Color Theory for Creatives (Without the Theory and Just the Fun) | Sandra Mejia | Skillshare

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Color Theory for Creatives (Without the Theory and Just the Fun)

teacher avatar Sandra Mejia, Illustrator + Pattern Designer

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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.

      Supplies and Class Project


    • 3.

      Color Charts


    • 4.

      The Color Wheel (Color Mixing)


    • 5.

      Using the Color Chips


    • 6.

      Bonus Video - Pastels (and Lunar Black)


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About This Class

In this class I will show you my way of approaching color theory in a fun way.  Without thinking about the theory at all, you'll be able to understand the relationships of colors in a better way, create a spectrum of colors with just four tubes of paint, and create your signature style palette according to your tastes and type of artwork (even if you have no idea what you're doing!).  As a bonus, I´ll show you how I create a palette of pastels and one of my favourite colors to add to my watercolor palette.  Join me and let's start playing with color!

To find the downloadable files, click on ABOUT, and then where it says Class Projects, theres a text and a (Read more) button, click on that and you'll see the Resources on the right side of your screen.


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Sandra Mejia

Illustrator + Pattern Designer

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Hello! I'm a Freelance Illustrator and Pattern Designer. I was born in Medellin, Colombia (puedes escribirme en Espanol!). I create detailed, stylized, playful illustrations, patterns and characters from my studio in Ottawa, Canada.

I have very big eyes and I love animals. Most of my inspiration comes from nature and animals.

My art has been licensed by companies around the world for use in: Fabrics, Stationery, Kids, Editorial, Greeting Cards, Fashion, Puzzles, Gift and Home Decor.

