Us­ing a lim­ited colour pal­ette

Matt Gaser shows how keep­ing a tight rein on colour can re­sult in a more sat­is­fy­ing paint­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Matt Gaser keeps a tight rein on his colours.

For this work­shop I’ll be guid­ing you through meth­ods I’ve used on how to con­trol colour and light while ap­ply­ing a lim­ited colour pal­ette.

Find­ing the per­fect in­spi­ra­tion that leads to a great idea, that later be­comes a lay­out is a nat­u­ral process in cre­at­ing a paint­ing. Yet find­ing the right colours or mood to an­chor the world you’ve drawn can some­times be hard to pin down, and at times very frus­trat­ing.

If all else fails, keep your colours, val­ues and tones close to­gether. Squint your eyes and pic­ture an im­age where ev­ery­thing is coloured from a sim­i­lar place in the rain­bow. Paint­ing this way can be use­ful in set­ting the tone for your main sub­ject mat­ter to pop. Find­ing the right mood early on will help iden­tify a fam­ily of hues to work from, set­ting up bound­aries within a range of in­ter­me­di­ate colours for you to use through­out the paint­ing process.

A tech­nique I some­times use be­gins with aban­doned or un­fin­ished paint­ings of my own, in­te­grat­ing this ma­te­rial over a nice lay­out or sketch. This can set the paint­ing on the right course in un­ex­pected ways. Ref­er­ence ma­te­rial is your next best op­tion if you want to experiment in this way.

So, let your brain re­lax from the rain­bow of choices out there and let’s get cre­ative with a lim­ited colour pal­ette that puts you firmly in the driv­ing seat.

1 Cre­at­ing the lay­out

Be­fore I be­gin I gen­er­ally have a sim­ple idea in mind. This can be from a sketch I’ve done al­ready or an im­age in my head. In this case I’m work­ing from a draw­ing I cre­ated us­ing pen­cil. Af­ter I’ve scanned it and im­ported it to Pho­to­shop, I widen the can­vas size to land­scape for­mat. This paint­ing is for a book cover and will need to be wider on the right side for the flaps.

2 Start­ing with good ref­er­ence

Be­cause my lay­out al­ready has a castle in the back­ground I de­cide to use an un­fin­ished colour sketch of mine that had a moun­tain palace high above in the clouds. When I saw this im­age from my li­brary I knew I had found the right mood and colour to start my new il­lus­tra­tion. The same tech­nique can be ap­plied to stock pho­tog­ra­phy or any other im­age from your photo ref­er­ence archive.

3 Lay­ing down colour

I be­gin by mul­ti­ply­ing (Lay­ers> Mul­ti­ply) my ref­er­ence im­age into my lay­out, then use other tex­tures and Pho­to­shop brushes to fill in blank ar­eas. Be­cause my ref­er­ence im­age is mostly warm tones, I tran­si­tion other ar­eas into soft pur­ples and greens. I need to make the main char­ac­ter stand out, so I shift his cos­tume to more cyan, blues and me­tal­lic ar­mour.

4 Lay­er­ing Chan­nel se­lec­tions

By se­lect­ing the Chan­nels mode (bot­tom left tab on the tool bar) I’m able to paint in my se­lec­tion in red. Then I press the tab again, which turns it into a se­lec­tion that I can save (Se­lect> Save Se­lec­tion). I’ll do this process for ev­ery ma­jor area in the paint­ing, sav­ing my se­lec­tions as I go. This way I can easily paint be­hind or in front of ar­eas quickly.

5 Light source

The tones need work and I shift the over­all pal­ette to more red/pur­ples. Then I work on the di­rec­tion of light. By study­ing the source as it comes from be­hind the castle I drop in stronger high­lights while dark­en­ing my mid-tones for more con­trast. I add a lake be­hind the main char­ac­ter, to help sep­a­rate him from the back­ground and add trees and fo­liage in the mid-ground.

6 Fo­cus­ing on de­tail

I like to work all over the place as I paint, build­ing up de­tails, mov­ing on to another part. Here I fo­cus on the main char­ac­ter’s face. The sun is be­hind him and he’s got larger ears, so I’m push­ing the skin’s translu­cency, and strik­ing high­lights in ar­eas where the sun’s on his face. This gives me a value to base the mid-tones on his face, which is mostly in shadow.

7 Bal­anc­ing the com­po­si­tion

The left side of the im­age needs more fo­cus, so I add more trees and fill in the sky with tones that are from the rest of the clouds. How­ever, I don’t want too much bright­ness in these ar­eas be­cause the castle lo­ca­tion should be the strong­est in terms of con­trast to my char­ac­ters. So I keep things soft and mid-tone in value on the right side. I also keep the colours pur­plish in tone.

8 Adding the bridge

I no­tice the left side seems too baron. So I in­tro­duce a strange bridge into the back­ground. This will also lead the eye to the main char­ac­ter and castle. I chose colours that are sim­i­lar to other ar­eas in the scene, such as reds and pur­ples. I don’t want make the bridge a to­tally dif­fer­ence hue be­cause it would pull the eye away from the main sub­ject mat­ter.

9 Knock­ing back val­ues

Af­ter adding the bridge I see that the val­ues are get­ting a bit too close to the fore­ground el­e­ments. So I de­cide to add a fog layer. This will help with at­mo­spheric per­spec­tive and push the main char­ac­ter for­ward in the scene.

10 Castle de­tails

Now I move on to the castle. I use a round Hard brush and draw as I paint the out­line and in­ner de­tails of the palace. I want these val­ues to be very close to­gether and so I squint my eyes as I work, com­par­ing the hues with each other. Most of this area is in com­plete shadow. Only sub­tle ar­eas along the edge are hit by the sun­light that’s shin­ing through the clouds.

11 Fi­nal main char­ac­ter de­tail

I move back to the fore­ground char­ac­ter. I work on the feather in his hat, fine-tune the val­ues in his face and around the eyes. I spend time on his cos­tume and brighten the mid­dle ar­eas, while leav­ing more con­trast on the edges of his sil­hou­ette. This will help turn the form and re­duce any flat­ten­ing. I also brighten the scene di­rectly be­hind him, to push his val­ues for­ward.

12 De­tail­ing the other char­ac­ter

I’m now ready to fin­ish the de­tails on the side char­ac­ter. Be­cause he’s so small I start a new file and paint on him at a much higher res­o­lu­tion. Then I drop this layer into the fi­nal paint­ing and scale him back down to fit. Even though his res­o­lu­tion is smaller in the fi­nal im­age, be­cause I painted him sep­a­rately at a hi res, those de­tails will come through.

13 Fine-tun­ing the scene

As I scan through the im­age I re­turn to the trees on the right side, in­di­cat­ing leaves and branches. I also add birds and lit­tle de­tails through­out, while mak­ing sure my val­ues all group and don’t com­pete with the rest of the im­age.

14 Fi­nal high­lights and de­tail

As the im­age comes to a fin­ish I drop in lit­tle de­tails such as the float­ing boats in the back­ground or rim light on the char­ac­ters. I also colour shift ar­eas so that they match more closely. As I look over the im­age and find it harder to see things that need at­ten­tion, I re­alise it’s com­plete and am happy to call this paint­ing done!

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