Killer Colours

article by Karen Wasson , photo by Alamy

Design a colour wheel with images inside portraying each way the colours have been obtained in the past.

After reading the article as a class, ask students to identify the seven colours of the rainbow. Introduce the mnemonic ROYGBIV – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet to help remember the colours in order.

Ask students what a colour wheel is. View a basic colour wheel on Google images. In pairs, students read through the article again, writing down information on how some of the colours from the colour wheel used to be made.


Red – killing, drying and grinding cochineal

Green – using arsenic

Purple (violet) – soak sea snails in urine and leave them to rot in the sun

Once students have this information, they can look up what was used to make other colours in the rainbow wheel, either doing their own research or using the webpages below:

Orange – History of the Colour Orange

Yellow (and others) – Dyeing with Turmeric or Natural Yellow Dyes

Blue – Blue Dye in History

Indigo (similar to blue) – The History of Indigo Dyeing as well as the YouTube Video How Was it Made? Indigo Dyeing to show students how to get different shades of indigo and blue

With information on each of the rainbow colours, students are to draw a large circle on an A3 sheet of paper and divide it into a colour wheel of seven pieces. They need to plot out the colours in order of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) and in each section sketch a picture of how the colour was (or is) achieved in dyes. They can draw the plant Indigofera tinctoria in the blue section and the vats/baths for the indigo section as both dye colours have similar origins. Once sketched, students paint or colour using monochrome techniques for each section, so it looks like a colour wheel. For a short lesson on monochromatic painting, view the YouTube video What does monochromatic mean? (best to start at 1 minute 54 seconds in).