Monday, September 6, 2010

Color Thoughts

Here was my intention with the coloring of this piece. I wanted to evoke excitement, so I choose secondary colors rather than shades of the too-familiar primary colors. I used the same vivid intensity on bird and man to link them thematically, and added gray to the non-existent background to push it back.I like the result. Does anyone have opinions about the choices? (Click on the image to enlarge.)


  1. Brian, I really really like these two drawings, particularly with the strong blacks you're using throughout. But I'm not completely sold on the color treatment.

    To begin with: you shouldn't have to rely on colors to establish a thematic relationship in the first place. Your drawing should achieve that even in black and white. The man looks scared —got that. The bird could be a threat to him or not, I'm not sure. The relationship is ambiguous. Perhaps some environment would help, but I'm afraid color alone won't fill in the gaps.

    It's fun to talk color theory, but I think color can be over-rationalized. Sometimes your instincts or trial-and-error can serve you better.
    I greatly appreciate the fact that your colors aren't literal (face is flesh, eyes are white, etc.). But when I see three flat colors and they are all derivatives of bright purple and pink, I see "girl", which is the way your audience will likely see them as well, unless something else is thrown into the mix. When you work with strong bright colors right out of the crayon box, you are inviting people to read "boy" "girl' "Christmas" "Italian reataurant", etc.

    When you choose colors, try not to think in terms of primary or secondary. Try to think in terms of "warm" or "cool", which will help you orient your palette emotionally rather than intellectually.

    Color can be helpful in fine-tuning a composition, In this case, you can use it to help tip the balance of the two figures: what if you enlarged the bird and put a moon above him, casting some hot spots onto his feathers, while the man is walking below and blending in more with the background. Or you could reverse it, giving the man more emphasis, with bright eyeballs and shrinking the bird or having it silhouetted against a hazy moon. What works best depends on what the larger story is.

    I think these drawings are strong and can work pretty well with a minimum of color. You can follow the example of Ralph Steadman's "Alice in Wonderland art, which was mostly black and white, backed by luminous gradations of color (likely done on the press using a split-fount method of printing —I'm not sure)

    You're off to a great start. Keep up the good work!

  2. By the way, the latest Imagine FX has a wonderful poster poster included from James Gurney's new book showing color wheels and lighting guides. Incredible!

    Here is a link on his blog:

  3. Chuck, your feedback is greatly appreciated.

    I've been scolded before for not thinking of the iconic connotations of color (specifically "female" colors) because I get carried away with balance or the beauty of certain combinations.

    I like your idea of tipping the balance with hot spots of color. And a painter friend of mine gripes whenever I use colors "out of the box." And he's probably not thrilled with flat tones, either. Curse my comics background!

    I over-analyze color as an exercise because I've only started taking it seriously for the last couple of years. Analysis shoves me out of iconic, cliched choices. On the other hand, the ADD-Man strip for "Twelve-Way with Cheese" was colored intuitively and I'm happy with the results.

    My coloring ideal at this time? The bold graphics of the artists of the German magazine Simplicissimus.

    I didn't want to clear up the ambiguity; my explanation was faulty. The ink drawing was a spontaneous sketchbook burst, and I didn't want to burden it with an intentional story that it wasn't born with.

    Thanks again.

    And wow, Christina, what a poster.

  4. Brian,

    I can relate! I spent a lot of my youth inspired by animation, which left me ingrained with a color-in-the lines mindset. To this day, I struggle with color, and even have a hard time obliterating my precious linework with large areas of black, even when I know it's a better move.

    Lately, I've been telling myself that color wants to be shared: hues from the floor are reflected up to the figure, and colors from the sky appear in the eyes. This is probably color 101 for anyone who went to art-school, but I took graphic design and had to figure it out the hard way.

    I'll second the enthusiasm for Simplicissimus. I'll also second the "wow" on the poster. Might be a good book to put on the wish list.