How do you choose colors?

  • So I've always drawn pretty well with pencils, but my coloring/painting skills are nothing to write home about. I'm trying to digitally paint this, but getting my colors right is proving to be a real problem, despite watching every class there is on painting. Is this something I should have planned on ahead of time? How do you choose colors?Desert run_0.jpg

  • As an exercise try find some color schemes from other artists that you like and do some thumbnail paintings using those. Choosing color can be quite daunting and i'm definitely no expert in it, but I have found that it can be very time consuming and difficult if you start painting without any prep, so shrink down your line work and splash on a bunch of color, you might find what doesn't work, but it will lead to something that does work.

  • Color can be a tricky one. There’s way more to it but I’ll try to explain what I usually go through. I mostly go on feeling and what I want the end piece to feel like. I’ll ask myself if I want the piece to feel warm or cool. I try to keep my color selection really narrow, it’ll usually be around 90% warm and 10% cool, or vise versa. What ever the 10% is will be what grabs people’s attention. Once I have an idea of the colors I want, I sometimes grab references to color pick from as a place to start.

    Thinking of the time of day your scene takes place can also help, then find references for that time.

    Also, when you test your colors, try to focus on just the big shapes and keep it simple. You can try out way more color schemes in a short amount of time.

    Hope that gives you a place to jump off from.

  • When I run into a wall when deciding on colors for a digital project (or a just want to ensure consistency over multiple images), I'll turn to Adobe's color site: That way, I can search through some color themes for inspiration, pick a couple to test out in broad color swatch layouts, and shift and tweak until I get the color design that I want for the project.

  • @ajillustrates Never heard Adobe’s colour site before! Will definitely check it out. I’ve used to when choosing shades of colours that go together well for my graphic design projects.

  • Well to answer your question, I choose colors in the thumbnail / sketch phase once I know I'm getting close to a final rough composition before I even start doing final linework (traditional). That's because I need to think about the objects' colors if they are overlapping or near each other and other factors like that. So I think about a graphite sketch "in color" in my mind. But honestly I think my final artworks are lacking in professional color and light skills, so I need to work on applying concepts asap.

  • I usually start by figuring out if something "needs" to be a certain colour and working from there. If I'm setting the piece in a garden, the realistic colour choice (not that you always have to follow that) would be green for a lot of the backdrop and then I can think about which parts should go with it and which parts should stand out. I'm personally not crazy about pure complementary colour contrasts since I find it a bit garish (that's a personal choice though!) so if I wanted a warm colour to contrast the green I might go orange for a main character's shirt for example and work from there. Trying stuff out is really the key so seeing whether a warmer green or a colder green fits the tone better, etc.

    In your case, the rock formations are probably going to be a light warm colour so you can definitely start there. I also like using white to mark a focal point so maybe the dog and the bone (which will associate the two) or the character's shirt/shoes, etc.

    One tip I saw the artist Sycra mention on Youtube is to pick one main colour for your piece and this colour can be used in all saturation levels but as you go farther away from it on the colour wheel, they should get less and less saturated. A very grey-ish blue will still look quite blue next to a bright orange without taking away from the orange. And it will keep the colours from clashing.

    Hope this helps!

  • @CaseyKinseyArt
    Check this Youtube Video from Simona Ceccarelli. She was an SVS student.
    Color for Illustration part 2: Forget theory, keep calm and do color studies

  • I have a folder on my computer fill of artworks and photos that inspire me. If I'm having issues with the colour scheme of a piece I will go through that folder and literally colour pick colours I like from pieces that I think fit the vibe of my piece. Maybe that is cheating but I know other illustrators which do this too 😂

  • SVS OG

    @CaseyKinseyArt i steal colors from pro illustrators. i follow a lot of artists and when I don't know which colors to use, I visit their portfolios and ig accounts and get "inspired" by their works. hehe 😁

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Haha knew I wasn't the only one who did this 😆

  • SVS OG

    @eriberart lol! 😂

  • For some reason I wasn't getting notified of these responses, so apologies to everyone for not responding until now. Thank you all, I will absolutely put these suggestions to the test! 😃

  • Pro

    @CaseyKinseyArt I think we only get notifications for posts that tag us directly, even if it's on your own post. So if people reply to your post without tagging you, you get nothing haha

  • @NessIllustration Ohhhhhh! Thank you! I'm super new to the forums, so I have idea what I'm doing 😂

  • @CaseyKinseyArt Based on the last couple years of my own journey, where my problem wasn't the actual colors I chose but it's the saturation of any given color I was choosing. So what happens is that if the saturation is off, no matter what color I picked it feels off.

    I considered myself very much in the terrible at coloring boat and I feel like I've turned the corner in the last 18 months or so. The piece of advice that really started to make it "click" for me and stuck was from Marco Bucci who said (and I'm paraphrasing), "gray is the language that all colors use to speak to each other". In other words, the closer colors are to grayscale the more they naturally work with each other.

    Our eyes are really deceptive when it comes to making us think what a color is. What we might perceive is a super brilliant neon green color in nature might only only be like 60% saturated if you took a picture of it and color matched it. Everything is influenced by light, shadow and the colors around it. So what you're seeing is a mix of everything together to make that final result.

    So the closer to grayscale your palette is, say the majority of your piece is sitting at 30-35% max, the more harmonious the majority of the piece is going to be. Once you've laid that foundation, you can start selectively cranking up the volume in areas and bring it up slowly. And you'll see that you may not have thought that red was very loud on the color picker, but on the piece it jumps off the page. The closer to grayscale your colors are, the less it matters what colors you choose.

    I'm definitely not saying this is the best way to color, but it was the best way for me to personally understand how color works. For example, as I figured out how light affected colors, the final color was never the "base" that I started with, but the addition of everything in the scene together to render whatever that final tone was.

    Hopefully that makes sense and is helpful. I personally was really frustrated with watching how people colored and I felt like there was a disconnect between the start and finish. What I finally did was I'd pick an artist I liked and try their process if they had one that I could see for a 4-6 weeks. Eventually as tidbits came together and I understood different things, my current process came out of that. And I'm 100% confident it'll evolve a ton in the next couple years too 🙂

  • Pro

    @CaseyKinseyArt Also I actually just finished picking my colors for a book, maybe this will give you ideas of how to do it 🙂 It's set at night but I didn't want a blue color scheme. I was aiming for soft purple, not very saturated. I picked out a few colors that I liked and then planned out my colors for the book based on that. The final plan always differs a bit from the original palette because you often (almost always) have to go darker or lighter in place to create the contrasts you need to highlight the important areas.


  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration this is so beautiful!!! I love you color choice.

  • Pro

  • @jdubz Now that’s a new perspective for me! I’ll definitely try these tips! Thank you!!

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