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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Making Art Together

Exploring Complementary Colors and Textures on the Light Table


Originally posted on Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 by Meghan Burch

I really like designing light table explorations because they offer open-ended, visual, and kinesthetic ways to play and learn. We make a lot of our own light table manipulatives because we like to show teachers and families that they don’t have to purchase materials to use with light tables or panels.

We’ve also found that though we like the transparent light table manipulatives available through suppliers like Constructive Playthings, some of the objects are small and may pose a choking hazard to the guests who visit our space.

When trying to think of new materials to put on our light table, I often try to select things that will connect with our Every Day Art Project, as we did with the flower shapes exploration early in the summer. Otherwise, I try to select a grouping of objects that are related through some kind of theme or concept. Sometimes the themes are abstract or narrative, other times they are more concrete or based on the elements and principles of design. Sometimes I check out Play at Home Mom’s Playing with Light pin board for inspiration.

At the end of the summer, I charged our intern, Hannah, with the challenge of designing a new light table exploration.

To gather ideas, she looked through our found materials collection. She was most drawn to materials with varying textures- particularly a mesh onion bag, a yard of tulle, and a soft fibrous paper used to wrap a bouquet of flowers.

purple and yellow light table exploration - The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

I shared with Hannah something I’ve observed  in the studio for many years: For the most part, children first notice similarities and differences in color, then shape, and then visual texture. We once ordered a manipulative from an early childhood supplier that was designed to have children match samples of textures like hook tape, woven grass, sandpaper, and a few others. When I observed children matching the parts, they didn’t do it by feeling the textures; they did it visually by matching the colors of the materials because each material was in a different color. From then on, I realized that if I wanted to draw attention to the differences or similarities of the textures of materials, I would need to remove the element of color and shape, or at least keep the colors and shapes uniform.

So, when we looked again at the things Hannah collected, we noticed that among the them were many things purple and yellow. This pairing of colors is a set of complementary colors.

In order to keep the variables to a minimum, Hannah cut rectangular and circle shaped samples, all the same size, from the purple and yellow materials. Then she sent them through the laminator.

purple and yellow light table exploration - The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Materials on the light table inevitably migrate over to the work tables, so if they are flat we have to laminate them to distinguish them from other collage materials available.  Laminating them, though, doesn’t always guarantee they won’t get cut and glued into someone’s project.

Margaret, our other summer intern, collected a few of the other purple and yellow things we already had in our cabinet of manipulatives and added them to the shapes Hannah created.

purple and yellow light table exploration - The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Finally, to offer a bit of information for anyone that could or cared to read it, we hung a poster about complementary colors that we made a few years ago just above the convex mirrors above light table.

purple and yellow light table exploration - The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

The purple and yellow materials have now been out for a few months. We’ve observed children stacking them, feeling the differences in texture, matching the shapes,  and matching the colors. My two and a half year old daughter came for visit and we enjoyed stacked the round shapes to make a purple and yellow “sandwich.”

It’s now time to refresh the light table activity again, so its time to move on to another set of set of complementary colors! When we get it set up, we’ll post some photos.

Please share! What kinds of explorations or themes have your children or students enjoyed at the light table?



We enjoy exploring materials and ideas in the Art Studio, and we’re excited to share our process with you! Please consider the following factors when adapting these posts for your learning environment: 

We facilitate a variety of programs within the Art Studio for a wide range of age groups. Please carefully consider the age appropriateness of each individual activity in your own learning environment.

Our projects are always done with adult supervision and proper safety precautions. Be sure all of your projects are overseen by adults who likewise follow proper safety precautions. The adults overseeing your project must also be responsible for handling or assisting with any potentially harmful equipment or materials. 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not responsible for any damages, injuries or liabilities that result from any activities contained within this website, and we expressly disclaim any responsibility or liability therefor. From time to time, we reference materials that we have found to be particularly important in our projects. We do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending materials. 




by Diana MacKenzie

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 at 11:56 am and is filed under Toddlers, Preschool. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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