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1. Introduction: In this class, I will show you my way of approaching color theory in a fun way. Without thinking about the theory at all, you'll be able to understand the relationships of colors in a better way, create a big spectrum of colors with just four tubes of paint, and create your signature style palette according to your taste and type of artwork, even if you have no idea what you're doing. As a bonus, I'll show you how I create a palette of pastels and one of my favorite colors to add to my watercolor palette. Join me and let's start playing with color. 2. Supplies and Class Project: For this class, you will need watercolors. You will need at least four colors. Which are one yellow, one blue, one red, or pink, and burnt cyan. You can have more colors if you want, but that's the only thing you need. You need a brush, some paper towels and water, and you can print this out. I have included them in the class for you to download. It includes one of this color mixing wheels, one pastel color mixing wheel and a template to make these squares. Just print them out. If you don't have a laser printer, a printer that won't run when you put water colors on it, just bring them out in whatever paper and then use a light box or a window. Just put this against a window with the paper on the back and trace it or just draw your own. For the class project, you will create as many of these as you want if you have different yellows and pinks and blues that you want to try out, you can create more or just one. This is just for you to have fun and experiment and if you like pastels, you can create your own pastel color wheel. Then if you want, and make it easier for yourself, you can chose from one to 10 to 20, however many you want favorite colors and put them in a separate piece of paper and write down how you got do them the combinations. These will be a very useful tool for you that you should keep with your color palette. This one is smaller. You can make it smaller and carry it around everywhere. I encourage you to play with these. If you play with these, post them in the project gallery, choose a random palette, just choose randomly and show me that and then just analyze it. See what you like, what you don't like. See purple, it does not speak to me, so I do not like that purple. That orange on that fragile terrain might be okay. See, I like these better. Why? I can't tell you. You don't need to tell me, you don't need to explain, you don't even need to know yourself. Just know what you like. This will make you better at choosing your colors even without the help of the chips. Because now you'll know yourself as an artist and you'll know what you like. So maybe play with some random color palettes and maybe choose your favorite ones. Post all these if you wanted to project gallery, right it down in a notebook, have your own notes. I hope you have fun. The idea with these is that you have a lot of fun. It might seem a little technical, it's not. So you might not know how to do all these things now but the watch the class first and you'll understand it. If you have any questions, just write to me and I hope to see your projects and let's start the class. 3. Color Charts: In this lesson, we are going to talk about color charts. I am not going to teach you exactly how to do a color chart because there's a lot of videos like these on the internet and it's very easy. It's a bit time-consuming. But I'm going to talk to you about the usefulness of them, because before I used to see them and thought like, "How cool, but how do I use them?" I started doing it with my paints and I realize there is a lot you don't know about mixing colors, because you think it all works out like the basics you learned at school. Yellow plus red equals orange and red plus blue equals purple, and blue plus yellow equals green. But it's not so simple. Once you get into watercolors, you'll see that there's different shapes of greens and differentiate two blues and yellows and every color. It's very useful to see it like this. Once you have a watercolor palette, you can see what types of colors that specific pellet is capable of creating. Here's my Daniel's meat palette. I have this 15 colors. Here is a paletted mix brands, mostly Centralia, which I love, and some [inaudible] angle. What do you do is you just list all your colors here, and then list them down here in the same order. Then these are your original colors in your palette. Then you take one specific color, like the yellow, and you start going around and mix it in with the same amounts of the other color. Here, I'm mixing golden yellow with all the colors. Golden yellow with Naples Yellow equals these. Golden yellow plus permanent red light, gives me this color. Golden yellow plus french vermilion gives me this color, and so on. Some people fill this same way, golden yellow plus Naples Yellow deep. They fill in this same. But I think this is enough and it's already time-consuming. I don't fill these part. Same here with my Daniel Smith's, which I also love. Then what do you do once you have these? What I do is I go around and I see which are my favorite colors. Because there are some colors you don't like to use on your art. For example, when I painted water colors, I rarely use purples. I would not include those in my favorite color palette. I go around and I really like that one, that one, that one, that one. I take note or I can put a little star on the ones I really like. Try not to select too many. Then what I do is I just paint here, and I write down the combination. These ones are straight from the tube. Both titanium and parallel Scarlett, which is this one. But for example, this one is hansa yellow plus pyrole crimson. It's this one. So that is hansa yellow plus. I wrote that down wrong. It's payrolls Carlin. So hansa I yellow plus pyrole scarlett. I write it down here. Once I have all the colors I really like, I don't have to use these ones as much. I will only come back to these ones, if there is a different color am looking for and it's not here. I have my favorite colors in Daniel Smith, My favorite colors, in [inaudible] Leah. I keep these with me at all times. If you're not sure about how to pick colors and which ones you like, which ones would go well together, I suggest you don't pick them yet. Follow the rest of the exercises in the class, and by the end, you'll be super sure of which are your favorite colors, and you'll be sure they go well together. Let's go on to the next lesson and talk about creating a lot of colors with just three watercolors. 