Color Theory Portrait: Acrylic Painting Lesson - High School Visual Art

Color Theory Portrait: Acrylic Painting Lesson - High School Visual Art

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So your painting students have learned basic shading techniques and a little about color schemes, but haven't applied those skills to a final project. What you are looking for is a bright, challenging but achievable project for those students to conquer. This color theory acrylic portrait is the solution and will lead to striking results.

Why students will love it:

Teens will love it because the lesson breaks the portrait down into sections making it easier for them to apply shading skills. It essentially shuts off the right side of the brain allowing students to see shapes and lines instead of symbols of a face.

Why teachers will love it:

It builds your student confidence and results in bright and visually interesting portraits to display. With step-by-step instructions, a full timeline, and lesson plan it will be easy to teach. It is a perfect bridge to more advanced acrylic painting.


  • 5 Page lesson plan (Word & PDF) with National standards, big ideas, objectives, final outcomes, resource links, and a detailed timeline with process notes
  • 30 Page PowerPoint Presentation (pptx & PDF)
  • Tints & Shades Worksheet
  • Student Checklist
  • Student Self-Evaluation
  • Classroom Critique Worksheet


  • Acrylic Paint in a variety of colors (minimum of red, yellow, blue, white and black.) It’s best to have 2 of each of the red, yellow and blue each with a bias toward the opposite secondary color.
  • Acrylic Paint brushes, synthetic bristles in a variety of sizes.
  • Water cups
  • Small pieces of canvas for value scales
  • Canvas, cut 1 inch larger than size of printed portrait or stretched canvas to exact size
  • Pencils/erasers and drawing paper
  • Hard surface to tape canvas
  • Blue masking tape
  • Ruler: A graphic ruler works best. They are clear and lined so that the students can see through them to create a grid. This is the kind that I use:
  • o Westcott Transparent Pica Rule
  • o The inches are in the center. Use the lines to create a grid.

Key Learning:

  • To create a portrait using acrylic paint.
  • To understand color theory, tints, and shades.
  • Learn to identify value shifts in a photograph and replicate them in paint
  • To create a portrait using acrylic paint.



Light reflected off objects is color. Color has three main characteristics:

Hue - or its name (example red, green, blue, etc.)

Value - how light or dark it is

Intensity - how bright or dull it is­­­­­

Complementary Colors: Colors across from each other on the color wheel. Red/Green, Yellow/Violet, Blue/Orange.

Analogous Colors: Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. When combined they tend to look good together.

Primary Colors: The colors from which all other colors are created, in pigment they are Red, Yellow and Blue.

Secondary Colors: Are the colors that are achieved by mixing the primary colors. Green, Orange and Violet

Intermediate Colors: Are the colors that are achieved by mixing Secondary Colors.

Line: An Element of Art. It is literally the extension of a dot. However, when the line intersects itself, it becomes a shape.

Warm & Cool Colors: Warm colors are the colors of the sun, Yellow, Orange and Red. Cool colors are the colors of water and grass, Blues and Greens.

Shape: A closed line. Shapes can be geometric, like squares and rectangles, or organic, like free-formed shapes or natural shapes. Shapes are flat and can express length and width.

Form: Three-dimensional shapes, expressing length, width, depth. Balls, Cylinders and Boxes are examples of forms.


The individual elements that work together to create harmony in a piece of art. When it is achieved the artwork feels and looks finished. Unity can be achieved through the use of any element of art.


Contrast is the arrangement of opposite elements (light vs. dark colors, rough vs. smooth textures, large vs. small shapes, etc.) in a piece so as to create visual interest, excitement, and drama. Variety is an assortment of lines, shapes, colors and other elements of art that create interest in a piece of artwork.


Repeated use of a shape, color, or other art element or design in a work can help unify different parts into a whole. Patterns are planned or random repetitions of elements which help to create rhythm and unity in a piece of art. Patterns can be created with almost any element of art and often include multiple elements.




This was the first time I did a monochromatic portrait with my introductory art class at a high school level and I was able to help them figure out how to do this type of project with her visual examples and powerpoint. It was a great resource!"

- Art Teacher Shares


"I love other products of yours that I've purchased and have found them user friendly for even a math teacher like me!"

- Nimmy Thomas

National Visual Arts Anchor Standards:


  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work

National Visual Arts Standards:

Grades 9-12, VA: Cr1.1.HSI Use multiple approaches to begin creative endeavors.

Grades 9-12, VA: Cr2.1.HSII: Through experimentation, practice, and persistence, demonstrate acquisition of skills and knowledge in a chosen art form.

Grades 9-12, VA: Cn10.1.HSI: Document the process of developing ideas from early stages to fully elaborated ideas.

Grades 9-12, VA: Re9.1.HSIII: Construct evaluations of a work of art or collection of works based on differing sets of criteria.

You may also like:

 Introduction to Acrylic Painting

 Art Full Year Painting Curriculum: Watercolor & Acrylic

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