Color Inspiration, A Technical Guide For The Digital Artist

"Sam Dead" from "The League of Elder"
Currently I´m in a phase of making advanced use of colors in my work to enhance depth, mood and to underline certain values.

While doing so, I found a necessity to share this knowledge and insights in some kind of a reference. There are practical tips for everyday use, this post is useful for traditional artists as well.

When working in a professional environment there is rarely the time to go out and do plein-air paintings or studies, this is something artists have to do in their spare time, to form the foundations and understanding of perception of our environment. On the other hand it is extremely important to see processed works as well, to see the differences and to learn from these observations.

Basically, all knowledge artists have, is built upon passion and is acquired through personal experience, museum-visits, observation and anatomical studies have to be done volunteering for the arts.

Today I want to explore possibilities on how to find working color schemes.
There are several options to use colors and to prevent a misconception here: I just want to explore ways on how to technically utilize colors, not on how to apply them, because the color as inspiration is a universal approach followed by every artist on earth, regardless of the application or final use.

For this it is inevitable to have a decent knowledge on color theory, which is required to get the most out of this post, so if you get stuck on the term "tertiary color scheme" you should get into basic color theory first.

Below there is a list of different ways to get color inspiration, maybe I´ll do a post on how to apply a specific color scheme on a work later.

Like everything from brushes to reference images even colors should find a place in the artists library, lets go:

Inspiration from nature 
The first and most basic palette everyone recognizes, even if broken down to just two(!) colors.
Advanced color palettes can be found too but require a keen eye and understanding of secondary and tertiary colors.

Inspiration from other artists work 
The most common practice used by artists from all around the world. For artist, this still requires understanding of colors, but gives a potential idea of what is possible, what works and what not. Analyzing combinations from masters and successful predecessors is now easier than ever.

Inspiration from Movies
Image courtesy Walt Disney pictures
Movies shape and change our perception without us even knowing it, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But since art has the freedom to be exaggerated, movies can be a valuable inspiration if used with care.

The best example for experimental and truly masterful use of colors are Disney´s works, find the powerful examples below from the movie "Lion King". For more screens / stills and movies make your own screenshots, or search for moods.
Image courtesy Walt Disney pictures

One great option is to make use of the mosaic-filter in Photoshop to get a palette out of a screenshot.
For a concrete use in paintings I´d suggest to pick up just the important colors with the Eyedropper-tool to create a swatch from there, or...

Inspiration through tools
It is easy to convert these to a swatch in photoshop via Kuler, opposed to the limited possibilities of the mosaic-filter technique, Kuler picks colors depending on complementary colors, various harmonies and moods.
A practical tool is the online page of Kuler where you can create schemes from an image directly and share them with others. Find my profile on Kuler for more swatches.

Kuler from Adobe

Another great resource to create instant color schemes is the free color scheme designer tool:

Free web tool for color schemes

Inspiration from photography
Photography is always processed and it is an advantage to know the traditional processing workflow, how toning and cross-processing works. Not that it is a requirement, but it helps to understand how Photoshop works. With the tools listed above, Kuler and the color scheme designer it is easy to pick color schemes from photography as well.

Fantasiox photography
Kuler result of the photo / left

There is a wide variety of tools out there that can be a timesaver for a professional environment, the list above shows just some free-options.

Regardless if you drape Lego´s from your kid together and make a shot with your handy to get a working palette, or if you watched a movie or if dabbling with oils inspired you to get an idea on how to do this or that digitally...
The important part is to keep on developing a sense for inspiration, where to find it, to keep it and then how to apply that to your work.
It is vital to study how filmmakers, artists and photographer use colors, how nature´s color reflect in different lighting situations and even more important; how we perceive them.

Colors are truly powerful for those who know how to use them, because they can "make" or "break" an artwork.
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Oliver aka Fantasio is a creative blogger who likes to share his insights about art, marketing and social media. Follow Fantasio on twitter or facebook


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