Join Jim Krause for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with grays to bring color to an illustration, part of Color for Design and Art.
- Starting with grays and then working toward color is my favorite way of bringing color into an illustration or a layout. And I use this method of colored development whenever I can because it prioritizes the critical importance of value within any color scheme. So, value, that's the lightness or darkness of a hue. And it's the value structure in the colors within an image or a layout that establish visual clarity. Without good value structure, things get mushy and confusing really fast.
So, whenever possible, I start my search for good looking color schemes by focusing exclusively on value structure. And I do this by working only with grays until things are looking good and then, and only then, do I turn my attention to color. So let's see what this process looks like with a real world project. So, I'm in Illustrator and I've used an imported thumbnail sketch to guide my creation of an illustration of a steaming eight ounce double americano.
And I've carefully shaded everything with six values of gray. You can see my gray swatches off to the right. And we're going to be using that in just a minute. Looking at the illustration, notice how its value differences are strongest within the coffee cup. This emphatic range of dark to light values helps draw attention to that part of the image. And the look has been kept quieter elsewhere by limiting value differences. And since the image looks good in grays, it should also look good in color as long as the colors that I apply have the same values as the grays.
So let's color this thing. I'm going to start by assembling a triatic palette of color choices based on the yellow, orange, the blue, green, and the red, violet slices of the color wheel. I'll click on these colors from within the color wheel that I've pasted into my document and then, I'm going to go to the pull down menu in the Swatches panel, and tell it to add these colors to the panel. From this point, here's what my routine's going to look like. I'll click-drag a copy of one of my gray swatches.
And then, I'm going to color it by clicking on one of my triatic hues in the Swatches panel. Next I'll double-click on a swatch at the top of the panel to bring up the color picker. And once here, I can click within this panel to come up with all different versions of my color. See these two rectangles near the top? The bottom one is the current color, And the top one is whatever I've changed into. I'll aim for a color that's about the same value as the gray square that I copied a few seconds ago.
I'll hit Okay, and then visually compare the value of my new color with it's gray neighbor by squinting at them. Squinting limits the amount of color that reaches our brain. And it helps us focus only on value. It's a neat trick. I need to make the color a little lighter, so, back to the color picker. And there. I'm going to keep doing this kind of thing until I have at least one or two versions of each color that matches values with each of my gray swatches.
In the end, I'll have a set of color choices that look something like this. Now we're going to color the image. I'll start by selecting a mid-value gray from within the illustration. Then I'll go to Select, Same, Appearance. And all the same grays will be selected. After that, I'll click on the eye-dropper tool and click on one of the colors that's next to our gray over to the right, which is also selected when we used the Menu command. What about this color? Or this? Or this? I'll keep doing this with all my grays and try out different colors and changing my mind here and there.
And maybe modifying a color or two as I go. And I can also break the rules if I want. Just select an individual element of the illustration and color it however I like. But mostly, I'm selecting groups of grays and swapping them with colors of the same value. And I'll do this until I end up with something I'm really happy with. And there you go, that's my favorite way of coloring an illustration or layout. It's a method that firmly establishes a piece's value structure before colors are brough into the picture.
Give it a try sometime. I think you're going to like it.
Primarily aimed at designers and illustrators, the course leans heavily toward digital tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, but concludes with some challenges using real-world media (inks and paints!), so members can get a solid understanding of mixing colors and what tools and combinations work best.
- Navigating the color wheel and color vocabulary
- Why a color's value is so important
- RGB vs. CMYK vs. spot
- Finding the perfect color
- Working with grays and browns
- Building a color palette
- Borrowing hues for palettes
- Establishing color hierarchies
- Fixing color problems
- Altering color in photos and illustrations
- Using texture with color
- Painting for learning and fun