstract painting style