How To Create A Perfect Color Palette For Digital Art | Gia Graham | Skillshare

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How To Create A Perfect Color Palette For Digital Art

teacher avatar Gia Graham, Designer, Letterer, Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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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.

      Mood and Meaning


    • 3.

      Finding Inspiration


    • 4.

      The Four Elements


    • 5.

      Color Interaction


    • 6.

      Fine Tuning


    • 7.

      Applying The Palette To Your Artwork


    • 8.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Picking colors can be difficult. I know many people who struggle with color selection and I’m here to help! Rather than teaching Color Theory and other abstract concepts, this 35 minute class will take a practical approach as I walk you through my process of palette creation, step by step. 

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In this class you'll learn:
• The main elements every color palette needs
• How to test colors to make sure they work well together
• Tips for using color in your digital artwork

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This class is ideal for anyone who struggles with color selection, no matter what your level of experience. By the end of this class, you will have the tools to create a cohesive, eye-catching color palette of your own!

For more color inspiration, I invite you to join me on Instagram as well!

Meet Your Teacher

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Gia Graham

Designer, Letterer, Illustrator

Top Teacher

Hello and welcome - I'm so glad you're here!

My name is Gia and I'm a designer, hand lettering artist and illustrator. I was born and raised in Barbados but I live and work out of my sunny home studio in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia.

My creative experience ranges from corporate design and branding to art direction, photo styling and stationery design but my current focus is licensing my artwork to product based companies.

I've picked up several handy skills, tricks and techniques along my creative journey and I'm excited to share them with you!

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I can't wait to see what you create so please be sure to post your class projects and if you share them on Instagram, be sure to tag me!

