A Lesson in Witchcraft – Symbiosis Through Complementary Colors

I’m excited to release my latest personal work, “A Lesson in Witchcraft.” This also marks the completion of the first Patreon specific piece for October’s Halloween theme! Alas, it is a bit late for the holiday but overall, I’m really happy with how this one came out. Journeyman level patrons and up will receive a limited edition print, so look out for that in your collective mailboxes soon 🙂

I learned so much about color relationships with “Lesson” that I decided this post would be a fitting place to write about my findings. There’s a lot going on with this one, so I feel color is a good lens through which to view my overall decision making process.

Before I started painting, I first made some color studies in Photoshop to figure out the overall color cast of the scene. My original intention was to proceed with #4… but as I was working along, I realized I didn’t want a nighttime scene, but rather one of dusty, afternoon light with secondary interior lighting.

I looked at this piece of concept art for Star Wars: Rogue One by Adam Brockbank quite a bit to identify the overall lighting and color scheme. I loved the way the dusky light filters in from another source while the character’s silhouette is offset by the background. I really don’t have any qualms about looking at other artists to get ideas for lighting, composition and set dressing. No one works in a vacuum and my ideas are always preceded by many other pictures that have come before, many of which have incredibly valuable insights to offer!

Here is an early shot of the painting. I’m still going ahead with color scheme #4, so it’s still quite cool and subdued overall.

As previously mentioned, I decided to change course against the nighttime scene. Night felt too much on the nose. As the princess character is hanging out with a demon, I wanted to play off that dichotomy with a very nostalgic setting. Golden afternoon slanting light plays that nostalgic fuzziness up, whereas night indicates darkness, spookiness and evil. Think of all the movie scenes of a father playing catch with his son. It’s always happening in golden afternoon light, right? Playing with the dramatic irony of this kind of lighting with an otherwise odd pair of characters is part of what really drew me into the story of this one!

Farther into the piece, I’m all the way committed to the afternoon lighting and color scheme. It would be reasonable to ask, “why make color studies if you’re just going to change it anyway?” What I’ve discovered is that color studies are really just the start of a larger conversation. They help me to generate palette ideas but once I dive into the paint, new color combinations start to appeal to me. The piece evolves from the study, rather than being constrained by it.

I’m fast forwarding quite a bit now to very near the end of the piece. I’ve got the duskiness quality of the setting in there. But it still needed a little something. I wasn’t sure what that was, so I showed this painting to some colleagues and got great feedback.

It turned out that I made the painting TOO dusky. Too much yellow, not enough contrast, not enough focus on our characters. What to do? How to fix this?

This is going to feel really elementary but my way out of this conundrum was to consult the classic stand by of the Color Wheel we all know from elementary school. My demon was red and my heroine was dressed in green. I knew that these two colors would pair nicely as they are complements. But I wanted them to be linked even more vibrantly.

So, I changed our princess’ hair to dark red, playing off the skin of the demon and his orange, backlit wings. I also gave her red jewelry. Now, te complementary scheme is acting like a target, attracting our attention to the focal point. Subconsciously, I also think it works because the demon and the princess are companions. It just makes sense that their colors would jive together, creating symbiosis through complementary colors.

I learned so much by plunging headlong into these thorny color problems. There’s really no way around it. So, if you’re struggling with color, here are a few things you can keep in mind:

1. Color is difficult for everyone. So don’t feel bad if it’s hard for you!

2. Look at other painters, but also study films, television and photography. All these creators are essentially solving the same problem of color and lighting, but in their own unique ways.

3. Study from life whenever possible. Our brains have a very difficult time recalling specific details of color relationships that become obvious when we witness them in reality.

4. If you’re stuck and not sure how to proceed, look at your work in black and white. Eliminate the color entirely and you’ll see what is really reading on a basic level. Then go back and use your insights to make an informed decision.

5. Finally, always be experimenting! You never know what you’ll discover – that’s part of the beauty and part of the struggle 🙂