Mandala Design Step 2: Color Test

When creating a physical- rather than digital- piece of artwork, I like to give myself a quick test run of color palettes before actually completing the work. Nothing feels quite as frustrating as working hard on a piece with a particular palette in mind, only to find that it doesn’t come near to the “vision” upon completion. It happens to all of us, though I do know some people who are utter palette wizards. I am not one of them. In the digital world, this really isn’t much of a problem as there are tons of tools for color correction and “just do it over” is pretty easily achieved. Having to toss and re-do entire physical images, on the other hand, can feel like an infuriating loss of time, money and resources.
To save myself the hassle, I try to plan ahead. Doing the test run in Photoshop is easy and allows me to view a wide range of choices without having to physically create them. The only pitfall is the large amount of color choices- it’s important to be sure you’re only using colors available in your chosen medium if you decide to try this.
Starting off is very easy- simply scan your artwork (or take a high quality photo if you have no scanner) and open the jpeg in Photoshop. Duplicate the locked “background” layer, then delete the original. Set the duplicate background to “multiply”, create a new blank layer and move it under the line art. Now you can paint on the blank layer. I did this with last week’s mandala design.


I chose to do five different test runs of colors- warm, cool, a gradient and two free designs. For the warm set, I restricted myself to only three colors- red, orange and yellow- with no variation of shade. Colors like pink, peach or brown could also be added to a warm palette, but I wanted the “heat” and the challenge of keeping things simple.


I used more variation in shade for the cool colors. Dark blue naturally recedes and allows brighter, more saturated colors to really stand out.


For the gradient, I decided to work from warm to cool colors, inside to out. Aside from the innermost sunburst and the outer circle/diamond pattern, there is a mix of warm and cool colors on each “level”. Using the rainbow (ROYGBIV) spectrum I worked from red to orange, orange to yellow, yellow to green, green to blue, blue to violet and then back to red.


The final two tests were a mix of all my available colors. The first was an entirely random choice of combinations I thought would work well.


The second involved more planning, borrowing bits and pieces from the tests I’d already created.


From these tests (or perhaps even another one), I’ll chose my palette and begin work on the physical piece with a greater confidence than I would otherwise. If anyone has an opinion on which palette to go with, I’m all ears… or, uh, eyes rather. Happy painting!


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