Tuesday: How to Paint an Alligator

Quarantined with your kids?
Here’s the second of five lockdown lessons that also sneak in some valuable life truths.

I’m a fan of lessons with layers. For example, yesterday we talked about how counting the squares on a checkerboard can lead to lessons about multiplication, perseverance, philosophy, and “looking for the next right answer.”

For this week, I’ve set aside five lessons from books like 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, The Dad Book, Quick Tips for Busy Families, and What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? If these lessons touch your heart or head — or if they help initiate conversation with a young person — then pass them on to someone you know who’s homebound with kiddos. Here’s today’s “lesson with a layer.” 

Tuesday March 24, 2020

Ask any kid — from 1st grade through high school — “How do you paint an alligator if you don’t have green paint?”

A really wonderful answer is “Paint him purple!”

But let’s say the desire is to make the gator green and all you have is a few paints in primary colors (red, blue, yellow), plus black and white. Mom and Dad, you know the answer is to mix blue and yellow. But for a variety of reasons — school budgets, teaching philosophy, lack of materials, and so on — your middle schooler may have never learned that!  Really!  

So let’s go through the basics. All the colors you can ever imagine can be created from those five colors.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Red + Blue = Purple
Blue + Yellow = Green
Black + White = Grey
Red + White = Pink
Yellow + Red + Blue = Brown

The intensity, opacity, and vibrancy are all determined by varying proportions. It’s recommended to begin with the lighter color and add small amounts of the darker pigment, mixing as you go.  

Why is this important? First, it’s just cool. You don’t have orange paint and then suddenly you do have orange paint! Even better, your young artist is learning that science and art are closely related.

For some reason, we’ve been led to believe that brilliant angst-filled artists shut themselves up in attics and — without any outside inspiration — paint, sculpt, or write poetry, plays, and novels. Young people who have visions of becoming a thespian, singer, or dancer believe there is no reason to waste time learning biology, chemistry, physics, meteorology, geography, or astronomy. Well, that notion is quite shortsighted.

Contemplating and studying galaxies, marsupials, fire, magnetism, oceans, rainforests, snowstorms, optic nerves, fulcrums, photosynthesis, and the color spectrum can only make your child a better artist. Inspiration may come from within. But only if they’ve filled their lives with a wide range of knowledge, experience, discoveries, victories, and failures.

By the way, the best scientists observe the world and see it through the eyes of an artistic creator.

Hope this makes sense. Also hope you send me your child’s new poem about marsupials. Or a video of their dance inspired by fire. Or a pic of their favorite reptile painted with the perfect mix of blue and red.

Be well,


What’s up with Jay? I ordered several cases of books for my Spring speaking engagements . . . which were cancelled. Which means I’ve got a book surplus! If you live in the area, go to my website, identify a few books you want, give me a call (630-377-7899) and we’ll arrange a time when you can swing by my front porch and pick them up. Name your price. (Or order them online.)

illustration by Geneva’s own Rex Bohn

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