Smashing Color

with Maggie Maggio

Smashing Color Theory #1: Color Families are NOT the Same Size

Starting in January the tutorials will use clay. I use Premo for color studies but you can use any of the clays. You will need 2 ounce blocks of six colors plus white. The six colors we will start with are: Magenta/Fuchsia, Red/Cadmium Red, Lemon/Zinc Yellow, Golden/Cadmium Yellow, Med.Blue/Cobalt, and Blue/Ultramarine.

Until you get your clay, we will be using crayons for the tutorials. Color is a very complex subject and I am starting with crayons? Well, yes. We have to start somewhere and I love crayons.

When I was little, we called them “colors” as in “Mom, where are the colors?” If I was really, really lucky, I would get a new box of 64 crayons and immediately dump them out and put all the colors back in the four little boxes the way I wanted them. I grew up sorting colors into Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet. And leftovers. Back then that was the right way.

When I started teaching color I still sorted colors into these six families – the colors of the rainbow. Then I learned the CMY (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) system and I had to adjust my sorting habits.

In the next few weeks I will talk about primaries, double primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries etc. but for now I just want you to practice sorting colors a new way.

  1. Treat yourself to a new box of 64 crayons. (We will be using them for the next few weeks.) Dump them out. Arrange them in a row from one color to the next starting with reds and ending with purples. You will need to scribble a little bit with each crayon to see the real color. Take out the browns and grays. We’ll talk about them later. crayonflow1.jpg
  2. Divide the crayons into six families – Reds, Oranges, Yellows, Greens, Blues, and Purples. Where you make the breaks between the families is entirely up to you. Everyone sees color differently.
  3. Now subdivide the red pile into orange-reds and magenta (pink) reds, and subdivide the green pile into blue-greens and yellow-greens. You will now have eight families – Orange Reds, Oranges, Yellows, Yellow Greens, Blue Greens, Blues, Purples, and Magentas.
  4. From now on, everytime you see a red, try to decide if it is a magenta-red or an orange-red . Everytime you see a green, try to decide if it is a yellow-green or a blue-green.colorflow3.jpgYou can still think in terms of six families as long as you split the red and green families into two. Being able to see the differences between magenta and orange reds and between blue and yellow greens is the first step in understanding color.

Next week: Correcting the Color Wheel. Have fun with your new box of crayons!

Check out the most popular colors of crayons at


  1. Can’t wait to follow you on this!!

  2. Hi Maggie,
    Thank you for posting this tutorial. I am comfortable with using color but am always ready to explore.

    I just bought my box of crayons and am ready to see what journey you lead us on.

    Take care.

  3. Like others, I’ll be buying my box of crayons this weekend! I’m so looking forward to following your tutorial on color–I feel “color-challenged” so will definitely be paying close attention “in class”!

    I found a tutorial on your color wash beads on a German website but since I don’t speak German following the pics is all I can do — will you ever post it on your site?
    Till next week =^..^=

          Hi Bobbie.You know, I have no idea where that tutorial came from. I don’t mind at all though. Sharing is what its all about. I will do a Watercolor bead tutorial after the Smashing Color tutorials.

  4. Crystal Gourdine

    December 8, 2006 at 1:58 am

    I have already taught my daughter how to organize her huge crayon box and extensive pencil crayon collection by colour groups. Now I am going to teach her while you teach me. She is already becoming a master at polymer clay. A 5 year olds mind thinks in different ways. We’ll teach each other when we sit down with clay. Thank you for giving your knowledge to us. We will both greatly appreciate it.

  5. Maggie – the site and the concept is wonderful! The 2 classes I took with you at Ravensdale are among my most favorite. The mirror that I made in the class with you and Lindly was quickly stolen by my husband who now has it in his office.

    Like you and Melanie, I also sorted not only my crayons by color, but my blouses, sweaters, socks, etc. That would be the same now as well!

    Regards, nt

  6. wooo hooo, am going shopping today and will grab a large box of crayons. Heck every woman should have one 🙂 Can’t wait to playing organizing them…again, will bring back my childhood. thank you again for sharing your love of color and research !


  7. I am so excited! I have a week off between Christmas and New Year and I am going to spend lots of time with color.

    Is there a way that tutorial students can share or is it even advisable? If there is someone else who wants to start this journey during the holiday week, I’d love to get in touch.



  8. Thank you so much for sharing your hard earned knowledge, Maggie! A adored organizing my “colors” as a child too! But I was taught to organize them as “cool” or “warm” colors. Lol!

    I can’t wait to see what you plan for us next time!! Thanks again, Maggie, for your wonderful generosity!!

        Hi Melanie – Fun! I’ll bet that looks gorgeous. Send me a photo if you can and I’ll try to post it.  MM

  9. oh my! an excuse to buy crayons! thank you!!

  10. Thank you for the generosity of which you make proof by sharing with us your knowledge

  11. Merci pour votre generosité a partager avec nous votre savoir

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