“There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun. So many colors in the flower and I see every one.” –Harry Chapin “Flowers are Red”
This is ball.
Or rather, this will be ball, once shaded. Today’s Ball tutorial is Beginner level, and its subject is Applied Color Theory.
Most of us learned the basics of Color Theory as part of our early childhood education- the color wheel, how to mix primary colors like red and blue to get secondary colors like purple, and which colors are complimentary (opposite) on the color wheel, like orange and blue. However, Color Theory and its applications go far beyond that. Today, we’ll take a look at how better use of color can take your images to the next level.
In the beginning, when we first learn to use color, we’re encouraged to do so monochromatically. In the song “Flowers are Red” (quoted above), Harry Chapin also sings “Flowers are red, young man. Green grass is green.” Generally, we were encouraged to assign particular colors to items and shade them accordingly. It comes as no surprise, then, how many beginner artists need to learn to move away from monochromatic shading. I was one of them. What’s the big deal? Well, let’s take a look. Here’s ball again, shaded monochromatically.
In this version, I shaded using only blues of the same hue, with variations in shade (brightness). The shadow is low-opacity black. Looks fine, right? Sure, but not only is this method more time consuming due to the number of shades needed to achieve the final result, there is also a lack of depth in the darkest areas. Compare it to this one.
This version was shaded with indigo and a red-based off-black, with pale yellow for the brightest area. The shadow is the same off-black as was used on the blue. Not only is Ball now more vibrant, but has more depth to the dark side as well. Eliminating black and using an off-black for shadows will also give images a more natural, organic feel. Here are both images, side by side. A is monochrome. B uses multiple colors. Despite the fact that B contains multiple colors, it still reads as blue, even more vibrantly so than A.
Admittedly, when you’re dealing with one object, shading monochromatically doesn’t seem too terribly detrimental, right? Not really, but once you start throwing more base colors into the mix, shading with multiple colors becomes more important. Let’s give Ball some friends.
Here, all of the blocks are shaded monochromatically, using their base colors. Looks okay, except… doesn’t that yellow block look a little funky? Shades of yellow tend to move toward green, making it particularly challenging to render in monochrome. On this image, it clashes pretty badly with the red and green blocks. Speaking of the green one, notice that it is lacking depth on its darker side. This is what happens when the same group of blocks is rendered using multiple colors:
The yellow is now warmer and more vibrant, the green now has more depth and the colors are more pleasing to the eye overall. Once you’ve mastered rendering with multiple colors, it can take less time than shading in monochrome. It also allows you much greater flexibility in your palette and opens the door to a world of surfaces and materials that you’ll be able to render like never before. Simply by changing the colors you are shading with, you can create an entirely different look and feel on the same object.
Now, it’s practice time! Each of the colors of the rainbow will react differently to one another. Make yourself a Ball and try them out. Here are some hints:
1. Colors that are closer together on the color wheel will make brighter, more vibrant mixes. Direct opposites will move toward grey or brown.
2. See what happens when you shade using dark magenta over bright yellow. What if you use bright orange?
3. Try out different off-blacks. How do your colors look when your off-black is in a blue hue? What about red?
4. Opacity is important. As my shades get darker, I like to lower the opacity of my brushes. When using Photoshop, I usually start with 30% opacity for soft brushes and 20% for hard, ending with 8% for both when using off-blacks and highlights.
5. If you’d like quick practice, you can create a circle (or any other shape) using the shape tool in Photoshop. Instead of painting right over it, hit control and click on the little preview picture on the layer to select it. Create a new layer and shade on that instead. That way, you can create as many different color combinations as you’d like just by adding layers and toggling their visibility. No need to create and delete multiple documents.