Letting A Colour Palette Evolve – A Ramble


As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been experimenting with slightly limited palettes for at least the past year or two.

For quite a while, I used to challenge myself to only (or mostly) use 2-4 watercolour pencils per digitally-edited painting in order to get used to using complimentary colour combinations, to learn more about colour mixing and because I really liked the effect that it created. Many of my slightly older paintings looked a bit like this:

"Do You Think It Saurus?" By C. A. Brown

“Do You Think It Saurus?” By C. A. Brown

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

As an educational experience, you really can’t beat it. However, I eventually got slightly bored of this and gradually returned to just using slightly more realistic colours more often. But, I soon remembered one of the main advantages of using a limited palette – it’s quicker and more practical. And, after finding a set of “Doom II” levels that taught me a lot about colour palettes, I now take a slightly different approach to colour palettes.

I still use a limited palette, but it tends to be slightly larger. For example, the palette for quite a bit of the art that I’ll be posting here in July consists of red, yellow, blue, light green, purple and black watercolour pencils. Sometimes, I’ll also use a grey pencil for shading and/or a peach pencil (since, depending on the amount of pressure you use, it can be used to create a variety of skin tones) too.

I’ve found that that limiting my palette to about 6-8 watercolour pencils means that I can use a greater range of colours and colour schemes, whilst still giving my art a slightly distinctive look and having the kind of quick practicality that comes from only using a small number of pencils.

After all, you can lay six or seven pencils down on the desk in front of you, rather than having to scrabble through several tins of watercolour pencils in order to find a new colour.

Expanding my colour palette slightly also makes it easier to use orange/purple colour combinations (again, something these “Doom II” levels introduced me to) too. This is mostly because dark purple is one of the hardest colours to mix in the traditional fashion – if there’s slightly too much blue or red, or if the pencils are the wrong shades of these colours, then it often ends up looking more like black or brown than purple. The same is true when it comes to trying to mix light green using yellow and blue (it often just looks too faded or “muddy” when mixed traditionally).

But, despite the fact that I use a larger palette than I used to, my past experiences with smaller colour palettes still have a large effect on the “look” of my art. Although I’ve learnt how to use three-colour colour schemes (eg: blue/orange/purple) and how to include multiple complimentary colour schemes in a single painting, I’ll sometimes try to include a “dominant” colour scheme in my paintings because of the fact that it looks visually striking.

Here’s a reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here in July:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The main colour scheme in this painting is a blue/orange one (albeit one that includes two shades of blue). It’s probably the first thing that you noticed when you saw this painting. However, thanks to everything I’ve learnt about colour palettes, I was also able to give the painting a little bit more depth by including a small green/purple/pink colour scheme too.

This colour scheme also compliments each part of the other colour scheme too, which helps to make the painting’s colours look even more harmonious.

The thing to remember about colour palettes is that they aren’t static things. If you find a colour palette that you like, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever alter it or add to it. In fact, if you make art regularly, then your colour palette will probably evolve over time for the simple reasons that you’ll occasionally want to try new things and because you’ll find it easier to notice other interesting colour palettes too.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


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