Brightening up and toning down

The picture with the brightened up opaque paints provides a stronger contrast to the viewer than the forest picture with its toned down colors! The owl and the cat to craft amplify this teaching unit and enable the students to relate to the topic actually.

Further material for this article.

Brightening up and toning down

The picture with the brightened up opaque paints provides a stronger contrast to the viewer than the forest picture with its toned down colors! The owl and the cat to craft amplify this teaching unit and enable the students to relate to the topic actually.

'Teachers' information

When working with an opaque paintbox, toning down a color with black paint or brightening it up with opaque white extends your possibilities significantly. For one, our examples deal with the topic of toning down colors and with the background design of an owls' habitat. On the other hand, brightening up a color means to underline the experimental nature by using paints with plastic wrap. Supplementary, this teaching unit includes crafting instructions for an owl made of cardboard that can be painted with toned down colors and, contrary to the owl, for a cardboard cat that you can have your students paint with brightened up colors.

Information on primary colors

The 12 color wheel serves as a basis for our observation. In the color wheel, all colors are arranged in a circle. This simple depiction will help to gain a basic understanding, despite the numerous other colors there are. The opaque paints are mixed with either black or white paint. In doing so, it is important to use the mixing compartments of the paintbox, as particularly the colors black and white can easily dirty the paints. When mixing paints, it is therefore important to use separate mixing compartments.

The schematic depiction of the 12 color wheel shows that when secondary colors are mixed with opaque white, they gradually brighten up, whereas the colors mixed with black become darker towards the center.

Material for the teaching unit "Brightening up and toning down"

This is what you need:

  • Paint box K12
  • Paint brushes with long and short bristles, sizes 10, 12
  • Fresh water
  • Sketch block
  • Glue, scissors
  • 2 paper rolls (e. g. from toilet paper)

All download materials at a glance:

  • Wings for the owl.

Toning down

It's as easy as this:

By adding black, the children are supposed to get a feeling for how the single colors gradually change. Here, the primary colors provide the perfect opportunity, as they are the foundation for all further secondary colors. The mixing compartments on the inside of the lid make it possible to mix paints in a clean way. You will need three different compartments for each color: In the first comes the original color, the third bowl is for the black paint (when brightening up, respectively white) and the middle section is for mixing the two colors together to gain a new shade.

The three toned down primary colors magenta red, cyan blue and yellow at a glance. After adding black, you can clearly see how the colors change. The middle row shows, that only few drops are necessary to tone down the original color.

Using three different pots makes it possible for children to create a wide range of colors without dirtying the paints in the paintbox in the long run.

Free mixing

Toning down the colors in the paintbox is especially sensible when getting started, however, it limits the amount of fun. The reason is that this form of mixing develops a uniform color. A different color effect can be made by mixing freely on the sketch block. Only two mixing pots are needed here. In one, you add the original color and in the other the black paint.

Rinse your paintbrush in clear water before stirring the paint. Before you actually start to paint, dip the paintbrush into the black pot first. Then, while applying the paint, it will compose an amazing effect. First, it will look as if it were one color. However, when continuing to paint, both paints will mix on the paper and the paint on the paintbrush will change with every stroke.

Left: Uniform color that was mixed in the mixing pot. In an additional pot, black was added | Right: Mixed paint that was applied with a paintbrush and mixed on a sheet of paper (free mixing)

When painting with several colors, fill the original colors into one mixing pot each. In an additional pot, black is added. Now, in turns, dip your paintbrush into the corresponding color of paint as well as into the pot of black paint. This way, the colors blend on the paper and thereby gain a more vivid appearance.

The background of the picture with the owl was made this way, too.

All background colors were composed by the method of free mixing.

Brightening up/Creating a vivid impression using plastic wrap

It's as easy as this:

When brightening up a color, the mixing order of the single colors is reversed comparing to when toning them down. First you fill the opaque white into a mixing pot. Only then the original color is added. When toning down a color, already one drop of black paint can intensively change the shade of the color. However, in contrast, you will need a lot of opaque white to brighten a color up. The following two pictures were brightened up using two different methods. The overall appearance of the top picture is rather expressionless. In this picture, the colors were applied with a paintbrush and mixed with opaque paint directly on the sheet of paper (free mixing). Color spots were created by carefully sprinkling the paint onto the paper with the paintbrush. The vivid impression of the second picture was made by covering the applied paint with plastic wrap and carefully "rubbing" it in. The special effect of the picture is made here due to its experimental nature.

