Colour Schemes And Atmosphere- A Ramble (With An Art Preview)

2016 Artwork Colour Scheme and atmosphere

Although they probably won’t be posted here for at least a couple of weeks, I’ve started a short series of gothic horror-themed paintings.

Like the horror-themed art series I posted here in January, this series will use a limited palette. So, I thought that I’d talk briefly about the differences between the palette I used in these paintings and the one I use in my “ordinary” limited palette paintings.

But, first here’s a preview of part of one of my upcoming paintings:

This is a detail from a painting called "The Vampire Tarot" that will probably be posted here on the 21st August.

This is a detail from a painting called “The Vampire Tarot” that will probably be posted here on the 21st August.

Ever since I discovered limited palette artwork sometime late last year/ early this year, it’s been one of my favourite techniques. Limiting yourself to just a few watercolour pencils (or types of watercolour paint) can really make your art look a lot bolder, as well as being a fairly good time-saving technique too.

When I make “ordinary” limited palette paintings, I’ll often just use a red watercolour pencil, a yellow one, a blue one and a black one. Since this limited palette contains the three primary colours, I can theoretically create any colour that I want to use with just three pencils.

But, most of the time, when I use a red/yellow/blue/black palette, I’ll often just lazily use it to create an orange and blue colour scheme in my artwork. This is one of those colour schemes that instantly looks dramatic (I mean, there’s a reason why it’s used so often in movie posters).

It’s also a complimentary colour scheme too. You can find complimentary colour schemes by drawing a straight line or an equilateral triangle across a colour wheel – the two colours on each end of the line (or the colours on each point of the triangle) will compliment each other.

However, with these gothic horror paintings, I seem to have gravitated towards using a red and blue colour scheme instead. Although it’s a subtle difference, it can seriously change the atmosphere of a painting.

Although light blue and dark red are complimentary colours, they’re just slightly off-centre from the much more familiar orange/blue colour scheme that is considered “aesthetically pleasing” by many people. So, this evokes a slight sense of familiarity and unfamiliarity at the same time (kind of like Sigmund Freud’s idea of “The Uncanny).

Like all good colour schemes, the blue/red colour scheme also contains a “cold” or “cool” colour (blue) and a “warm” colour (red).

However, unlike orange (another “warm” colour), red tends to have connotations of blood, anger, lust, passion etc…

As such, a red/blue colour scheme can work surprisingly well in horror-themed artwork (and in dystopian science fiction artwork too).

One of the advantages of using a limited palette is that it actually makes you think about the colours that you want to use in your artwork since, through something as subtle as using red instead of orange, you can completely change the “atmosphere” of your artwork.


Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂


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