In concept art, digital painting, illustration or more in general visual development, the correct use of color is of great importance.
Since we are talking about visual art, and for simplicity’s sake, we can regard the whole black to white grayscale as actual colors to help us out determining our proper values.
The roles that setting a proper color scheme plays in visual art representation are at least threefold:
- Setting emotion & mood
- Expressing depth & tridimensionality
- Aiding the composition
Let’s look at these in more detail:
#1. Setting Emotion And Mood
Within a painting, the general color hue and its combinations can convey a particular mood and atmosphere through their innate emotional response.
Thus, the first thing to do before starting creating your color scheme, is to consider what you want your artwork to “feel” like.
You can also draw inspiration from other images; picking the colors from a photo, as I often do for the sky, can be a way to get started on your coloring.
#2. Expressing Depth And Tridimensionality
Mastering the sense of depth and tridimensionality requires a lot of practice. Very different light and shadow patterns can be obtained through skillful alteration of hue, brightness, and saturation parameters, which produces a tridimensional view of what we see.
Distance, on the other hand, changes saturation and color hue of what we see even further. This is known as atmospheric perspective.
As a reference, you need to study photos or, even better, to directly observe your surroundings in real life if you want to understand how light works and apply that to your paintings. Observing and copying from real-world examples is essential to getting confident with these principles.
Besides, I would suggest you to start working in grayscale: this should allow you to build all the values of your painting more easily.
You can see an example of my workflow below.
Picking values from pure grayscale speeds up the painting process of this first and highly important stage, enabling proper calibration of values. A painting without the proper values will almost always look off.
As you can see, elements further into the distance tend to be brighter and have reduced contrast during the day, often mimicking the sky color. On the contrary, nearer things assume a darker value with higher contrast.
Avoid using pure black and pure white, as these are rare in natural view. Also, working on different layers can be useful to arrange foreground, midground and background as manageable features.
Then, add a new layer on top the values layers and set it on Overlay. You can now start coloring with a standard soft round brush on this layer.
I recommend you keep saturation (S) and brightness (B) levels quite close to 50%, in order not to ruin the values of grayscale layers underneath. Overlay changes brightness when you push the values below or above 50%.
After this step, you can add all other details on a new layer, sharpening their hue, brightness and saturation through a trial and error process with filter layers.
You can continue working on colors by selecting some elements, sorting layers and using soft round brush set on overlay or color dodge.
Remember to tune the values supervising the general work with zero saturation.
Meaning, check your values consistently – they are important!
#3. Aiding The Composition
Emotional effects of color choice, such as depth and warmth, do make a difference, as warm colors move toward the observer as opposed to cold ones.
Moreover, hard colors, such as red on blue, and strong contrasts may help you highlight the focal points of your composition.
Fixing a color palette from the beginning is neither necessary nor recommended. Let yourself be amazed by playful coloring, be explorative and put different solutions to the test with no preset mindset, until the final touch.
Good luck with your coloring!