For those of you looking to build up your skills with some traditional watercolor painting in a digital setting, here’s a number of tutorials you can check out. Maybe you’re looking to try out something different, or maybe you’re looking to spice up some background work – either way, be sure to thank some of the artists for their tips – these folks have been providing the net with invaluable resources! Click here to continue…
Mainstream comics are brilliant displays of finely crafted artwork – with the relative costs of ink colors on press dropping significantly, comics publishers have taken advantage of full colour in order to grab the attention of readers. However, color is not just limited to eye-candy and attraction – great comics use color to capture the mood of a moment or to help with the pacing of a story. Here are a number of tips on how to draw comics more effectively through the use of color theory.
I’ve written a short step by step tutorial on applying color to your inked comics, and I have also posted a number of links to various tutorials on the basics of color theory. Have a look at those previous posts for additional information, in order to help you with some of the terminology and concepts explained in this post.
Color combinations are used to create a pleasing arrangement to the reader’s eye, and to attempt to elicit a certain mood. Most of the time, this is done at a subconscious level, and when done correctly, will advance the story in a proper manner. There are a number of rules when using color that can be explained in full detail in the Color Theory post.
In comics, complementary colors are used to produce tension and also to produce harmony, depending on the response you are attempting to create. I have included this colour wheel by Don Jusko – his Real Color Wheel theory teaches the idea that darkened, shadowed colors achieve a neutral dark tone rather than a flat black devoid of any hue. This wheel was created for print/paint in order to take advantage of realistic color created under certain light conditions found in nature, and eliminates the use of black to create shadows (which makes your colors muddy and dull.)
For the greatest vibrancy of colour, use its direct complement (the pure colour directly across from it on the wheel). Note: Jusko’s wheel is quite different from the traditional color wheels you have seen. His complements are direct optical inverses of one another. If you are uncomfortable with this method, use the traditional wheel which relies on black to create shades.
Another method of effective color combination comes from the use of analogous colors. These colours are found beside one another on the colour wheel, and when used together, help to amplify moods. For example – using a combination of BLUE/BLUE GREEN/GREEN could create a feeling of doubt, mystery or an eerie, creepy effect – this is why it is commonly used in horror films and images.
There are also discordant color combinations, monochromatic (single-color), triadic (triangular equidistant on wheel) and more which you can use to add emphasis to your panels.
We’ve all heard of cool and warm colors – but how do they work within comics? Well, similar to painting and color composition in drawing and photography, a cool colour palette within a comic panel will evoke a feeling of despair, sadness, melancholy, etc. At the same time, these tones will also slow down the pace of the story in that particular scene.
In these panels, Peter Parker reflects on some memories of Gwen Stacy while he’s cleaning out some stuff in his attic and coming across her picture.
To the untrained eye, you may have sensed a feeling of regret and reflection, coldness and emptiness – and it wasn’t merely the dialogue that evoked that feeling. The shades of blue and dramatic shadows helped intensify that feeling. Color is used to play upon the subconscious of readers. We associate colors with feelings – and feelings are also associated with temperature. Anger, excitement, intensity, love, and happiness are associated with warmth and heat. Sadness, anguish, lonliness, despair, regret and misery are associated with cooler temperatures.
This temperature effect helps the colorist control the mood of the reader – if it is a tense action moment, perhaps the scene will have more reds and oranges to heighten the urgency. But a dramatic, sad scene like the one illustrated above will make use of subdued, cooler hues like blues and purples.
Determine the mood within the panel, and choose the right color to amplify it. Being subtle in pencils, inks and dialogue works some of the time – but effective color can really drive home the point.
We touched on creating focal points when you’re learning how to draw comics in this post about composition and layout. Now I’ll show you how color can enhance this direction. Look at this panel from Skaar: Son of Hulk, and see where the focal points of each panel are.
The huge yellow blast behind Skaar in the first panel draws emphasis to that particular area on the panel. It is an intense scene with a number of active elements on the page – a chasm opening up, rocks being smashed and flying about, all from Skaar pounding the ground. You could easily emphasize one of the wrong elements and have the scene be interpreted differently. In this example, the emphasis is on the power of Skaar’s impact. By using a fiery yellow blast, it also elevates the feeling of action and strength.
If you look at the last panel, you see the emphasis is on the red figures in the background. Their anger and rage is intensified with the red and yellow fiery tones. If you couldn’t tell they were pissed from the line drawings, you can sure figure it out now.
Another effect used on this page is saturated colors – in the second panel, the figures in the background are of lesser importance, so their colors are muted and desaturated. Meanwhile, in the foreground, Skaar’s leg appears much more prominent, partially because of the stronger line weight, but also because of the deeper, saturated color. The same effect is seen in the third panel – except this time, the background figures are prominent, and the foreground figures are subdued.
