Wrong Color

Subtractive color mixing, showing how yellow, magenta, and cyan combine to create a full color image

Subtractive color mixing, showing how yellow, magenta, and cyan combine to create a full color image

I received a response from the Osseo School District in response to my posting on Elementary School Teachers Please Stop

  • For the printing industry- yes, Mark Mizen is correct and our students learn about these CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key [black]) colors when they begin to create artwork with computers/video/photography in our 7-12 Art programs…
  • For K-12 painting and drawing experiences, we rely on materials- paint, chalk, oil crayons which exist in R, Y, and B colors.
  • Our K-6 Art lessons:
    • introduce students to the basics (the “magic”!) of Color and Color mixing which they can physically do and visibly see and therefore more easily understand, and
    • provide a foundation for more complex color understanding when they begin “electronic” art applications at the Secondary level!

Candace Gordon, Specialist Visual Arts, Osseo School District 279


Isaac Newton’s work on optics provided a fundamental understanding of color

The Osseo School District apparently believes that primary colors work differently in the art department than in the printing industry, teaching that red, yellow and blue paints represent primary colors. I do not see anything wrong with teaching that yellow, red, and blue create different colors when mixed. They do create different colors, but they are not primary colors and teaching that they are is incorrect. The mixing of yellow, red, and blue cannot make pure magenta, green, or many other colors. The problem is that red and blue colorants absorb light much too broadly to serve as effective primary colors.

The only reason incorrect primary colors are more easily understood is that schools have allowed incorrect information to persist. Correct information is no more difficult to understand than the incorrect information that is currently being taught. If students learned about cyan and magenta in elementary school, they would have a far better better understanding of color when they learn more details in high school physics. Delaying this information until seventh grade does students a tremendous disservice.

As I learned from my original posting, Sesame Street has an equally poor understanding of color. Check out After seeing this video, read the comments and click dislike. Many people have done so and their comments reflect that fact.

Isaac Newton would be turning over in his grave if he saw how color is now being taught.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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4 Responses to Wrong Color

  1. Laura Maguire says:

    Very interesting discussion of color. There are so many different colors than that box of eight crayons we got as a child. It makes sense to introduce them early on.

  2. Mark, I agree with you. It is unfortunate that teachers continue to give false information to children about primary colors and color mixing. Paint, chalk, pens, and crayons work on the same color principles as printing ink. A long time ago, children were taught that the world is flat. Those teachers did not know that they were giving false information to the children. Someday, I hope that teachers will understand and teach the correct principles of color primaries and color mixing. If you combine yellow and blue paint, you get a dark color that is close to black, not a relatively bright green. If you combine yellow paint with another color paint and the result is green, the other color is cyan. Shame on Sesame Street and OK Go for presenting false information to children.

  3. Mark Mizen says:

    Hi Parker,
    Thanks for your reply. The sad part is that children are taught to believe that what their teachers tell them is correct. I could not convince my son that his teacher was wrong even though that was absolutely the case. I will try again at some point and perhaps he will listen to reason.

  4. Pingback: Prisms, Light, and Color | All About Images Blog

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