There is more than one way to choose colors for a painting. Your first impulse might be to use colors that as closely as possible approximate WHAT YOU SEE. Sometimes this approach works well. You can learn a great deal about mixing colors by taking this path.
ESTABLISH COLOR UNITY.
However, there are dangers in striving to paint exactly what you see. Sometimes an artist will use too many unrelated colors and a picture can become disjointed and appear confused. Therefore, to create a pulled together look, try to use fewer colors in an effort to establish COLOR UNITY in a picture. Don’t use every color you own!
You could also choose colors for your paintings to reflect HOW YOU FEEL about the subject. As an artist, you probably hope to share your reaction to a scene and use color to reach a viewer on an emotional level. What is the overall feeling or mood you want in your finished picture? For instance, would warm colors (or cool colors) better establish the mood of your picture? Is it a clear, sunny and bright summer day at the beach, or a misty, damp and dark winter afternoon? ( See my related blog “Get In The Mood”, published September 4, 2018, for more information about creating mood in a painting.)
A third way to choose colors for a painting might be to pick a set of colors that would represent what you believe to be the BASIC CHARACTER of your subject. Let yourself think about the subject in colors totally different from what appear in reality. An unusual set of colors might better suit what you are trying to get across about your subject. You don’t need to move too far away from actual colors of an object to give it your own take. Exciting color variations can create interest in a dull, monochromatic area of your picture. Clouds are not always puffy and white, and trees are not only green.
CONSIDER COLOR TEMPERATURE, LIGHT QUALITY, VALUE.
Regardless of the way in which you choose paint colors when planning a painting, give your picture a distinct COLOR SCHEME. Consider emphasizing a particular color combination (or temperature) for your image. Again, keep in mind the overall feeling you hope for in your finished picture. (Mood can be achieved, in part, through your choice of colors.) Start with using COLOR TEMPERATURE to charge your picture with emotion. Consider several specific colors or a range of colors making sure to include both warm and cool colors for use in your picture. It is important that ONE temperature dominates. The other temperature will contrast, counterbalance, and neutralize the dominant color for variety.
Continue to establish the mood by considering the LIGHT QUALITY that will be in your painting. Will you use intense, pure paint colors or more dulled, diffuse colors? Keep in mind that bright sunlight is suggested by pure, bright colors. (Think of the look of a Greek landscape.) As light becomes more diffused with moisture or smoke, colors appear duller. Dulled colors hint at subdued lighting, poor visibility, less detail, and lowered value (light/dark) contrast. (You see much less detail, for instance, at night.) Remember that you can create duller colors by adding a bit of a color’s complement (it’s opposite on the color wheel).
Also, always consider VALUE (light/dark) in planning the mood of your picture. Would mostly light colors (or mostly dark, or a balance of values) enhance the mood or feeling you plan to establish? (For more information about values, see my related blogs “Dusk,Evening, and Moonlight… Oh, My!”, published February 5, 2019, and “Why Should I Bother To Use A Gray Scale?”, published May 21, 2019.)
Reducing, or limiting the number of colors used in a painting has some distinct advantages! By creating a LIMITED PALETTE you SIMPLIFY decisions that need to be made during the painting process. It becomes easier to preserve HARMONY and COLOR UNITY. A limited palette encourages greater balance in your work. You will be able to maintain more CONTROL using fewer colors. Color mixing becomes easier and less frustrating. Painting becomes more efficient!
Further, painting with a limited palette allows you to think less about color choices, while letting you focus more attention on other important components of painting, such as shape, value (light/dark), and warm/cool balance.
CREATE A LIMITED PALETTE OR COLOR SCHEME.
How do you choose the right color scheme? Well, there is no “right” or easy answer! There is not one perfect combination of colors. But there are many good choices. (By the way, you DO NOT have to use the exact colors recommended in a demonstration!) Still, it is important to actually CHOOSE A COLOR SCHEME while you are in the planning stage of painting. (Remember that different color combinations create different feelings or moods.) Without choosing a color scheme before beginning to paint, you will be in danger of creating a mess of unrelated colors. So, choose a color scheme that suits you!
A limited palette is made up of two or more colors. Your choice of colors can be as simple as Burnt Sienna with Indigo, or Brown Madder with Cobalt Blue, even Permanent Rose with Viridian, in a COMPLEMENTARY color scheme. Or create a limited palette using the three primary colors, in a TRIAD color scheme. Perhaps your choice would be New Gamboge/ Cadmium Red/ Ultramarine Blue, or Winsor Yellow/ Permanent Rose/ Cobalt Blue, or Perylene Maroon/ Indian yellow/ Phthalo Blue. You might want to expand just a bit by adding Burnt Sienna or Perylene Green or one of your favorite convenience colors to the three primaries.
Another common limited palette includes six colors – a warm and a cool version of each of the three primary colors. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors offers a very good example with their “Essentials” kit, which includes Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Pyrrol Scarlet, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, French Ultramarine Blue. Using these six colors can be described as using a SPLIT PRIMARY color scheme.
A few additional ways to combine colors into a color scheme include choosing several colors based on their position on the color wheel and their distance from each other. For example, in an ANALOGOUS color scheme, three or more colors are chosen that fall next to each on the wheel, possibly yellow-green, green, blue-green, and blue. A SQUARE color scheme employs four colors evenly spaced on the color wheel, such as Permanent Mauve, Viridian, New Gamboge, and Pyrrol Red. A TETRAD color scheme uses colors whose placement on the color wheel form a rectangle, perhaps Permanent Rose, Ultramarine Blue, Light Red, and Viridian. Yet another possible scheme is a SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY scheme, made up of one color plus the two colors on either side of its complement. A possible split complimentary scheme could be Quinacridone Rose, Viridian and Green Gold.
So many choices! To simplify, first choose a dominant, then one or several subordinate colors to give an overall mood to your painting. Decide on cool or warm dominance. Think about possible color schemes that might highlight your subject, and experiment on test paper until you find one you prefer. For color ideas, you might have a dramatic photo with an appealing color combination or a saved magazine image to use for color inspiration, or use your imagination.
Color is fun and amazing, but often less is more! Use fewer colors! Enjoy!
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