Easy artist colour theory for you to understand how to use colour practically in your art.
Colour is one of those things that attracts us to creating art – it’s exciting and emotional and it gives our drawings life and personality.
It looks so easy… so why is it sometimes so damn hard?!
Let’s start by looking at some easy ways to add colour to our art –
In this blog post, we’ll learn techniques for using colour to add form, depth, light, shade, and shape to your drawing – as well as the excitement of colour!
This is important, because as well as being an expressive tool to give emotion, feeling, and excitement to your artwork, colour is also a tool that you can use to give your artwork shape, depth, and form.
In the earliest parts of our drawing, we spend time looking at our subject matter and not our page so that we can draw the outline correctly…
We’ve done lots of hard work with our basic line drawing and may even have added texture and shade (mark making) with pen, pencil, or charcoal. So now we have that already in place, it’s the time to really immerse ourselves in the colour on the page or canvas.
You can apply the following ideas to any medium that you choose to use to apply colour to your artwork.
And you can adapt the ideas to suit your own style – and I would encourage you to do so.
You can use these artist colour techniques in combination with the drawing techniques for showing light and dark that I share in my Learn to Draw free mini course or you may prefer to use just one or the other. Try and see which you prefer – it’s your artistic journey and your artistic expression!
Just as we discussed in the free Learn to Draw resource, the light and dark areas that we see on what we’re drawing, tell us something about its form – its volume, its shape, its texture.
When we look at these light and dark areas on our subject matter, we will see that they’re (most likely) not actually black, white, and tones of grey – but colours in their own right – often lighter or darker shades of the main colour.
This is what you’ll be showing in your artwork.
Although you can do countless technical exercises and spend lots of time drawing and accurately depicting colours of light and shadow in your artwork, I like to think that art shouldn’t be just a technical exercise in accurate colour depiction.
There’s lots of room for having fun and personal expression – else, what’s the point..?!
So I would encourage you to experiment and play with colour while you think about this and find your own best ways to use colour in this manner.
Mostly, I like to choose my colours before I start actually adding colour to my page – or the main colours, at least.
You might want to pick out pens, paints, inks, or pencils to represent the main colours and tones of these colours that you wish to use.
If you have a range of colours, you may be lucky enough to be able to pick, for example, your main green plus a lighter and darker shade.
If you’re working with paints or blendable pastels or coloured pencils, you may prefer to mix the precise colours that you want.
It’s good to start with just a light, medium and dark ‘shade’ or ‘tone’ for each colour as this is quite easy to work with – eg. light green, medium green, dark green or light blue, medium blue, dark blue etc.
As you get more confident, you can add as many subtle graduations of tone from light to dark as you wish.
As you experiment, you might like to introduce more colours into your artwork.
For example – your green leaf might have dark blue shadows and a bright yellow highlight.
Or your orange flower petal may have rich red shadows and a yellow highlight.
It’s up to you to experiment and try out these colour techniques from what you see in the shadows and light areas of what you’re drawing…
But also to choose colours, colour families, or colour ‘feelings’ as a personal expression in our art.
It’s okay just to put a blob of an unexpected colour in your artwork - just to see how it makes you feel.
Look at your drawing and see which of your colour selections seem to ‘fit’ with your drawing.
A really good tip is to scan in or photocopy your drawing before you add any colour – so if you want to really experiment and try again with your colour, it’s easy to just print off another copy of your drawing to play with.
As you go out and about in your day, start noticing shadows and areas of light and dark.
Colour is a huge topic, so don’t be downhearted if you’re a little frustrated with your early experiments. It’s all a learning process – so just try something different next time and see how it fits with you.
You can join me to look more at colour in a more advanced Colour & Composition course – I’ll share the details at the end.
I hope that you will really experiment with some of these artist colour tips and ideas as you go through the next stages of adding colour to your artwork –
Have fun, have a go, experiment and see what happens and decide if you like it or not.
You can work through all the creative exercises and learn how to use colour and composition confidently to improve your art.
If this sounds good, find out all about it here...
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Author: Lotti Brown
Artist, designer, and online drawing teacher.
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