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Using Primary Colors Like Roy Lichtenstein (C3W17)

Roy Lichtenstein lead such an interesting and varied life! In fact, my first draft of my Lichtenstein lesson plan included over two full pages of background on him! However, since we usually try to only spend 5 minutes talking about the artist before getting into our art project, I went back and cut it down to one page. I still kinda wish I had more time to go into the years he served as an Army artist, his time in art school and the people who influenced him there, and how moving back to New York- the center of American Art at that time- affected his work. Lichtenstein’s work is just as varied as his life. He experimented with different art subjects, genres, and media.  He played with technology like screen printing, collaborated with other artists, and his early career looked different from his later career. Some people loved Lichtenstein’s work and some hated it. Some people thought it was unoriginal, while others called it revolutionary.

learn about Roy Lichtenstein

Was Lichtenstein a Copyist?

I didn’t focus on this in my lesson plan, but I think it’s great for parents to think about how much of the art Lichtenstein is known for is close copies of comic book strips. Some people thought his paintings could even be considered plagiarized. Lichtenstein himself said,

“I am nominally copying, but I am really restating the copied thing in other terms. In doing that, the original acquires a totally different texture. It isn’t thick or thin brushstrokes, it’s dots and flat colours and unyielding lines.”(1)

art lesson CC cycle 3

It’s curious how people react to copying and the idea of creativity. As I think about Lichtenstein, copying, and creativity, I’m reminded of the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  Watch Austin Kleon in this Ted Talk! In this video he mentions the composer Igor Stravinsky (a CC Cycle 3 composer!) and how he altered classical music to create his own version. Then Kleon explains how his own “blackout art” is not all that original and comments,

“I know something that a lot of artists know but few will admit to, and that is: Nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a remix or mash up of one or two pervious ideas”

According to Kleon, the best art is a transformation of something else. Think about it- even a beautiful painting of nature is a copy of God’s great artwork. Kleon maintains that, to be a great artist, we must study other’s art and take everything worth stealing to incorporate into our own art. If you don’t study other great artists then you won’t reach your full potential as an artist.

This is why the classical model of education has our students learn so much grammar from so many subjects! This is why we fill our children’s minds with great content! The more you know, the more you can remix into your own creative ideas. Studying other great artists, scientists, and pioneers does not stifle creativity- it releases creativity! Even Picasso agreed when he said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Good Artists Copy. Great Artists Copy.

Our Lichtenstein Art Lesson

For our thirty minute art lesson on Lichtenstein, we’ll focus on what Lichtenstein is typically known for: Comic book style Pop Art using Benday dots and high contrast colors. Benday dots were invented by a guy named Benjamin Day. It is a technique used in the printing industry which gives the illusion of a wide variety of colors by adjusting the spacing and overlap of cyan (blue), magenta (pink), yellow and black dots. Usually the dots are so small and close together that you don’t even notice them. Lichtenstein, however, used exaggerated and enlarged Benday dots of a single color so viewers’ attention was drawn to the dots. He used a stencil to paint the dots so they were perfectly spaced and aligned in diagonal lines.

In this art project we’ll also look at Color Theory again and notice how the primary colors, by themselves, create a high-contrast, bold look, similar to Lichtenstein’s art. This is a nice example of the “context of color.”

We’ll start with a line drawing of one of Lichtenstein’s famous works of art on cardstock and have the students paint it with high contrast colors. The students will paint some areas solid and some areas with dots, resembling Lichtenstein’s exaggerated Benday dots. I initially was going to have all the students work on a line drawing of Lichtenstein’s Oh, Well but my two sons were much more impressed with Whamm, so I created a line drawing of Whamm as well. I included both line drawings in with my lesson plan. (If you already purchased this lesson plan, log into your account. The Whamm line drawing should now show up there!)

If you’re going to paint for this project, I highly recommend you use a liquid paint. Otherwise it’s too hard to get enough pigment on a Q-tip to make a nice complete dot. If you do not want to use paint for this lesson, the large crayola markers make really nice dots and are much easier to use than paint.


Here’s the Full Lesson Plan

I wrote this whole lesson plan out for my tutors and for you! It includes everything you need.

You can purchase this Lichtenstein lesson plan here.  This 9 page lesson plan includes:

  • A condensed background on the artist and his style
  • A short lesson on Ben-Day dots, the color wheel, and the context of color
  • Color wheels to show students
  • A carefully crafted summary sentence about Roy Lichtenstein (ideal for memorization)
  • Vocabulary words and definitions
  • A photo of the artist
  • Links to a representative selection of 8 of Roy Lichtenstein’s pieces of artwork
  • Materials list
  • Simple art project instructions for painting (or coloring) in primary colors like Roy Lichtenstein, including a line drawing of Lichtenstein’s Oh, Well and Whamm.
  • Suggestions for scaling the project to experience levels


Painting with Primary Colors Like Roy Lichtenstein- C3W17 Lesson Plan

Want More?

This blog post is part of a six part series about the amazing artists we study in the 3rd quarter of cycle 3 in Classical Conversations. Here are links to the whole series:

Check out my Cycle 3 Resources page for more info on these and my weeks 1-6 drawing lesson plans!

  1. Dunne, Nathan (2013-05-13). “WOW!, Lichtenstein: A Retrospective at Tate Modern II”. Tate Etc. (27: Spring 2013).



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