4. The Color Wheel (Color Mixing): Now, we're going to into the color theory but you don't need to understand any theory you just need to play. I have provided a link to download this chart, and this chart, and you get one page with these basic colors in the middle the names are already written down there and one page that is empty, I will show you how to use those and what we're going to create with these is a combination of three different colors that will produce super different result. Basically, you could buy only three tubes of paint and create these unlimited ranges of color palette. I'm going to use three basic colors in each plus Burnt Sienna, because I like the muted colors that Burnt Sienna creates and you always need muted colors in your palette even if you're painting very bright, it's always a good idea to put in some muted colors so it's not too overwhelming. I'm going to show you how fun this is, and once you start doing it, you don't want to stop and you want to try every paint you have. It doesn't always have to be yellow, magenta and cyan, it can be three different colors you want to test but for this class we're going to do it with these three basic colors. The purest colors will be the result of a combination of the yellow, magenta and cyan like the CMYK theory, because they have the purest pigments. For the test we're going to paint in this class together we're going to use a Yellow Hansa Medium. You can use a Yellow Hansa Light but I usually prefer to pick watercolors that have lightfast rating of one and I think the Hansa Yellow Light has a lightfastness of two plus I think the Hansa Yellow Medium is light enough. It's this one here and these are all Daniel Smith's Watercolors we're going to use for this one. We're going to paint that next but I'm going to show you some other combinations I have made before. These are Sennelier Watercolors and I write down which colors I pick here. Since I'm using a Lemon Yellow, a French Vermilion, and a Cinereous blue, they're very bright, so they're going to create a very bright combination, and then, I can create the neutrals with the Burnt Sienna. Just by changing the type of yellow, red, and blue I'm using see how much it changes everything. Now this is a very earthy palette so depending on the type of art work you do, you're going to find something that you like best or that is best suited for your subject and then that's the watercolor palette you're going to use. If I was doing very bright art, maybe pop art, I would use these colors as a base but if I'm doing planner paintings where I'm painting buildings, sunsets, very earthly things I would definitely use this palette. It's something I didn't think I would like but you only know once you see it plus you find gorgeous colors that are very unexpected, I love this dusty pink and look at these greens here, they're so amazing and look at that red Sienna. These are combinations I would never have thought of doing but now I know I love them, so I'm going to add them to my favorite colors. I loved this watercolor palette because you can take out the pans, you can buy empty pans, and you can fill them, and you can even premix colors, if you use a color a lot like for example, these turquoise is a premix, this is a premix, these, these, this one, and this one, and this one. If you use those colors a lot, it's good to have them at hand, but you can control the mixes yourself and you only have to buy certain number of tubes of paint. Daniel Smith has a very wide range of colors, if you don't want to be mixing them you can find all these colors already to go, that's another way to. In this one I use Quinacridone Gold, Viral Crimson and French Ultramarine. We're going to create one together using Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, and the Phthalo Blue, greenish shade. Ensure you write that down so you don't forget, brand Daniel Smith, I'm not sponsored by any of these brands, but its the brands I use in my work. I encourage you to test different brands because you'll be surprised at how different they all behave. In the printout, you have the lines for CM and Y, just write them down, C is for cyan, that'll be your bluish shade, that'll be phathalo blue, I don't even know if that's how it's pronounced; Phathalo, green shade. Then for the magenta, I'm using Quinacridone Rose and for the yellow. I'm using Hansa Yellow Medium. I'm not as good as having a limited palette and having to mix every color as I'm painting so I really like to buy pre-made colors but I'm showing you this way because that way, you will start learning about color theory without having to think about it just by seeing it here. I'm a very visual person, I cannot remember all these things unless I see it, and as you use it, you'll see that it becomes intuitive and you won't have to be thinking like, oh, what's the formula you'll do it by heart. I found that this method is the best for me and I hope you like it too. This is the only really technical thing we're going to do here, next is just basic mixing. I have printed mine in a laser printer on watercolor paper. This is 300 grams, it's a 100 percent cotton paper, and I encourage you to use the paper that you use in your paintings all the time because some paints react differently in different types of paper, this is called press. You want to have a clean bucket of water and a brush. I'm using my little water brush I love it. You put water here in the barrel and then you can just use it to paint and the water flows and you can squish it to clean it off in a paper towel, it's amazing, especially if you're not painting into studio although, even if I'm in the studio, I find I use it so much. This is a small tip one and I don't paint very large paintings, but I use it a lot and it can provide very fine detail or it could make larger areas. I've had this for four years and I use it a lot and it's still going so great investment. This will be your visual reference so you'll be able to see all your colors at once but I have created a method for people who don't know what colors go together or you're not very good at making decisions as I'm, and you want to experiment, it's this method. What I do is I paint each chip with each color and then I end up with something like this, these are my previous ones, but I've created a template for you guys, it's a bit bigger. You can see the colors better, anyway, you end up with this color chips of all the combinations that the paints you have in your palate can create and we're going to play with those later and I'm going to tell you how I use them. I have provided this one with the names and I have provided an empty ones so you can write your own names. You can either do it in a computer and then print it, or you can do it by hand afterwards. I like this laser printer because the ink doesn't move around when I paint with it. For these these paint chips I'm using a bigger brush, it's a flat brush, this is Simply Siemens. I have no idea where I got it, it's half an inch so that'll be easier than with the little brush. Let's put this away and start with this. I have my paint here, I'm going to take out five dots of yellow for now. Try to make each one the same amount of color, but this isn't an exact science, so you can eyeball it. I love using these glass plates, what do you called that? Ceramic? I don't know, they break anyway because they clean up so