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Can a gar­ish colour scheme make for a more ef­fec­tive paint­ing?

LaVerne Har­leson, US


John replies

The key thing to con­sider, no mat­ter what pal­ette you’re us­ing, is colour har­mony. Do the colours play well to­gether? Are they all com­pet­ing for the viewer’s at­ten­tion? An­other im­por­tant fac­tor is what kind of mood is are you try­ing to set for your au­di­ence?

What makes for an ef­fec­tive paint­ing is how all the parts come to­gether as a whole. Colour, value, shape lan­guage, com­po­si­tion and rhythm all work to­gether to craft a com­pelling im­age. If you’re re­ly­ing on a bom­bas­tic colour scheme to save your paint­ing, you may have other is­sues that need to be ad­dressed.

For this ar­ti­cle I paint over a greyscale draw­ing sev­eral times, be­cause the light sources change in each im­age. My two favourite Pho­to­shop colour tools for do­ing this are Color Bal­ance and Lev­els ad­just­ment lay­ers. In a Lev­els ad­just­ment, you can tweak the red, green, and blue chan­nels in­di­vid­u­ally. Gra­di­ent Over­lay is also a won­der­ful ad­just­ment layer to quickly as­sign one colour to light val­ues and an­other colour to dark.

The prob­lems with us­ing bright, sat­u­rated colours usu­ally arise when you overuse them. But it really de­pends on the paint­ing and what you’re try­ing to con­vey. But if you can pull it off, a “gar­ish” pal­ette isn’t gar­ish at all.

Take your orig­i­nal sketch and do sev­eral colour comps to see which pal­ette fits the mood. Don’t limit your­self!

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