Color Studies Tips


In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of color studies. Here’s a little more specific info about making color studies and the thought process that I go through.


Have a basic color education. I won’t get too much into color theory here; it is a very large and complicated subject. If any of the terms I use confuse you, then you need to do a little research. There are many books, articles, and other resources that cover the subject in-depth. At the very least, know some basic terms (hue, saturation, value, etc.) and relationships (monochromatic, analogous, complementary, etc.).

Limit your palette. Most of my paintings are really colorful and you can see tons of different colors in my images. However, each image (at least the stronger ones) will still have one major theme encompassing that keeps it unified. For example, a red-orange object on a blue-green background, a blue painting with green accents, or a painting made all with pastel colors.


After creating many color studies, I find myself playing with the same set of factors every time. They are all important characteristics that influence the mood of the painting, and I never know which one will create the strongest image. The result often surprises me, which is the beauty of all this experimentation.

  • Warm or cool?

    Most paintings will be predominantly one or the other. It is an important decision to make as it affects the entire mood of the image.

    I often make the main subject of my painting a different temperature than the background, to make it stand out. So in that case, my decision becomes – do I want a warm object on a cool background, or a cool object on a warm background?

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  • Saturation

    My first instinct is to work with bright, bold colors. However, I also experiment with using softer grays. They tend to look more serious and sophisticated, which has been beneficial for a few of my pieces.

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  • Light and value

    In addition to color studies, I also make at least one value study for my paintings in black and white. This helps establish lighting and emphasis, which you need to get a handle on before you even consider color. When I get into creating the color study, I always have the light and dark patterns in mind.

    Also consider:

    • What color are the light sources? (e.g. warm daylight or cool night light?)
    • How does the light/shadows affect the local color of the objects in my painting? (e.g. colors are usually brighter and warmer in light, darker and cooler in shadow)

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