In both pictures the colors used were brightened up with opaque white. However, by using plastic wrap, an even more vivid effect can be created.

Brightening up/Working with a template

The sample picture below shows how to create a mountain landscape by merely brightening up the colors. To begin with, a shade of blue must be mixed in the lid of the paintbox in different bright levels. Please mind working in the correct order, using the opaque white first and then the original color. Tear a piece a paper through lengthwise; it will serve as a template. Position this template on the paper in steps by 6cm and paint the uncovered area beneath the paper strip in different bright shades. Start on the lower end of the paper using the most vibrant color. The landscape ends in the lightest color. For the sky, use a sponge to dot the brightened up opaque paint onto the picture.

The clear effect of a mountain range will come out by gradually brightening up the single colors when applying them. To emphasize the effect, our picture received a black ornamental mat.

In the following sample picture, all colors were brightened up using opaque white. As shown in our example, using only brightened up colors in a picture will give the scenery a Mediterranean flair that will remind you of holiday season. The colors look so appetizing you want to take a bite of them!

The holiday flair in this picture is made by using brightened up colors only.

Building the owl together

As a supplementary and in order to create a haptic relation to this teaching unit for the students, we would like to propose you two animals as crafting ideas. They are easy to make and can be painted in brightened up and toned down colors afterwards. The owl is made of two toilet paper rolls and two eyes that are glued on. For the wings, which are made of a second paper roll, we alternatively offer you a template to download.

The body

  1. Push in the paper roll on one side, a little more than a thumb wide.
  2. As shown in the drawing, make an approx. 2.5 cm deep slanted cut into each of the upper edges.
  3. This way, you will get two middle parts that you bend to the inside.
  4. Now, paint the front half of the body with opaque paints that are supposed to be toned down.
Push the upper edges of the paper roll together, and cut them in. The right picture shows how the created lashes are supposed to be bent to the inside.

The wings

  1. Cut the second roll through lengthwise.
  2. Trim the roll to 6 cm in height.
  3. Now round off the two top corners.
  4. Apply glue onto the gray area (see drawing) and glue it onto the middle on the backside of the owl's body.
  5. Now paint the backside of the body and the outer parts of the wings with toned down colors.
  6. Alternatively, you can use our download template "wings".
Apply glue onto the grey area and glue it onto the backside of the owl. Then paint the owl.

The eyes

  1. Cut the remaining paper roll into two slices of the size of about a 1 € coin.
  2. Draw the pupils and the outlines of the eyes with a black marker.
  3. Glue the eyes on. Due to the slight rounding of the cardboard, the eyes will fit onto the body well.
  4. As a last step, draw the beak of the owl on.

The cat

The cat is made of only one paper roll. The ears and the neck are cut in and folded as explained in the instructions for the owl.

The body

  1. Make an approx. 2.5 cm deep slanted cut on both sides of the roll (see drawing of owl body) and fold the long sides inwards to the center.
  2. The cat should be painted in brightened up colors. Any colors may be used, provided it was brightened up with opaque white. The free mixing technique also might suit as a working method here, as it might create a surprising color effect.
  3. When the paints are dry, trace the outlines of the eyes, the whiskers and the mouth with a fineliner.
  4. Now paint the eyes in a brightened up shade of green to give them a glowing appearance. If you like, decorate the nose and the tip of the ears with a small dot of brightened up red (pink will emerge).
  5. Finally, tie a ribbon made of red bast fiber around the cat's neck. Affix it with a drop of glue to the body of the cat.

Hint: The cat is a perfect gift for special occasions.


Download template

The owl is easy to make with cardboard rolls. Alternatively, the owl's wings can be made using our download template that offers you three different kinds of wings to make. However, it might be best if you print them out onto a piece of colored paper. This way, the wings will fit the owl better, later on.

Download template "Wings" for the crafting idea "owl".