How To Recognise And Use Cool-Looking Colour Palettes In Your Art

2017 Artwork Recongnising and using colour palettes

Although this is an article about making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about computer games for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Even though I’m not sure when or if I’ll review it [Edit: The review will appear on the 12th March], I started playing an absolutely astonishing set of modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” the night before I originally wrote this article.

The thing that really astonished me about the levels near the beginning of the game (apart from the really cool blend of 1980s sci-fi and Aztec/Maya/Ancient Egypt – style architecture in the first episode) were the absolutely amazing colour palettes used in each level. Seriously, just look at these screenshots:

This actually uses two or three complimentary colour schemes within the same image!

This actually uses two or three complimentary colour schemes within the same image!

 This slightly surreal part of episode one uses a pink, blue, purple and black colour scheme.

This slightly surreal part of episode one uses a pink, blue, purple and black colour scheme.

So, if you see a cool-looking colour palette – how can you learn from it and come up with similar cool-looking palettes in your own art?

The first thing you need to do is to understand how good colour combinations work. Look at this traditional red/yellow/blue colour wheel from Wikipedia:

 Image from Wikipedia. Created by Ray Trygstad and modified by stib. Image released under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence

Image from Wikipedia. Created by Ray Trygstad and modified by stib. Image released under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 licence

[Note: Colours displayed on computer and TV screens (rather than in traditional paintings etc..) use a slightly different colour wheel, due to the fact that they’re created using a blend of red, green and blue].

Colours that are directly opposite each other on the wheel will go together well (if you draw a line across the wheel, then the two colours at the ends of the line will go together).

Likewise, if you draw an equilateral triangle over the colour wheel, then the colours at the three points of the triangle will also go well with each other. These combinations are called “complimentary colours”. Likewise, black and white will usually go well with pretty much any other colour.

You will probably also notice that these combinations also contain “warm” and “cool” colours (eg: colours that look “warm”, like orange, red etc.. and colours that look “cold” like green, blue etc..). A good colour scheme will contain at least one of each of these colour types.

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with these things, then spotting and analysing any interesting colour palettes that you see will become a lot easier. The thing to remember is that, if a distinctive colour palette looks fairly complex, then this is usually because it contains several different pairs of complimentary colours. So, break the image down into it’s basic colour pairs.

For example, here’s another screenshot from the set of “Doom II” levels that I mentioned earlier:

This is another screenshot from "Ancient Aliens".

This is another screenshot from “Ancient Aliens”.

If you look at it carefully, you can see that it uses two or three similar complimentary colour schemes. Or, rather, three variations on the same colour scheme.

The walls contain a light brown/dark purple colour scheme (a variation on the classic yellow/purple complimentary colour pair). The torches and the walls next to them contain a purple/green colour scheme (again, another variation on purple/yellow). The sky above contains an orange and pink colour scheme ( yet another variation on yellow/purple).

So, yes, this is how you recognise interesting colour palettes, and how you can learn how to use colour palettes in interesting ways in your own art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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One comment on “How To Recognise And Use Cool-Looking Colour Palettes In Your Art

  1. […] aesthetic (which is one reason why I loved it) but it was also different enough that I also learnt a few more things about how to handle colours in artwork from playing […]

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