Saturday, August 27, 2011


I love color. I'd actually do to do this to my hair in a heartbeat, if I had enough length and knew how to get these brilliant colors (I mean, my white hair will take dye quite well, I'd think). And I love teaching color. But I want your thoughts on something.

I've noticed a lot of people on Pinterest who are pinning a video (here's the link: Roy G Biv) by the musical group They Might be Giants to use in their classrooms.

Truth is, I have trouble with the whole Roy G. Biv acronym. As I said, I love teaching color; it's probably my favorite thing as an art teacher. But hey, my color wheel doesn't have indigo on it. I don't have a bottle of paint that says "indigo" on the label. What the heck is indigo, anyhow?!
(this image is from the video)
In the video, the color pointed out as indigo (the second stripe from the bottom) looks like violet to me, and then the color they call violet (the bottom) looks like a blue-violet, actually almost ultramarine. (An aside here: there used to be a color of tempera paint in the Sax Versatemp line called "ultra blue" which was this type of blue, and mixed with magenta it made the most spectacular purples, but sadly it doesn't seem to exist any more.)

Anyhow, I tend to teach a traditional red/yellow/blue color theory, but then I tell the kids that there are different KINDS of reds and blues and you get such different results. I'll put out trays with red, yellow, blue, AND magenta (for a "substitute" red) and turquoise ("substitute" blue). I used to add the ultra blue as well. And then we mix away.

The kids discover they can make different violets and oranges if they substitute the magenta for the red, and they discover that if they mix them (red and magenta) together, they get a wonderful cherry color. We note that the turquoise makes a great green but a terrible purple, and then we discuss why (yellow in the turquoise). With ultra blue we used to discover a whole different range of violets. I show the kids that if they mix compliments, or all three primaries, or else just a random bunch of colors together, they might get all sorts of browns and grays. And we mix black and white and look at how much different the gray is from the one that we can get by mixing, for example, blue and orange.

So, cute as it is, no Roy G. Biv video for me. What are your thoughts on this?


  1. I am totally with you. I was just thinking (last week) about the Roy G. Biv concept as it relates (or doesn't) to the color wheel and a lot of the color theory I use in class. I was wondering how it all got started in art classes?

  2. I don't teach Roy G Biv either, because why would we throw in only one of the intermediate colors? indigo is blue-violet... so why not yellow-orange or blue-green? I believe it has something to do with the science of light and that it's part of the spectrum and all of that, which is not my area of expertise, so I'll leave Roy G Biv for the science teacher to explain! Physically mixing colors like paint is a completely different thing than mixing colors in light.

  3. I think it's a cute video and even though I don't teach ROY G BV,I don't think it will harm our student's perception's of color if they view it.

  4. I don't do roy g biv, either. It is a really cute video, though.

  5. agreed. a while ago I noticed that Blues Clues does a color episode and they teach it with Cyan Magenta Aquamarine instead of blue-green, and so on. I thought that was strange.

  6. I think indigo is more when students are learning about the light spectrum like the rainbow. I guess since we are talking about mixing colors of pigment instead of light, that's why there is no indigo on the color wheel. Also, some dictionaries list red, green, and blue as primary colors instead of red, yellow, blue. This also must because of the difference of light and pigment.

    When I was doing my mural project with students 2 years ago, part of the design was a rainbow. I was trying to look up exactly what indigo looks like before buying paint but decided to skip it since I read somewhere that some people don't consider it part of the rainbow anymore... I love They Might Be Giants and play their kids' CDs in my classroom but I specifically didn't play this video because I knew I would get questions about the indigo thing...

  7. The song is from their "Here Comes Science" CD, so I don't blame them since it's appropriate for the theme! If it was "Here Comes Art", I might have a problem! :)

  8. Just to clarify - yes I think it is a cute video, actually I love They Might be Giants, but the video doesn't work with my art curriculum and I think it might confuse the kids when learning to mix paints. Absolutely pigment and light work differently. Many years ago, when I was a photo (darkroom) student, I took a course in color photo and learned that the primaries of light were magenta, cyan, and green. Yellow is a secondary color. It's all about subtractive vs additive properties, and while I never claimed to understand the SCIENCE of it, like with the computer, I knew how to "make it work" for me.

    Anyhow, my other beef with the video is simply that I think the colors of the indigo and violet stripes are wrong and should should be flipped to more accurately represent the color names in the appropriate sequence. I know, picky, picky; but that's me...

    @raine.dawn - I haven't seen Blue's Clues in years (my son is 22) but I can totally understand calling paint primaries magenta/cyan/yellow perhaps instead of red/blue/yellow, but aquamarine as a primary? Huh? (Besides, aquamarine is pretty close in color to cyan if you ask me,)

    Anyhow, I suppose none of this is very important in the grand scheme of things, but an interesting discussion nonetheless. Thanks, everyone.

  9. Hi! I'm new to this whole art blogging world but I'm so glad I found your blog! I have seen that video on Pinterest and thought the exact same thing. I even showed it to my husband and said "That's NOT indigo!". He just looked at me like I was crazy. Haha. I think art teachers are very serious about color and names since we have to teach it. :)

  10. I don't teach "indigo" as part of the color wheel, but it probably ended up there because indigo was a such an important dye plant for such a very long time, and the source of a beautiful and useful blue.
    Nowadays it's easier to dye "blue" than to ferment up a large stinky vat of indigo dye and indigo is not thought about so much in the west.