What’s your favorite color? Blue. Green. Yellow. Pink. Purple. Red. These are typical responses. But have you ever heard anyone respond that brown is their favorite color? Probably not.
UICS – St. Mark Center’s recent art project might have you looking at the color brown in a different light……
“We did a one week color study about the color brown,” Brianne (Bri) Pegg, UICS-St. Mark Center Arts Coordinator explained. “This is where we give students a limited palette of colors to explore.”
Color studies help artists explore light, form, and mood by playing with a single color and testing different arrangements of that color.
“We learned about the primary colors and how they mix to make beautiful shades of brown, like cinnamon, umber, and sienna.” said Bri.
She also explained that teachers often intentionally encourage children to paint, draw, and color in bright vibrant color palettes. This often takes away from neutral hues like brown and black and can inadvertently send mixed messages about the beauty of those colors.
“No one intentionally asks their children to mix all the colors to make brown,” said Bri. “Early education teachers often arrange paint colors specifically in paint trays to avoid the child immediately blending all the colors, resulting in shades of brown”
As the students were exploring the different hues of brown paint, they also learned that the color represented all of their skin tones to some degree.
“I intentionally had the children paint with their hands to see the shades of brown represented on their own skin.”
In addition to this fun sensory art experience, students were able to recognize different hues of brown and how this color comprised all of them to varying degrees.
Bri described, “This project allowed us to pause and reflect on the color brown, and then celebrate it!”
“At first, a few students made requests for colors like pink, purple, green, and so on, but then they quickly forgot about those colors to explore brown and how the different tints resembled them and their friends. A few students tried to help their friends find their closest shade of brown by testing and mixing paint on their hands.”
She heard, “This is too light for me and this is too dark. This color looks like you.”
Bri explained it’s not actually the kids who have a problem with incorporating the color brown on their paint palettes. From her experience, she’s observed adults raise more questions about adding this hue to the traditional brighter colors by saying things like, “This is not the color we want to use or the grass should be green not brown.”
These statements, while well-intentioned, could lead to the children internalizing that the color brown, like their own unique skin tones, is bad and a color to avoid.
This project offered an introduction to the diversity that exists and is beautifully manifested through our own skin. At UICS, we want our little learners to be proud of their work and who they are.
Many friends participated in the brown color study and painted the large masterpiece that hangs in UICS-St. Mark Center’s hallway.
Bri said, “The piece is so big, because I wanted the children to layer the shades of brown.”
“Creating art on the ground is very calming for young students. And painting typically uses fine motor skills, and I wanted them to experience using their gross motor skills. We don’t often get to experience paint in a big way like this. It was a great way to use art to engage their bodies and it was FUN!”
At UICS, we know the arts are transformative. They can teach us everything from color composition to diversity celebration. Every day, our little learners are developing appreciation for what makes us US! Our goal is to support mindfulness and inclusion for our students, including the lesson that “brown is beautiful”.
Here are a few additional resources for young learners that explain color psychology and how we can embrace all of our skin color differences: