Quiet or Riot: Colour Communication in Your Art | Jen Dixon | Skillshare

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Quiet or Riot: Colour Communication in Your Art

teacher avatar Jen Dixon, Abstract & figurative artist, educator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Materials Needed


    • 3.

      Colour Communication: Mood & Message Part 1


    • 4.

      Colour Communication: Mood & Message Part 2


    • 5.

      Palette Creation: Adobe Color & Adobe Capture


    • 6.

      Project: Reference Palettes & Practice Sketching


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts and Thank You


    • 8.

      Quiet or Riot: Intro Bloopers


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About This Class


This class on using colour is aimed at artists, but the principles are useful for designers and developers too.

Welcome to Quiet or Riot: Colour Communication in Your Art.

In this class, we’re going to take your use of colour to a new level by exploring the way colour communicates mood and message. This class assumes you have some experience in creating colour wheels and mixing basic colours, or digitally, have some previous experience with considering colour from various colour systems.

We will dive into WHY we use certain colours, WHEN to use them, and WHAT they communicate. You’ll learn to recognise basic colour psychology by looking at everything from logos, to art masterpieces, to Instagram filters, learning how their use of colour affects our understanding - and interpretation - of the image.

We’ll decipher sample palettes from photographs using online tools, and then mix watercolour swatches guided by what we discover.

In the downloadable material, I’ll give you simple sketches to use as a template for rapidly exploring different colour palettes to communicate a variety of moods.

By joining me in this class, you’ll take your understanding of colour - and its power to communicate - to a new level in your art. You’ll have the tools you need to create appropriate palettes whether quiet, riot and beyond.

Enrol now and let’s get started.



Meet Your Teacher

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Jen Dixon

Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Top Teacher

Whether you want to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones, I would love to help. I have been a selling artist for around 35 years. In my own practice I use pen & ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, and watercolours regularly. My work hangs in private collections around the world.
I love what I do, and I teach what I love. We can do good things together here, so let's get started...

About me:
I’m an Ameri-Brit (dual citizen), living on the North Cornwall coast of the UK. I’ve been here nearly two decades, but have lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Berkshire (UK). I am studying Spanish daily with an aim for becoming bilingual. Hola, artistas.

My work covers everything from graffiti-influenced illustration & mixed m... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hey. I'm Jen Dixon and welcome to Quiet Or Riot, color communication in your art. I'm a color junkie and in this class we're going to take your use of color to a new level by exploring the way color communicates mood and message. This class is aimed at physical medium artists. However, digital artists and designers will find the information useful too. This is also not a total beginners class so I'm going to assume you have some experience with color wheels and mixing basic colors, and digitally are familiar with color systems. We're going to dive into the why we use certain colors, when to use them, and what they communicate. You'll learn to recognize basic color psychology by looking at everything from logos to art masterpieces to Instagram filters, and how their use of color affects our understanding and our interpretation of the image. We'll decipher sample pallets from photographs using online tools and then mix paint swatches guided by what we discover. In the downloadable material, I'll give you simple sketches to use as a template for rapidly exploring different color palettes to communicate a variety of moods. By joining me in this class, you'll take your understanding of color and its power to communicate to a whole new level in your art. You'll have the tools you need to create appropriate pallets whether quiet, riot, or beyond. Enroll now and let's get started. 2. Materials Needed: Welcome to Quiet or Riot: Color Communication in Your Art. If you've taken my other classes, and of course I hope you have, you'll probably already have everything you need. For this class, I'll be using watercolors. This includes a pile of heavy paper, which doesn't need to be expensive watercolor paper, just something maybe 100 gsm or heavier to take some watercolor abuse. You'll also want a few of your favorite brushes, perhaps a small, medium, and large of your choice. I'll mostly be using round brushes. Also have a couple of jars of clean water, and a supply of napkins or paper towels handy, and a basic sketching pencil, perhaps a 2B or similar. For the digital parts of this class, you'll want a computer with Internet access to visit color.adobe.com. If you have a tablet, I'll also be showing you the amazing app, Adobe Capture. You won't need an Adobe account for the website, but if you dig the app, you'll need one, which is a free sign up. Now let's dig in. 3. Colour Communication: Mood & Message Part 1: Color is a communicator. It gives us visual information in a split second and we instinctively begin making assumptions about products, paintings, and messages. In written language, colors are assigned poetically and we instantly know what is meant by yellow-bellied coward, green with envy, red with anger, and feeling blue. Look through Instagram feeds to see how the color of a photograph contributes to its reception. Data is available from numerous sources on filter popularity. Often, Instagram is a stylized version of real life. In these examples, I've taken the unfiltered shot on the left and processed it to provoke a better response in the viewer by tweaking the colors. On the right, the mood is lighter and feels more dreamlike or nostalgic. Notice the complimentary colors of red violet, and yellow green. Next, this beach scene is too flat when photographed, but after enhancing the contrast and boosting a warm, cool relationship, the scene pops with more visual information. Suddenly, although produced with subtle color trickery, we feel more connected to the scene. A similar approach is taken with the autumn trees on the river bank. The original is not telling the story that I wanted to remember about that view, and so creating pop with saturation and shadow, suddenly creates a place you'd like to see for yourself. The interplay of red and green complimentary colors is joined by the triad of yellow, blue, and red primaries. Flat becomes a feast for the eyes. Finally, subtle changes in color can take a beautiful flower in a dark corner and make it glow with a new perceived positivity. Boosting the red violet and yellow green complimentary colors pumps up the happiness. Real life is too real for Instagram, our eyes like fantasy. Using color to communicate mood in art is only natural. A perfect example of color being used to express a feeling, is the Blue Period of work by Pablo Picasso. Created from 1901-1904, these mostly monochromatic paintings were a response to the 1901 suicide death of Picasso's close friend Poet Carles Casagemas. Consider depressed and cheerless, these works were initially very poor sellers at the time, clearly affecting potential buyers with a palette of mournful colors. I've taken one of these works, the old guitarist, and created a palette based on samples within the painting. Gloomy and earthy, the mood Picasso is communicating is deep, despair, and loss. I experimented with mixing water colors until I felt I had a palette similar to the samples on screen. Depending on where the samples were taken in the work, the palette could communicate a similar, but perhaps less dramatic mood. We'll take an in-depth look at how to decipher palettes from photos later. I mentioned in the introduction to this class that I'm a color junkie. Much of my work is boldly colorful and at times I use the effect in collaboration with shape and title, as in this riotous piece called War Paint. Other times the work requires a very different approach, as in this portrait called Mother, dying, which uses a palette inspired by old masters to convey the personal importance and gravity of the moment, but illuminates the treasured fleeting time before the inevitable. In this piece, The Weight of it, the depression that inspired this work was so grave, that I felt blue would have given too much emotion to the emptiness I felt. So I stuck with a very neutral, lifeless palette. 4. Colour Communication: Mood & Message Part 2: If color is a critical communicator in our work, how do we use it? Whether you're working on a logo for company branding or painting a corner seaside village, the colors you choose will influence how a viewer reacts to your message. If you're creating branding for an eco-building company, chances are good that using earth tones and greens that look like new growth will be better received than using the colors popular on MTV in the 1980s. Carl Jung theorized that only about five percent of our thinking takes place on a conscious level, with 95 percent on a subconscious level. This means the quicker you can deliver mood and message with a visual cue using color, shape, and composition, the more likely the mood and message of your work will be understood as you intend. Here are some color palette ideas to consider when you're working with your next painting or design. Natural tones and earth tones, seasonal colors. Imagine the difference in communicating the four seasons; eras and historical. Color palettes are often associated with the fashion of the time. For example, art nouveau versus art deco. Muted or quiet. Muted palettes can be pale or deep and also cultural. Think about Moroccan colors compared to what you might see in Ireland, you get the idea. Back to mood and message in art. When we think of the work of JMW Turner, we typically recall moody Seascapes and Stormy Skies, and often his use of large patches of warm oranges and yellows to contrast with the blues of sky or water. However, an altogether different mood is created when he switches to a pallet, more serene and delegate. Notice the completely different mood and message communicated by this shift in color palette. The whole scene presents an innocence and calm, thanks to the pastel tones of the distance and the golden light on the people in the foreground. But what if he painted it with a little different message and mood? Here's an exaggeration of the same painting, but in deeper colors and more contrast. It could perhaps just be a different time of day. But the scene loses its dream-like innocence and feels less like a fond memory, and more like a snapshot. The mood is changed and the message he intended is lost. Another example of critical use of color to convey mood is easy to read in the paintings of Picasso's Blue Period, which we discussed in the previous section. Here's a side by side of the tragedy from 1903. I've exaggerated a warmth in the palette and the painting suddenly loses the depth of despair of the original. The figure still have the posture of grief, but the colors betray the mood by adding a rosy glow to the scene. The painting no longer works and the message is flat. Use of color to communicate mood and message is critical to getting the viewer on a subconscious level, and will either move them or create indifference. 5. Palette Creation: Adobe Color & Adobe Capture: Now we're going to look at how online palette generation can benefit your art, whether you work in paints or digital applications. This is Adobe Color CC, found at color.adobe.com. That would be the American style spelling of color, C-O-L-O-R.adobe.com. If you have an Adobe ID, you can sign in at the top right, but if you don't have one, you can still access most of the cool tools here. An Adobe ID is free to create and if you have an Adobe Behance account, that login should work just fine. In fact, that's what I'm using. Signing in allows you to use the features in Creative Cloud and the Save button. I personally don't use Creative Cloud services, so if there's a palette I want to save off to my computer, I tend to just screen-grab it. On the left is a menu called color rule and you're likely already familiar with the terminology in there. If you ever click on them, you'll see the color wheel in the middle of the screen change. You can also zoom the color wheel by clicking on it to either overlap the swatches or uncover them. Under each swatch is the digital formula for the color above it. When you click a swatch, it highlights the corresponding loop dot on the color wheel. Drag a loop dot to pick a color on the wheel itself. Unless you are dragging while the custom color rule is in effect, the other dots will also move to fulfill the rule you have active. To be honest, I'm so easily amused that I think just doing this is loads of fun. Let's check out how this site becomes wildly useful for analog and digital artists alike. Click the camera icon in the upper right under the sign-in area. You can now upload an image from your computer to analyze the color. You'll initially get a widespread sampling with the loop dots covering all the major hues in the photo. However, if you'd like to just look at a specific range of colors, for example, in my image of this poppy, I just want the pinks. You can click the custom color rule menu, then rearrange the dots to various points within the flower until you have five different swatches. You could now use these swatches as a reference to mix paint or save it to further examine the RGB colors maybe for use in digital illustration. What about deciphering the color palettes of masterpieces? Simply click on the word Create in the upper left or the tiny color wheel where the camera icon was to effectively start over. Load another image. In this example, I've chosen The Old Guitarist by Picasso. Adobe Color is so useful for rapidly understanding the dominant palette used to create this moody painting. Again, if you're looking to more deeply understand a particular color, then just choose Custom and rearrange the loop dots in the area you want to study. Here's a work by JMW Turner called Records Coast of Northumberland. The drama of this masterpiece is created using a very limited palette of cream, orange, and slate. In creating the mood of each, the Picasso and the Turner, the artist worked in a limited palette to guide your feelings. One communicates despair, while the other, using the contrast of warm and cool colors, conveys the excitement of stormy sea and peril. A lot of information can be relayed in just a few well-chosen colors. Finally, if you want to browse color combinations by other users of Adobe Color, click Explore from the upper left. If you see a pallet you like, you can choose Edit Copy, and tweak it if you like. It won't change the original user's palette, but you can now save a version of your own, provided that you're logged in. All in all, a really fun site to explore. What if you want to take to the streets for your color palette inspiration? Adobe has you covered with their app, Adobe Capture. It's a free download, but requires an Adobe ID to open. I have it on my iPhone and my iPad. I admit that I only really use the colors part of this app, but if you give the app access to your camera, you can point live at anything around you and sample a color palette. This is huge fun and you'll be checking everywhere for pallets. Every move you make will alter the combinations, but if you tap the screen once, the app will freeze the combo on screen and then you can either screenshot it or snap the camera shutter button to take advantage of further tools and the Creative Cloud. Snapping it pops the swatch into an edit color area, which behaves very similarly to the Adobe Color website. Then you can save it to your library and have the option to share it with the world by making it discoverable. Once you start playing with the app, your color palette library will grow like wildfire and you're going to begin seeing the world around you just a little bit differently. If your local museums permit it, try sampling the colors of masterpieces or maybe from the old library books. You can also monkey around with the slider tools and loop dots to tweak any samples that you take. Anytime you see a work of art or a stunning landscape and think, how the heck do I capture the mood of this in my own work? Just point the camera with this useful tool and be catapulted in the right direction. 6. Project: Reference Palettes & Practice Sketching: We touched on the use of thematic palettes in video, Mood and Message Part 2. Let's go through the creation of one of these and talk about why, when, and what we might use these combinations of color for, and also how to create them. Off to one side of my desk, I've opened color.adobe.com in a browser and loaded a randomly selected image of a Moroccan market stall from a Google search. I've analyzed it for color swatches. I adjusted the loop dots to pick areas that I thought best represented the range of hues in the photo. Next, I'll match the colors visually in watercolor as best as I can. This is the first time I've tried to color match any of these particular example photos, so you'll see me figuring it out as we go. In each mix, I'm starting with the color I see as the dominant component in the reference swatch. In this case, ultramarine. The idea is to match as closely as possible, so to tweak, I've added Alizarin crimson. This purples the blue a bit to match my sample. I record the mixed components under each swatch. The next color is an intensely bright yellow. While it will be easy to rely on pure lemon, my swatch needs the subtle influence of cadmium yellow deep to give the resulting swatch the strength I'm looking for. It's this subtle shift in color by mixing that makes the difference in presenting a unique palette compared to a more paint by numbers look when you use the colors straight from the box. Although it is still stunningly bright, it has a hue that's unique based on my observations. Next is a deep spicy terracotta color. Starting with a base of Venetian red, I ended up toning it down a bit with St. Petersburg sepia and then wet in wet with a little St. Petersburg golden deep, which is a glorious orange color. We're learning by doing, so these swatches can change on the paper if needed. The key to being able to tweak on the fly is making sure you've allowed plenty of water on the page. This is practice, so don't sweat it if the colors run. Just get in there and experiment with a reference photo of your own. So far, I'm seeing this palette as a beautiful start to a sunset or similar scene, or who knows? If I ever visit Morocco, I've got a head start on what paints to pack for the trip. It's used in design. Well, these colors would be great to consider for branding a travel blog or a business. They are authentic since we've observed them from a source photo. These swatch pages also make great reference for future projects, so label them and tuck them away for later. As a general rule, it's a good idea to avoid using more than three hues in any mix. As the more different pigments you add, the more likely you are to make mud. Two is great, three is good. Four or more, and you may want to reconsider your original starting point and try a new approach. You can just see the swatches on my computer at the top edge of the video. I'm pleased with the way my interpretations worked out, and so let's move on. There are two colors I rely on for toning down a hue, muting it subtly. Those colors are Payne's gray and burnt sienna. Here we see vibrant original colors becoming delicately muted, and each one contains burnt sienna. If you haven't got those two colors in your paint box, I highly recommend them. Think of Payne's gray and burnt sienna as shortcuts to stepping away from pure paint box color palettes, and on the road to creating moodier work. Here is a palette created from a photo reference of coastal Ireland. It can be easy to slip into stereotypical bright greens when thinking of an Irish palette, but I've ignored the commercial holidays bringing to mind and focused on the reference material. This basic green, brownish gray, and blue palette is a great starting point for further muting for a moodier palette. Speaking of the land, earth tones aren't necessarily grass, dirt, and sky. Take these rich, nearly jewel tones for example. I showed you a photo of a dog in a stream earlier in the class and variations of these colors are all in that photo. It seems strange to think that purples exist outside of flowers, but you'll find it in plenty of other surprising natural places. The more you practice mixing swatch palettes from observations in nature or art masterpieces, the more capable and confident you'll be to introduce purposeful color in your work rather than default color choices. Now, moving forward, it's time to begin applying this color communication to practice sketches. Think back to what we saw of Picasso and Turner or other famous artists you may admire and begin asking yourself how they would approach this simple barn sketch. In the first instance, it's natural to rely on your brain telling you that trees and grass are green, sky is blue, the barn should be red. Go ahead and paint that, but then see how many other variations you can produce. Immediately, it seemed logical to go from the simplistic original painting to a much moodier and challenging approach. Notice all the colors have been muted and the mood of the sketch has changed dramatically. Now the viewer may wonder if a storm is approaching or maybe it's already been raining, or maybe the barn's abandoned. A change in palette has changed the sketch completely. Keep going. Try another season. Here's winter in the mix. Remember to stay loose and not get distracted by putting in details. This is practice for mood and message through color choices and not a final painting. Before you know it, you'll find your color choices getting bolder and communicating differently. Look at what's happening here. This is experimenting with cool and warm colors in the sky as influenced by Turner. The only way to get better and bolder is to keep practicing over and over. Now, it's your turn. The downloadable has this barn scene and a simple still life for your practice. Remember to stay loose and try as many variations as you can. Imagine what you want your viewer to feel or see and paint it. I can't wait to see what you come up with. 7. Final Thoughts and Thank You: Thank you for joining my class, Quiet or Riot: color communication in your art. I know you're going to look at color a little differently from now on and use it with more power in your work. Remember to practice using color with intent and continue to decide for the works you admire. Perhaps you have a blue period you'd like to explore or want to nail that warm, cool contrast inspired by Turner. The more you practice, the more instinctive color communication will become, and you'll be able to put the right colors in place to produce the mood or message you mean the world to see. I look forward to seeing your practice palettes and also your explorations into color using the downloadable sketch templates. So don't forget to upload them. Show me you're quiet and you're riots. If you like this class, tell a friend and give it a thumbs up review to help other students find it. Thank you for watching, and have a great day. 8. Quiet or Riot: Intro Bloopers: Okay. One thing I'm aware of, is I did a teeny-tiny fart. Did you hear it? Yes. No. But no ones going to know. But you know what? That's going to be the blooper reel. Oh, no. Stop. Digitally, have some information about monkeys. You want to do that again? Was it not very good? It was fine. Which 1-3 in a row. Okay. On two. This class is also not for. Doing all new level by exploring. Why am I so dumb? Designers will find the useful lef-ne-ne. Okay. Is this fun, by the way? Yes. Okay. If you want to make sure it's on, if you look forward don't touch it. Don't touch it. Just lean forward you should see three lights. Digital art is, I don't have pen. Yeah, you're right that last one. Hi. I'm Jen Dixon, and welcome to quiet or. I actually saw spit fly from my mouth. Okay.