As I mentioned earlier, color can be used to evoke feelings at a subconscious level through temperature and experiences from past associations. Another method of playing upon subconscious thought is through the use of polarization and dominance. Visually, the boldest color scheme is the primary color triad of RED-YELLOW-BLUE. Secondary to that is GREEN-ORANGE-VIOLET, and beyond that is the tertiary scheme of the in-between colors (YELLOW-GREEN, BLUE-VIOLET, RED-ORANGE etc)
Here’s an interesting observation you may not have noticed. Check every major superhero you know, and look at their color palette.
Captain America – Red and Blue
Spiderman – Red and Blue
Iron Man – Red and Yellow
Superman – Red, Yellow and Blue
Shazam – Red and Yellow
Now compare that to typical villains:
Doctor Octopus - Green
Dr. Doom – Green
The Hobgoblin – Green and Orange
The Green Goblin – Purple and Green
Parallax – Orange and Green
Notice a pattern? The heroes are often outfitted in the dominant primaries, while their evil counterparts are in secondary colors. This subconscious color scheme forces you to believe that the hero is the most dominant. I’ll bet some of you didn’t notice that. Now, this isn’t a cemented rule, but you can try that effect out in order to accentuate the main character in your next story.
Smaller details such as warm glows, refracted light, mists and hazes, and environmental effects can also increase the dramatic effects in your panels. For example,
this image of Batman standing amongst the shadows shows the city of Gotham in a brooding, mysterious blue-grey haze. There is additional contrast to the focal point (Batman) where a cool bluish-white glow surrounds the hero. This intensifies the dark background and makes the city look even more sinister.
In this image, the warm glow of the sun casts a number of warm colors this sullen warrior. The front of the character has been washed with cooler tones, perhaps to bring out an evil side, but the colored highlights from the light source in the rear create contrast through some subdued complementary juxtaposition (red-oranges-yellows / blue-green-purples). In addition to the glow of the scorching sun, there are some wisps of mist in the chasm behind the main character, creating depth and separation of the foreground and background elements.
That concludes our lesson for today – I hope you’re able to take some of these tips on using color effectively to help you learn how to draw comics that are vibrant and inspiring. If you’re looking for some color ideas and themes, check out Kuler – an Adobe project showcasing designers and artist’s color palettes to inspire and evoke moods for your next project. See you next time!
In my previous tutorial on Digital Inking, I demonstrated the simplest method to inking your comics after they have been scanned into your computer and ways of developing your page layout for print or on screen. The next step is to begin coloring our work with a few simple steps.
This tutorial was created using Adobe Photoshop. You can use the program of your choice, but in order to achieve the same result(or as close as possible to the tutorial,) make sure your software supports layers, as it is extremely important in maintaining an organized file.
There are several tutorials out there on coloring comics, but in this method I will show you the quickest and easiest way that works for most software.
1. Establish your Color Mode
Color mode selection is important because it will affect your color swatch selections and viewing application. If you are planning on creating your artwork for use online or displayed on a monitor / screen, work within the RGB color mode. If you are creating comics for print, your file should be set up in the CMYK color mode. Professional printers output files using the CMYK model because it is the most common method for achieving all printed colors using blends of 4 colors of ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
Start off in one of the color modes dependent on your application. There are some ranges of colors that can not be physically printed in the CMYK model but are visible in the RGB model. This is known as a color gamut. You can learn more about it here. If your comics are in RGB and you convert them to CMYK afterwards, many of your subtle shades and tints will disappear and your colors will become dull because they are not reproducible in 4 color printing.
* There is a method used by Pantone called Hexachrome which offers 6 color printing by adding Green and Orange ink to the CMYK mix to expand the printed gamut. This extra set of inks becomes more expensive to print and requires the use of a specific color profile native to Hexachrome printing.
2. You should have Four (4) Layers in your file
Linework – this is your previously inked work
Flats – This is for the use flat colors and for building up your tones and values
Highlights – This layer is for the use of shine/ light effects etc
Effects – This layer is for other environmental effects – fog, mist, light rays, snow, rain, darkness etc.
The order should be Effects as the top layer, followed by Linework, Highlights and Flats at the bottom.
3. Working on your Flats Layer(s)
The Flats layer is for exactly that – flat colors. Use a paintbrush or lasso + paint bucket/fill tool for filling in your areas with the colors you want. After you have laid down your first level of flats, on each section, use a slightly darker tone of the same color, and using your brush, paint in areas that would have some subtle shadows.
Do the same thing with a slightly lighter tone of your base flat color in order to create subtle highlights. You can repeat these steps as many times as you like in order to build levels of depth within your flat colors. If you want to smooth out the lines between each layered tone, you can do so with a blur tool or a smudge type tool to blend all the tones for a softer, smoother effect.
As you can see in this comparison between Cyclops of the X-Men and Archie from the newsprint based comic books, traditional comics coloring does not have blending, so it is acceptable to have hard lines in between each color tone. You still achieve the same element of depth, just on a flatter scale.
4. Creating your Highlights
Once your foreground and background coloring has been done, it is time to add additional highlights for extra depth. Start with a small brush, and then paint blots of white in the ‘hottest’ areas of the lighter tones you’ve painted in the flat layer. Do not overdo the highlights, otherwise your figures will appear metallic or glossy (unless they ARE metallic or glossy – then its absolutely fine!)
Once the blots are done, blur the white patches and blend those into your colors underneath by feathering the edges. You could also leave the painted blots with harder edges if you wish to have a flatter appearance. For additional control, create a few more highlight layers and adjust the opacity of each layer (if your software allows it) for more dynamic effects on each panel.
5. Details through Effects
For additional depth and detail, use your effects layer to really make your images ‘pop’. Perhaps your character has energy spheres that glow brightly or there is an eerie mist in the surrounding environment.
.This layer(s) is where you would place these rendered effects to provide more visual impact, refine and put the finishing touches on your colored work. The reason the Effects layer sits above the Linework layer is to create more of a sense of form and shape. If these effects are oulined in heavy black, the effect is flattened and will lack the depth and shape you want to establish. Only pure black and white comics use outlined effects in order to create a visual idea, since color isn’t an option.
6. Final Touches and Refinements
Once your colors have been laid down, your highlights added, and your effects finalized, you can do your tweaks and adjustments to all of these layers if you’re not completely satisfied with your rendering. Sometimes its worth taking a few hours off and coming back to the page to see if there are any changes you’ll want to make – or if its fine just the way it is.
7. Save your Layered working file
ALWAYS make sure you save a working version of your layered file. You may have to make further adjustments later, and without the original working file you’ll have to start over from scratch to mimic the work you’ve already done. That is not efficient.
You have passed the Digital Coloring tutorial. Now that the color work is done, we’ll move on to rendering your type and dialogue if you haven’t done so already. Check out different styles of comics and study how each colorist renders their effects, builds their flat colors and create shape and form. Keep trying new coloring techniques until you find one you are comfortable with. There are plenty of samples on the internet to learn from. Practice and develop your style, and eventually you’ll be making stunning masterpieces of comic book art.
We’ve focused on some drawing techniques and tutorials - now we’re going to have a look at some digital painting tutorials so you can simulate the feeling of live painting with your tablet. Here’s some online & video tutorials that show you different methods used to achieve some wonderful looking works of art.
This tutorial shows you how to layer your colours and build up your forms and create realistic looking skin tones from a reference portrait. Its one of the easiest tutorials I’ve seen, and its very effective with a some practice.
Jim Zubkavich goes through a step-by-step process from loose line art to a finished digitally painted piece.
Here’s a handy potrait painting tutorial from TutorialQuest.com. Pay close attention to the tips given, as they are key fundamental things you should know when venturing out into the world of portraiture (Digital or other media).
Alain DesCamps explains the process involved in creating a landscape using a digital painting method. Courtesy of CGArena.com.
A majority of tutorials on the ‘net are usually focused on the Adobe suite of products (Photoshop and Illustrator mainly) so here is a lovely walkthrough of Nick Harris’ process for creating a digital painting of a Steampunk Watch-mender Mender (Once you see the image, you’ll know what I’m talking about) using Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro software.
In a later post, I’ll be showcasing a number of speed-painting videos so you can marvel at the artistry of some of the best digital artists out there. Perhaps you could learn a few new techniques on how to layer and build your digital artworks!
We live in a world of beautiful, vibrant color. As artists, we try to replicate what we see and feel using color – but in order to do so effectively, you must understand the science behind it. I’ve put together a list with a number of techniques and lessons that will help you better understand color theory.
Jill Morton at Color Matters discusses the concepts of color.
Introduction to Color Theory + Exercises
Laurie Garo provides a technical lesson and exercises based on color theory. (University lesson)
Electronic Colors, Models, Mixing and Application
Starting with the basics of electronic color, this information site offers comprehensive coverage of color theory, the history and science behind it and its applications.
Worqx.com has a large resource of information on color, theory, practices and applications. There is enough information here to guide you further along in your use of color after you’ve understood the basics. I’ve used the information from Worqx time and time again. Make sure you bookmark this site for sure!
And there you go – learn from these resources and enjoy your new-found knowledge of color as you apply it to your next projects!