Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Picking a Color Palette

Sometimes coming up with a good color palette for a piece is a struggle. When I'm picking a palette I want one that is pleasing to the eye, appropriately emotive, and represents all objects as seen in the same light. Here are a few different methods I sometimes use to choose a set of colors. 

1. Borrow it: use the color palette of another artist. 
Someone else has already put together a combination of colors that work – and can be used again!

Image on left –  © NEXON Korea, by Yoo Mira. Image on right © Jen Betton

2. Limit it: pick a very limited number of colors to work with. 
Color harmony is easier to achieve with only a few colors, which you mix together. The extreme version of this is a monochromatic image.

© James Gurney, using just red, blue and white.
© Georgetown Atelier/ Tenaya Sims, using a limited palette of brown, black, red, yellow, and white. 

3. Pick it: Use a color wheel and select a complimentary, split complimentary, triad, tetrad, or analogous palette. See separate post for definitions of these palettes. The website Kuler gives you some fun tools to use.

Example of a complimentary palette
© Scott Gustafson, using a complimentary palette

4. Harmonize it: Mix a bit of a unifying color into your other colors. 
This isn't exactly a method to pick a palette, but it can help you unify an existing one. A classic technique is to do a color wash either under or over the entire painting. I usually start my piece with a light wash of color. That way all of the colors are influenced by the underlying tone.

© Christian Birmingham. There are a lot of different colors in this piece – orange, purple, pink, yellow, green – but they are all toned by the blue underwater atmosphere, and so feel like they belong. 

Earlier this year KidlitArtist Ana Aranda shared some of the methods she uses to pick palettes, which you can read here

I've written some other color posts you can see here

James Gurney has some wonderful posts about color on his blog, Gurney Journey

Jen Betton writes and illustrates for children, and is currently illustrating TWILIGHT CHANT for Clarion Books.  You can find her work at
@jenbetton on Twitter
www.facebook.com/jenbettonillustration on Facebook

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