easily and you can even find ones with different little spaces, I find them in the kitchen area of a store, they're used for serving something. Sorry. I don't cook so much, so I don't know. We're going to make six little blobs here. Don't make them too close. With what I have in my brush, I'll just paint in the yellow. Make sure you clean your brush really well between colors. Now, I am going to create the yellow plus the burnt sienna. I'm adding a bit of burnt sienna to one of these, to have the same amount of each, but just eyeball it. You see it's still light. You didn't put enough of the other color. If this was a super technical chart, you'd have to put exactly the same amount of color on each, but that's why this is color theory without the theory and just a fun experiment thing. You don't have to be so precise. Now, we are going to mix the yellow and the cyan. Specifically this blue is very overpowering, so make sure you don't mix way too much. I need to create two of those same colors. See this one's darker than this one. Start sharing until they look the same. We actually need three of those, so you can go back and repaint it so it's consistent. I'm going to clean my brush and grab a bit of burnt sienna and add it to one of them. We can see here it's green plus burnt sienna. Oh, look at such a beautiful green. I'm now cleaning my brush again. Now, this one here means yellow plus that green we created before the burnt sienna. That one's here. I'm going to add more yellow to it. When you go into the yellow, make sure you have a super clean brush because the yellow gets so dirty so easily. Then I'm going to add burnt sienna to that one we just created. That ended up being very similar because these two were very similar. Then I'm going to paint my blue. I am going to add blue. We're going to create this one so it's blue plus that green we created. We have it the here. Clean your brush, and let's add some burnt sienna. I love those neutrals that burnt sienna creates. The cool thing about Daniel Smith is that they have some granulating colors. You might like granulation or you might not. Or depending on what you're painting, you want it or not. I have gotten ahead and finished painting these. If you get confused, it's very simple. Just mix the colors that are connected, and then mix these two to create this one. Add burnt sienna to that one to create that one. It's the same here. Mix these two, create this one. Mix these two, create this one. Add burnt sienna, create that one, and so on. You can see all the colors you can create. Then based on these, you can decide which three primary colors you want to get. If you want super bright pop colors, get maybe French vermilion or pyro scarlet, hansa yellow light, lemon yellow, you can get a scenarios blue. These will create very clean bright colors. If you want the earth tones, I suggest you get this one. The quinacridone gold is amazing. Then the magenta. I used pyrrole crimson here from Daniel Smith, or the French ultramarine. Or if you want something in-between, less shiny than these, but still at some vivid colors, and prettier purples, not so earthy purples, then choose quinacridone rose, or phthalo blue with a green shade, and maybe a hansa yellow medium. You could go lighter with this one if you want these colors here to be brighter, but I think these are bright enough. I definitely like this red and this coral, so I might add those to my favorite colors. Here I almost love them all, so I'll have that in mind. As you're painting these, you could be painting these strips too, or you can start mixing some colors and painting them here. You'll be mixing exactly the same colors you did for this one, and then you're going to paint them on here. But here you'll paint here yellow, and then here your magenta and your cyan. Here you'll paint your orange. I have put the names in here so it's easier for you. Your orange, and your green, and your purple. Then you go to the tertiary colors. That'll be the orange on the magenta. This is the result, so you put it here. The orange and the yellow, this is the result, so you paint that one here. Same here. Green plus yellow equals this, so you paint that one here. We're going to do that now. I'm using a half-an-inch watercolor brush. So green, I have to combine this cyan, the yellow here. I left this one here because that one's obviously more yellow than the green, so that would be here in the green-yellow. Then I'm going to create that green plus cyan. So I'm going to add a bit more blue. It's good to do these things in experiment because then you'll find new favorite colors and then your art sort of evolves into other things and maybe gets more interesting. The other thing is that here you start seeing colors that look like other colors that you have, and now you know how to mix them without having to learn the theory. Since we're not mixing exact quantities of each color, you might get a bit of variation between this chart and this chart. But it's very approximate. I also like to fill in these empty ones with the colors that are on my palate. All these colors I will swatch. I'm going to finish doing this, and then in the next lesson, I'll show you what you can do with this little guy. 5. Using the Color Chips: I've used a guillotine to cut strips of my colors. You can keep using a guillotine. I'm going to use some scissors. I have painted every color I have in my palette and I wrote down the names with a pen. I'm going to do these and then we're going to play with them. We started doing this because sometimes in the charts, I can tell which colors I like, but I'm not sure to tell if they go together well, so then I have to take out a little piece of paper and swatch them. I find this much better. Now I have all the little squares and I will show you how to use them. There are three ways of using these. One is if you need to color match something. Say you have this painting or let's say that's a painting and you want the color match it. You'd use your little paint chips to find a color that matches it. It could be this blue, not that one. That match is the best. You can now check what color that is and use it. Then you need to match the middle one, probably use that. Now you know which colors to use. You could do this with an infinite amount of colors as long as you have them here. That's one way. The second way is a planned approach, and I say planned, but you should let your thoughts do a lot of the work. I suggest you just lay the colors out like that and you start choosing some you like. Or you can choose something according to the subject you're going to paint. If you're going to paint the desert, you are not going to start choosing super summery colors unless it's a very summery desert. If you're painting the desert, I would start choosing some colors that are muted, and that would probably work in the desert, like that. Or I can just start choosing some colors. I think they look pretty. Don't look just at the chip of the color, "Oh, this