Sunday, April 26, 2009


OK friends, I need advice!

I had my portfolio reviewed this weekend at the NE-SCBWI conference, and although it went pretty well, I really need to work on my color.

So, where do I begin? I just picked up Betty Edward's book on color theory and I'll start pouring over it tonight, but do any of you have any other suggestions.

How do I find a simple palette to work from? I'm just so backward when it comes to color... it feels slightly overwhelming.

I'm considering saving up for a color theory class at RISD this fall, but do any of you know of any other ways to learn about using color --- books, thoughts, ideas, to help me tackle this hurdle? Thanks so much!!


mitchowl said...

If you have photoshop I learned a neat trick for coming up with a harmonious palette. Just find any photo that has colors that are pleasing to you and that will work with your image. Open that image in photoshop and then go to "image", "mode", and then "index color", "exact". Then hit okay. Then go to "image", "mode", "color table". It will give you a palette of color for you to use. I learned this in a digital illustration class but the palette of color will work for any medium. I hope this makes sense. I just typed them straight out of my notes from class.

Linda said...

Michelle: I'm not a colorist in any way or fashion (my husband is a master colorist, so it's very intimidating!). Line is my thing; color is my weakness. I've found that by limiting my palette to just a very few colors helps. I try not to stray out of 2-3 colors, including a neutral. Look at the amazing results that Krisztina Maros gets with Prussian Blue & some earth colors--it's fantastic! I think the key is to find the color that pleases you (like Mitchowl suggests) & go from there--limit the palette: less is more. Hope this was helpful!

Linda said...

Michelle: on another note, please remember that anyone who reviews your portfolio can & may find something that they think should be changed--it's a personal choice(they're just human!). Believe in your work & find what makes you happy to create--your work is great, unique, & it expresses who you are--no one else can do that!

Lyon said...

Any book by Hillary Page. Color is learned like any other skill set. Experiment.

I work with a limited palette. A couple of yellows, a couple of reds, several blues, a green and a couple of tans.

I've used the same color palette for years.

Another trick I used to learn how to use color is to paint in monochromatic themes.

Most people who are stuggling with color in their paintings are usually dealing with a lack of contrast. Once you do a painting in a single color see where darks and lights fall, do it again in color and then copy the color version in black and white to if the color version matches the monochrome version in the dark and white areas. Most often when the color copy matches the monochrome painting the issues with color becomes less of an issue.

sruble said...

Good points everyone, especially about believing in your own work. This is all so subjective, and scans/copies don't look as good as originals. I hope there was some good news in your portfolio review too.

If you do think that you want to work on color, here are a few things you can try or play around with.

If you have Photoshop, scan your black and white line art, then make a new layer (or duplicate the b/w layer) and experiment with color. Make several layers or duplicates so that you can try out different colors and palettes on a new layer each time.

Another trick would be to take one color, like green, and paint a picture all in that color, so that you have to use light/dark/bright/muted etc. shades and values of green. You can also do this with blacks and greys, but it's more fun with color. Try it with a few pictures with different colors - one all red, one all blue, etc.

Try painting a picture with only bright colors, or only muted colors.

Start with the primary colors, red, yellow, blue. Use different values of those colors. Add in secondary colors if needed, green, purple, orange.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

angelic pursuits said...

How exciting that you got your work looked at, Michelle! Any kind of feedback can be used in a good way if you use the advice to your advantage (ie: keeping your artwork your own but trying something new that might make it more dazzling).

Things I've personally found useful (I've been really trying to work on my color for the last few months) are using complimentary colors as the main colors of the painting and then supplementing them with only the two adjacent colors next to one of the comp colors. (After you have done this for a while, it's OK to branch out with more colors, but it gives you a better handle on which colors work together.) Another thing to do is to observe artists you admire and the way they use color. Still another idea is to find a color wheel (either buy one or get a book from the library/buy one) to learn about color relationships. I also echo what Lyon said, that allowing the saturation levels to vary helps a lot. For example, when you do something with only black and white, you're forced to vary the intensity of your black to describe what you want. Color should be used the same way, but since we have so many choices it's easy to use it all with the same intensity. Then again, there are many artists who choose not to do this and it works for them, and there are many people who love their work.

Last of all, what I enjoy the most about watercolor is that I can experiment. Not only is it exhilarating, but it brings a freshness to your work and gives you new ideas to work with. So more than anything else I've said, I think experimentation with the things you can do with watercolor may be the most valuable. Only then can you find out what works best for you.

Mônica said...

Such great advice from everyone! I too struggle with color, and have found your ideas, advice and techniques really helpful.

I also work with a limited palette, and do a lot of mixing of colors rather than using them out of the tube/pan. But I do lack a better understanding of color theory and need to put more time into doing more color exercises.

Thanks, Michelle, for your post and everyone's input!

sruble said...

CONGRATULATIONS on winning the NESCBWI 2009 Ann Barrow Illustrator Scholarship, Michelle!!!

Heather said...

Michelle, I just took another look at the color pieces on your blog. And while I think your colors are very bright and cheerful--they are not all playing well together in the same piece and some color theory of some sort would help you organize them. There have been some great suggestions for you to follow up on here. It looks to me like you are being controlled by the colors rather than controlling them. Colors have inherent values as well as warm and cool properties that can be used to great effect. Here's an exercise I've used for color value (and really helped me break away from "grass is always green" thinking) Get a five step or so gray scale. Then using colored pencils (or something similar pull one color that matches each value. Then copy a grayscale photo (or drawing) matching the color you chose to each level of gray. You can see an example of one I did here:

But basically the whole of color theory can be quite overwhelming. I would recomend tackling it bits at a time, like value, or simple color schemes--and just play a lot.

Michelle Henninger said...

Oh you guys are so helpful!! Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions. You better believe I will be printing out this comment page and referring to it often!! I really appreciate all the time you've taken to help get me pointed in the right direction!

krisztina maros said...

I daren't tell you anything about using colors... just believe in your heart BUT I would love to CONGRATS to your winning!!! it's a fantastic encouraging event of great significance!

Cheryl said...

Michelle, with your recent success, your color can't be way off. Everything mentioned here - value, light,etc all very valuable. What I try to remind myself (and what more than one teacher/professor has told me) is that nothing really exists in a vacuum (sp?). Colors are going to affect each other, be reflected on each other. Having an isolated color is rare. But see, that rule can be very useful to break.