Keyth had some questions for me about color, so I thought I’d put together a brief tutorial about color for those of you who might want some thoughts on the subject.
Here’s some general advice regarding color:
1. Contrast warm lights against cool darks or vice versa.
Greg & Tim Hildebrandt do this constantly to nice effect.
2. Contrast saturated colors against unsaturated colors.
Anders Zorn was a master of this. Hieronymus Bosch did it nicely as well.
You can find their work at artrenewal.org
Study color schemes from photographs (try corbis.com and photovault.com), DVDs, and paintings from the masters, or any painting you see that you like. I believe that it’s possible to memorize color schemes in the same way that we memorize anatomy and how to render volumes in space. So the more you study color schemes, the more that your study of color will pay off in your own work.
And finally, do lots of color thumbnails studies. Here’s some examples that I’ve done myself:
The purpose of these thumbnails is training your eye to identify color and observe how colors work together. As you can see from the following full-size version, I was not worried about tight rendering. I just wanted to make simplified color choices to get the overall feeling of the image.
By analyzing an image and simplifying what your eye sees, you can get a feel for the palette used without getting caught up in details. The key is to reduce the almost infinite range of colors that you perceive to a manageable amount by determining an “averaged color” of whatever you are looking at. Whether it’s in light or shadow, highly textured or solid color, you can analyze a shape that you see and determine an averaged color that reads correctly to your eye when placed in context with the surrounding image. The thing to remember is that the color you choose is not “the right color.” It’s your interpretation of what you see, and it’s a simplified version of reality.
For example, in the detail thumbnail above the neck of the lead horse is a gray-brown. That was what my eye saw as the “averaged color.”
Once you have established your averaged colors, you can apply my two rules above about contrasting cool/warm and saturated/unsaturated to add variety and interest. For example, the sky in the background was a red-purple-gray overall. So I added a yellower gray in the middle to add interest through contrasting color temperature. Note: these color changes are subtle and might not show up well on your monitor.
By studying color from images that appeal to your eye with this method of “averaging colors” you can teach yourself how to create color schemes for your own work that appeal to you.
Keep painting and keep practicing!