So you have spent a long time choosing a beautiful reference photo. You have spent hours carefully drawing your outline. You open your beautiful tin of pencils and suddenly you have to decide which color to start with. You look at your photo, should be obvious shouldn't it? After all we learned our colors before we started school. We pick our obvious color from the tin and start working. We quickly realise that our work doesn't look much like the photo. Very often this is because our colors are not right.
One thing l learned very early on, is that the colors we think we see are often quite different from the colors that are really there, and sometimes when you expand a photo to look at the color it gets even more confusing, you are not even sure if it is red or brown or purple and you stand there scratching your head and wondering why you can't tell something so obvious as a colour? At other times you can see the color but can't determine whether it is blue/green or moss green or yellow/green! Sometimes you simply can't tell how dark it is.
So l thought l would give you all a little test and took a sample of a part of the reference photo of the Sun Conures that l worked on. I pinpointed a group of feathers and thought it might be fun before you scroll down the page to imagine in your head what color you think you are seeing and which of your pencils you would pick up to work these feathers?
Now l don't know about you, but l see a nice sunny yellow when l look at those feathers? This is not a tricky photo to work out. However, there is something l do with nearly every photo at some point during my work and that is to upload my photo to a very cool little app. The one that l use is Pixelpicker, but l am sure there are lots of others. It is a very simple free app. It has a little eye dropper tool that allows you to hover over any area of a photo, right down to an actual pixel and see exactly what color each pixel is. The results are often VERY surprising. Below are four colors from this reference photo, three come from other areas of the photo all together, only one is from the photo above. Can you pick the area highlighted?
l have found that colours are often a bit sludgier than l imagine them to be and very often darker. Not that l think as an artist you have to be tied to using exact colors, if you want to change them a bit, go for it, but if you want your work to be realistic you have to stay within certain bounds. I love to add a few unusual colors here and there to my work, but when l began l didn't have the confidence to do that. If you are aiming for realism in your work it is really good to start with an understanding of the colors in a piece and especially good to understand how dark you need to go, as contrast contributes enormously to realistic looking pieces. Sometimes l just use the app to hover lightly over all the areas of an image, just helping to create an idea in my head of the sort of colors l am going to be using and to get an idea of what the lightest shades should be and the darkest. Occasionally l want to find the exact color of a very tiny spec in a photo. As l get more experienced l find l am better able to see and understand the colors in a photo but l still like the app as a kind of check that l am right.
So the photo above, if you picked the bottom right square - yes, the orange one - you were right! And that first yellow square top left, is actually the very lightest yellow on the top of the head (surprisingly darker than it appears don't you think?). So that is my tip for today, download yourself a little eye dropper app and start to really understand the colors you are seeing.
Next week l want to talk about how to mix those colors you see, that is something l find really fun and is one of the most magical things about colored pencil.
Click to set custom HTML