Painting in grayscale is a great starting point, but eventually you'll want to break into the realm of color - and this can be frightening. Beginners' paintings often lack color unity. In my opinion, this stems from a deceptively simple source: choice. Choice is a subject frequently addressed on Ctrl+Paint: having more options sometimes leads to fewer ideas. In this post I want to talk about color, and how a little limitation might be all you need to build confidence and experience.
A color scheme is simply the range of colors that reside in your image. I've created these previous videos (here, and here) dealing with basic color schemes, so make sure to watch them to get a bit of background. The simple act of picking a color palette before beginning your painting will help you avoid color discord. What it does is eliminate choices. Now you're not allowing yourself to choose colors from the entire color wheel, but limiting yourself to a certain sector of it. Hundreds of years ago a painter might have limited his palette because of the expense of certain pigments - though clearly Photoshop removes that particular restriction. These painters benefited, however, from very unified palettes. Now that the computer gives you infinite color options, it's up to you to enforce artificial limitations on yourself.
Whether you're just starting out with color, or simply want a change of pace, limiting yourself to a very narrow palette can spark creativity. What if you only allowed yourself to use a blue / orange scheme for an entire month? At a first glance this sounds very boring, and that the results would be monotonous. The truth, though, is that you'll push yourself to utilize color in entirely new ways due to the strict limitations. A month is a long time, and boredom will prevent you from repeating the same composition over and over. Below are some abstract examples of blue and orange used in varying proportions and with varying intensity. Clearly these are only sketches, but can begin to see the range of possibilities.
Less is More
The real danger with painting in color is using too much of it. I think it all goes back to drawing with markers as children - we're conditioned to think in terms of full saturation hues. One of the simplest pieces of advice I can give is to tone it down... reserve high saturation for small elements of your composition. Much of the natural world is gray and brown - even objects that we think of as colorful as not as vibrant as crayola markers. Vibrant Colors is a video I made about this exact topic, so make sure to check it out.
Why so Many Rules?
A strict color limitation might seem contrived, but remember: commercial art is all about following rules. As a concept artist in the game industry, following a strict color palette is very common. If you look at some of the art I made for Despicable Me you'll see what I mean. The challenge then becomes how to use those colors. In order to make interesting designs, I had to manipulate the color relationships, proportions, and intensities. Imagine for a second that you're a concept artist designing creatures that live in a frozen wasteland. The landscape already has a set of colors - would it make sense to design rainbow colored creatures? Probably not. The creatures would seem much more realistic if they match the environment that they come from - just deer and squirrels in the forest. In short, there are many reasons to work with limited palettes - and they're not just for experimentation. So get out there, and limit your colors! Do you have what it takes to paint for a whole month with only a few colors? Also, I'd love to see some examples of illustrators working in a narrow color palette, so feel free to post links in the comments!