color's pretty." Yes, I know it's pretty I like it. But look around it, see what's besides it. Like these three here. That's a pretty combination actually looks pretty deserty. Something I would not usually mix. Keep that in mind there. What else? Look at these ones here. These three here. They were touching these ones, and start adding colors you think go well. Look now you have a color palette. If you don't like one of them, just test something different. See how that gives it a totally different vibe. See I don't like that one. I'm not ruining a painting adding this color that doesn't go with those colors. This is another palette I have, that's choosing. The third way, which is so much fun, is you just randomly close your eyes, pick out five colors hope they're pretty, hope they match. Look at that it's actually pretty. But then start looking at it, I don't think this goes with this. I like that better than this orange, Just close your eyes, pick another one. That's actually interesting, look at this combination and don't be stuck on, "Look, oh, I picked five." No, just play around with these and let the colors amaze you. This is something so pretty that I really want to explore in a painting later. What I do is, take a picture or have a notebook, write those down, I'll explore those later. These no, I don't like them, see there's a purple there, purple for me is hard to combine. These two that came out there. That I actually like see and it came out sort of random. I would use these for a painting, and then I'd go after playing with it and having it be by chance, I'd go see I need like a dark black or dark something. Going through my chips, take out my darkest chips, line them all here. I choose which one would go better with these, I don't like this one. I like this one. Again, I'll just line them up, take a picture and use that in a painting. With these, I can start creating my favorite color chart. Here I flipped them all down in one chart but you can also have mini charts with mini favorite palette. Maybe keep a sketch book just for that. Test their interactions together. What happens if I mix these two? Just start exploring with color, you don't need to know the theory. This [inaudible] approach has worked really well for me because I don't need to know the theory behind the colors. I'm sorry, because I know there are people who are amazing and talented at this and the color theories like a very complete science. But this is a way I understand it, and this is the way I choose color. It choose color because it feels good to me just because of that. I don't know if these are complimentary or they're across or they're together in the color wheel, I just feel they're, right. That's how you start developing your own color. Don't copy other people's colors. This is how I use colors in my art work, this is how I handle them. This can work, ven if you work digitally, this is such an awesome tool to have. Because when I start working digitally, I open up, Procreate and I start doing my little swatches once near the other and I do this basically. With these, I could just take a picture and then I drop each color and then you have your palette. This having papers touching them, having the colors, being able to move them all around, being able to just troll them and see what happens. In the next lesson, the Bonus lesson, I will show you, how I create my pastel colors for watercolors. I even have this one in my palette all the time because I really, really love it. 6. Bonus Video - Pastels (and Lunar Black): In this bonus lesson, I will show you how to create the pastel color wheel. But before that, I'm going to show you one of my favorite colors. It's in my palette. I found it recently and well, I love black and some arches don't like putting black in the watercolors or black directly on their paintings, but I really like it. I found this black. It's called Lunar black. It's from Daniel Smith. The granulation on this color is so amazing. Look at it. It's actually like the moon surface. I will show you what type of combinations it creates with my other colors. Look how it granulates them. If you want to really darks and you really like granulation, this color is very nice to put in your palate. I love how it goes into the grooves of the paper. This is how the cold press papers, so it helps with this texture. But anyway, I just wanted to share that little tip with you and now we go to the pastels. For this pastel wheel, I use exactly the same base colors as in the color wheel we just created, but I mix them all with this buff titanium. Again, this one's Daniel Smith and this is the color swatch, it's like a cream ivory color. I mixed a bit more of buff titanium than the colors because these colors are overpowering and this is obviously a very light color. Just mix a bit more of buff titanium and then a little bit of the yellow, whichever color you choose. A little bit the of pink and a little bit of the blue and then I did the same thing. Mix these two to get this purple, mix these two to get this light green, these two to get the orange, and then just mix these two to get this one, these two to get this one, and all the way around. Look at how pretty all those pastel colors are. I know with watercolors, you can just add water and create pastels, but I love how these colors you can have a pastel and have it be thick. It can be thicker than just very watered-down paint. These is included in the downloadable PDF into class, so you can print it and you can create your own pastels too. I don't know if they're similar colors in other brands to the buff titanium, I just found this Daniel Smith one and I think it works really well. I will also include these charts you can download them and have them, all these charts I've made. I know that the screen resolution and color is not the same as seeing them in real life, but they can guide you, you can download those too. This is it. I hope you liked my approach to the color theory without so much theory and more having fun in experimenting and that if you have trouble deciding which palate to choose for your art work or what colors work and what colors don't, you enjoy the technique of the little color chips. You can also attach them together in some way, but I like to have them all loose so I can show them around and play with them, and shuffle them, and then see which colors combinations come up and there's always such pretty color combinations coming up that I like to have them loose like these. I hope you like the class and I hope you post a project. Let me know if you have any questions and if you're confused at some point, just let me know and I will try to help you. Remember to check out all my other skills or classes, I have all these classes on everything I wish I had known before I started being an artist and as I learn, and grow as an artist, I keep updating my content and I keep teaching you new things that I've learned so you can learn with me in the process. See you in the next class. Bye.