Saturday, 21 December 2013

On Colour

Most of the time I post a doll, I tend get compliments on the colours I used. People have asked me how I do them and I never had an idea of how to answer that question. Making palettes is just something I do unconsciously and I never really thought much about it. While I do know the basics of colour theory, I never consciously use them. This means that what I'm going to write is purely my personal way of doing things.
A little while ago I was making a doll for a forum challenge. The goal was to doll yourself in your pyjamas. Since I wanted the doll to be somewhat accurate, I took a reference picture and picked some colours from it. I tend to do this a lot if I want to recreate something. Not because I'm lazy though: I always end up thoroughly changing the palette. It's just easier for me to have a starting point from which I start building a palette (it's either that or start shading with the default MS Paint colours, which is what I actually do most of the time). Most of the time these preliminary palettes look atrocious, but this time it didn't look too bad. It ended up looking pretty similar to the colours in the picture.

The doll on the left is the one with the original colours. Not that awful, right? It's
actually passable and a few years ago I would have been happy with it.  On first glance this is a perfectly ordinary doll. Something about the colours of the pyjamas bugged me: though they were true to the reference pic, I felt that there was something off about them. It was then that I came to properly realise what probably earns me the compliments on the colours I use. In this doll the colours of the shirt and pants aren't connected to each other. There's no trace of pink/purple in the shirt and no trace of blue in the pants. While this was also the case in the reference picture, I felt that it made the doll look bland. So I played with the colours and got the right doll as a result. It's a subtle change, but I feel it ties the different elements of the doll more together and makes it slightly more interesting to look at.

This is something I do with every single doll I make. If I don't do it, my dolls don't look complete to me. It's probably most noticeable in bright and light colours. When colours are especially bright they're more likely to look disconnected on your doll. I've made some dolls with bright colours (like this one) and have always used this technique of mixing colours. In the doll I just linked to, you can see that the bright blue has purple shadows, that the purple cloth has blue shadows and that in the corset the pink highlights of the over dress are used in the shadows, along with darker purple tints. The purple and pink are also used for the highlights of the hair. It doesn't matter that the shadows of blue fabric aren't usually purple in real life. Or that purple cotton pants don't display blue shadows in regular lighting. Sometimes you have to observe reality and then disregard it. Just play with the colours: if you have a pink skirt and a green shirt, try to see if you can incorporate the pink in the green shirt and vice versa. Just try. See what works and what doesn't. If it doesn't work, try something else. Have fun with it.

A little extra on white: I tend to use a variety of colours in my white palettes. One palette can have purple, green and peach tints in it. Usually I don't want my white to look like a really light blue/purple/green/grey/... and using such a variety of colours helps me to achieve that goal. The amount and place of each colour in the palette depends on the rest of the doll. On the left are three white palettes I've used. The first one I used in this doll. The peach-ish tones used in the rest of the doll are used for the shadows of the white palette. To keep it looking white enough for my taste, I added some greens and blues in the middle range of colours and ended with another light peach tone for the first highlight. White is only used in the brightest highlights.
The third palette was used in this doll. This time there was a lot of purple in the rest of the doll. This time the shadows are blue and bright purple, while a peach tint is used in the middle range. A very light blue is used for the highlight. All of these colours were in fact taken from the skin palette. There's a mix of cool and warmer colours that's used in the rest of the doll. The colours in the white palette reflect the ones used in the  rest of the doll and background.
The second palette was used in this doll. While it bears some similarities to the third palette (the middle shades and highlight are the same), the colours used for the shadows are much cooler and unsaturated. This changes the entire look of the palette. If I were to use the third palette in this doll, it would look too bright and warm. In the image on the right you can see most of the palettes I used for the entire doll. W is the white palette, the first D is the blue palette used for the bodice and cloak, S is the skin palette, H is the hair palette and the second D is the palette of the under dress. You can see that the darkest shadows of the first three palettes are the same. I numbered the rest of the shades of the white palette and put those numbers on the same shades used in the other palettes. Except for shade number four, the rest of the shades are used in various other parts of the doll. A lot of the shades and colours are repeated throughout the entire doll.

I'm not good at explaining things and, as I said before: I don't think much when I'm making my palettes, but I hope this somewhat explains why I use colours the way I do and what's the reasoning behind my palettes. The most important thing of it all: have fun with colours!


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    1. I'm glad that this post is somewhat useful. As I stated before, it's hard for me to explain how I work with colours. The fascinating thing about the first two dolls is that the colours on the second one are more true to life than the colours on the second one, while it's the second one that looks more consistent and generally better. My colours are never right from the beginning: palette making is something I usually leave for last. It's easier for me to get the colours right when the shading is already done.

      Thank you ^^ I figured I should make a post like this since I often get compliments on the colours I use and tried to make it as clear as possible. I'm glad that my effort paid off :)

      I think that's indeed the hardest part of pixeling for quite a few people. Especially when you're not used to using opaque colours. Trying out different colour combinations can help with getting used to it. You obviously don't have to get your palette right from the first try: it's all about tinkering with the colours till they look like you want them to look. And thank you! Those vibrant colours were inspired by a beautiful picture of the sky I once saw. I think that if I hadn't used the techniques I described in the post, the colours would have clashed a bit (or a lot). That's why I used it as an example :)

    2. Original Comment by Zapatones26 September 2014 at 23:41

      I think you did a great job explaining how you use colour. You gave lots of useful tips that do work. I think everyone can see the improvement between the two dolls at the beginning and how the second looks much more consistent. It also helps send the message that this is not about getting things right from the beginning, but working on them bit by bit till you're happy with them.

      You have a natural talent when it comes to colours-- and your hard work shows through, obviously! But the best thing about this post, apart from the great points and examples, is how easy you've made it. I can re-read any paragraph and take notes of all the things I was missing. Thanks so much for the effort you've put into it!

      To me, the hardest part about pixeling is picking different hues like you've shown here, because I rely too much on pressure sensitivity when tooling, and I just can't see which colours would look good together when working with more solid shapes. However, now I have a great reference to go back to whenever I'm in doubt. Also, congratulations on making such vibrant colours work on that second doll!