Trouble with "mental colour picking"

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  1. #1
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    Unhappy Trouble with "mental colour picking"

    I *think* this is where I should ask... but am not sure, sorry if it's the wrong section...

    This is kind of embarrassing but I can't be the first person to think this. So I kind of have a problem with "mentally picking out colours from surfaces I paint" etc. I know that the key to fixing this is practice but I'm actually not sure where to start (it feels like I need a simpler exercise as opposed to just painting everything, to develop a slight understanding before obtaining a bigger one).

    I was talking to someone before about how I can't depict each individual millimeter on a gradient colour wheel like they can, eventually the conversation spanned to the possibility of me being slightly colourblind (extremely slightly, which's apparently not uncommon), but colourblind enough to throw off my judgment when picking a colour from life to paint with.

    Again the key is obviously practice, and I intend to do a butt-load of it, but my eyesight is somewhat impared (short sighted, sometimes little fuzzy as if I'm dehydrated, but that's fixable ;P), and I'm just wondering what exercises you guys know for me and other people with this same problem to "get started with" to develop our mental colour picking a little before tackling harder tasks.

    Thank you very much in advance, I really appreciate any help you can give.

    Last edited by BlightedArt; August 1st, 2008 at 11:51 PM.
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  3. #2
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    Are you talking traditional painting, or digital?

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  4. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mirana View Post
    Are you talking traditional painting, or digital?
    Sorry, traditional. But can I ask what you would say if I said "both"?

    I mean traditional personally but am just curious to hear the difference between the two in context to this situation. Cheers.

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  5. #4
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    Premixing paints is a very smart idea because so many natural colors (greyed down yellows, cool grey greens, light purple greys) are so "weak" that they can really perceptually shift a great deal depending on what colors surround them. And sometimes its hard to figure out what kind of mixtures those colors are made of. If you have them already on hand to paint with, you can do a quick comparison between what you are painting and the selection of premixed colors you've made. You might want to look into the Riley method for starters. John Howard Sanden also offers premixed colors, Pro Mix I think they're called... colors that often appear in the face for portraits. You might want to mix a bunch of your own faves, colors that you see a lot but have trouble figuring out how to mix, stick them in airtight containers with a few drops of clove oil to keep them from drying out and become hard and unusable.

    I'm sure other will have more to offer on this topic.

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  7. #5
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    Not sure if this is what you're looking for, or even if this makes me a "bad" artist, but as long as my colors work out relative to each other then all is good as far as I am concerned. What I mean is that when I work with color I don't try to get an exact color but rather just make sure that all of my contrasts work out well.

    For example looking at light and shade I make sure my shades have a darker value than the lights, that one is more saturated than the other, and typically I put in some sort of hue shift (usually towards blue in the shade and yellow in the light). I'm never looking for exact colors, all I'm concerned with is if in the appropriate areas that the color is more blue than the other, or darker, or less saturated, et cetera.

    When I work with watercolors this can bite me in the butt because I mix colors on the spot just looking for things to work relatively without following a formula... so if I run out of a mix then I'm pretty much S.O.L., heh. But such is life.

    Does that answer your question at all?

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  9. #6
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    Do you understand how the color wheel works, that opposite colors will grey each other out? Knowing when to mix in colors that don't immediately seem like they belong in a mix plays a big part of getting good mixes.

    Anid Maro is actually on the right track. You don't need to worry as much about color as you do value. Both are relative. For example 50% grey can look very light when it's set against black, but very dark against pure white. Color is the same way.

    No matter if this isn't what you want to hear, there isn't much you can do beyond practice it. Do lots and lots of studies. Go to a paint store and grab a bunch of paint chip color swatches, then try to mix those colors as closely as you can (as a hint, many of them might be more or less impossible to match, but try to get as close as you can). Play with different colored backgrounds and watch how the colors seem to change based on what is nearby.

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  11. #7
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    Thanks guys. I've always known of the contrasting colours making each other seem brighter and darker because of the old optical illusion: two grey boxes with boarders, one white boarder, one black, and the question "which of the grey boxes is darker?". But I've never *properly* put it into consideration when painting something.

    kev ferrara: That is some very good advice, thank you. I'll keep that in mind when trying to tackle this in future.

    Anid Maro: That's a very good point, but what I was more concerned with is that I'm having trouble *naturally* seeing how colours conflict with each other, not in what way I can tweak them to make them look better on canvas, moreso developing an understanding of what is around me (I know that comes with practice alone though). So for educations sake I'm trying to paint exactly what I see first. That doesn't mean your advice isn't appreciated, it's very good advice, and thank you very much. ^_^ But you're right that how colours relate next to each other is *hugely* important.

    J Wilson: I know, practice is really all it takes and that's completely fine, I was just concerned if it'd still be possible to get highly accurate colours given that I have to wear semi-strong glasses and sometimes find it hard to "focus" on a point. If practice is all that's needed and it's not something wrong with my eyesight then that's a huge relief. I don't *fully* understand how the colour wheel works unfortunately, but am going to study it when I get home tonight.

    - Just so you know I DO plan to do the majority of my art digitally, but feel that going traditional for a while is a good way to develop patience and take more care with images (being able to do a stroke then "Undo" and try again might not be the best way to introduce doing concept art ). Until then I'm going to go traditional.

    Thank you so much for all the advice guys, you've all been awesome.

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  12. #8
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    One "problem" with traditional and color mixing, is if you don't have the right colors available, you just won't get a good match.

    You might try, as an exercise, mixing using only 7 colors. Get a warm and a cool version of each primary (red, yellow, blue of course), and a white. This will force you to learn how to manipulate the colors to get greys, blacks, earth tones etc. When painting you are better off mixing your own blacks anyways, as they tend to look more interesting than tubed blacks. Earth colors out of the tube are great, but trying to get by without them for a while will sharpen your understanding of how mixing colors works. You won't get exact color matches this way, but you should get close enough to get the correct relationship.

    Ask yourself important questions about the color you want to make. Is it warm or cool? Bright or dull? If you wanted to make a dull warm orange, you could do it two ways. One way is to start with a warm red and a warm yellow to get a nice warm orange, then mix is a tiny amount of blue (it's color wheel opposite) to knock down it's brightness. OR you could use your cool red and your warm yellow, and the blue bias in the cool red could replace actually mixing in the blue later. It depends on the exact color you needed which would be better, and you'll get a feel for it as you practice.

    Last edited by J Wilson; August 6th, 2008 at 02:52 PM.
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  14. #9
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    That's some excellent advice there, thank you very much. It'll also be interesting applying / adjusting this knowledge to digital painting once I develop an understanding for picking out and "building" colours. :o

    Thanks heaps for the advice.

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