Speaking of Instagram, let's conn... See full profile

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1. Intro: Picking colors can be difficult. I know many people who struggle with color selection in their artwork and I'm here to help. Hi, my name is [inaudible] and I'm a freelance designer and hand lettering artist and I work out of the small Sunny Home Studio in Atlanta. I absolutely love working with color. It's a skill that I've honed over my 20 year design career and it's one of my favorite parts about the design process. At the beginning of 2019, I created a fun challenge for myself on Instagram where I decided to create one color palette each month and use only those colors in all my work for the entire month. The goal was to push myself to see how we can make each piece of art feel fresh and different, even though I was restricted to the same five colors in that months palette. What started out as a personal project quickly caught on and several other artists and designers on Instagram joined in my palette play fun. I also received many questions about how to put together a great palette. I've decided to answer those questions in this class. This will not be a technical class on color theory. Instead, I will walk you through my palette creation process step-by-step. We will break down the main elements every palette means, how to test colors to make sure they work well together, as well as tips and tricks for using color in your artwork. The project for this class will be inspired by the summer season and we'll break down the class project into three parts. First, you'll find an inspiration photo that represents summer to you, whatever that may be. Then you'll build a palette based on that photo. Lastly, you'll create a piece of artwork using your summer inspired palette. This class is ideal for anyone who struggles with color selection. I will be using the Ipad Pro and the Procreate app. Basic knowledge of Procreate would be helpful but not required to follow along. These lessons can also be applied using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or however you choose to create your digital art. I encourage you to share your work in the project gallery so I can give you feedback along the way and I'm here to answer any questions you might have. Let's get started. 2. Mood and Meaning: Although I won't be going in depth with technical details like color theory, I do want to talk about mood and meaning since these are important things to consider when building a palette. There is no question that color can create a mood. We see it when we paint a room a certain color, or we experience it with the clothing that we choose to wear. Bright vibrant colors typically make us feel lively, energetic, happy, and confident while dark colors feel elegant, moody, powerful, grounded, and neutrals usually make us feel calm, safe, stable, and relaxed. Studies on color psychology have shown that colors also have meaning. Now different sources will give slightly different variations on this but generally speaking here are some of the attributes associated with different colors. Yellow symbolizes happiness, optimism, and warmth. Orange usually means cheerful, friendly, and confident. Red symbolizes strength, power, and passion. Pink means sweet, playful, and feminine. Purple usually means creative, wise and majestic. Blue represents loyal, trustworthy and reliable. Green means growth, health, and nature. Gray equates to balance, calm and security. And Black can represent drama, sophistication, and class. Now, how does all this relate to building a palette? Well, the first thing you want to think about is the content of the artwork, and what mood you want to evoke with the piece. A sobering editorial illustration for the New York Times would require a completely different feeling from a whimsical drawing for a children's book, therefore you would choose your colors accordingly. Here are a few examples of how color can create a completely different mood in the same illustration. Here pinks and corals on a white background, feels playful sweet, and whimsical. On the other hand, darker tones on a dark background makes the illustration feel moody, while light greens, and blues feel fresh and airy. So with all this in mind, let's start our search for an inspiration photo for our summer palette. 3. Finding Inspiration: I find photos to be a great source of inspiration. This is often where I start when I need to create a palette. I grew up in Barbados where it's always warm and sunny, so when I think of summer, I think of the islands, colorful buildings, beach parties, cold treats, and outdoor fun. These are the kinds of search terms I use. When doing your own image search, I encourage you to pull it from your own memories or think of whatever makes you happy in the summertime. I created a Pinterest board with my favorite images. I have about 30 or 40 images here. As you can see, I've saved photos that feel bright, happy, energetic, because that's the mood I want to evoke with my palette. After taking stock to see what I like the most, I've decided that I want to use this image. I'll take a screenshot of this and save it to my camera roll so that I can open it and Procreate. To open your photo in Procreate, you click on the plus icon to start a new canvas. I'm just going to use a full-screen canvas for this. Click on the tool icon, add, insert photo. It'll take you to your camera roll where you can look through and select the photo that you want. There it is. I'm just going to drag this to the left a little to give me a little more room to work. Now I can use my eyedropper tool to select different areas in the image so I can start building a library of colors to pull from. When I'm doing this, I like to use the monoline brush. I actually created an extra large version, which is super handy because with one tap it creates this perfect circle that you can fill with color. There are a couple of different ways that you can pull color from your images. First way to do it is you can click on this little square. That brings up the eye dropper tool. When you move the tool around your image, as you can see, the color changes depending on where you hover. Once you find a color that you like, deselect and the color changes in your swatch. The other way to do it is, you can tap and hold and it brings up that same tool. The same applies. You move around depending on where you hover, the color changes, deselect, and again, it changes in your swatch. Now I'll start picking colors and I'll probably speed this part up a little bit. I selected 12 colors from the image, and from here I'll choose my six favorites. I think that's a good starting place. I should add here that I typically use five colors in my palette. Sometimes I'll add one or two more if the artwork needs it, but five tends to be my sweet spot. I think three or four colors can be too limiting, while a pallet with more than seven colors can get really busy. Oh, also, I consider white to be a bonus. I always incorporate white into my artwork, but I don't include it in my five colors. Now back to work. Let's see, let's go with this purple. Orange typically compliments purple well. A lighter tone. Let's try this red and this blue. These six colors work well together. I could look at this and think there's my palette, my work here is done, but I've found that doing this exercise alone can sometimes create a really flat palette, which will ultimately make it difficult to work with in your art. So there's still more work to be done. To create a flexible, well-balanced palette, we need to push the process a little further. The first step is to make sure that the palette includes four important elements, which we'll cover next. 4. The Four Elements: I like to make sure my palettes include forming elements and I will show you what I mean on this palette I created a few months ago. First, the dark color. I always have a dark color which I can use as a background color. I can use it within the elements of the piece. Or I can even use it to create shadow against some of the other colors. Then the light color. This will be something that I can use for highlights or to create contrast in a piece of art. I often include two mid-tone colors. And these need to be versatile enough that they can act as background colors, they can be used as elements in your artwork. But there's one thing to think about with the mid-tones, that is that they need to work well together. They need to be harmonious, but they also need to be different enough that they don't blend into one another or they don't compete with each other too much. Lastly, I often incorporate an accent color, something bright or even saturated, that will give the pallet a little pop or visual interest. I'll show you another example that's not quite as obvious because this is a very tone on tone palette, really is just greens and blues here. Still I have my dark, I have my light, my two mid-tone colors. Ordinarily, this turquoise might not seem particularly bright or saturated, but in this situation it serves as my pop of color since it stands out a little bit more than the other colors. So you'll find that when you're creating your pallets, your pop will be relative. It doesn't need to be a super bright neon color. It just needs to be bright enough to add a little energy and visual interest to the palette. Now I can return to the palette that I'm working on and look at these six colors I chose and determine whether or not I've met those four criteria. Right away, I see that I've got a light color here. I would consider this my pop, since it's quite saturated. I think the blue and the orange make for good mid-tones. And I actually have two dark tones here, in the red and the purple, but I only want one dark tone in this palette. So think I'll remove this purple and just work with these five colors. Now that I've selected my five colors and they include all the checklists' requirements. The next thing to do is something I like to call the blocking test, which we'll cover in the next lesson. 5. Color Interaction: You'll often see a palette presented with the color sitting side-by-side. But in my experience, that doesn't give the full picture. It's important to understand how the colors will interact with one another. The blocking test gives me a better idea of how well the colors are playing together and what needs to be adjusted. First, create five large swatches, and these can be rectangles, circles, squares. It doesn't matter. As you can see, I've done five long strips here, basically so that I can just fill the canvas. You're going to fill each of these swatches with a color from your palette. Now I've saved the colors that I pulled from the photo. I'm going to use each of these to fill one of my swatches. Then on top of each swatch, you'll want to draw a block of color using another color from your palette. I'll show you what I mean here. Now, to make this easier, I've created five layers on top of that swatches layer. That's going to make it easier for me to make adjustments later on. I've got a layer for my dark color, one for my light, two layers from my mid tones, and one for my pop. I'll start with the dark color. What I'll do is just draw a block of color on top of each of the other colors from the palette. Obviously, I wouldn't draw this color on top of this swatch because it's the same. Then I'll switch layers, move on to my light color. Do the same. Again, switch layers, choose one of my mid tones. Then I'll do the blue here. Lastly, I'll choose my pop of color. There we have it. I've got my five main swatches, and on each of those a block of one of the other colors from the palette. From here, we will assess how the colors are interacting with one another. While you're assessing the colors, you'll want to think of several things. For example, are any of the colors too close in tone? Are any of the colors vibrating against each other and creating tension visually, and does the palette field cohesive as a whole. Let's just go step-by-step and see how these are working with each other. Against the dark tone, these four colors show up well. Not seeing any real problems here. Likewise, these four colors show up well against the light tone. But here, I feel as though this purple color and the orange are vibrating against each other. It's creating a little tension. It's not that harmonious. I can see it again here with the orange on the purple. That's an area that we'll have to revisit. Then with the purple and the blue. These colors are a little closer in tone. But more so, I don't love how they're working together. I feel as though I'm going to need to make an adjustment there as well. Here the orange also seems to be creating some tension with the blue. It's not as bad with the blue sitting on the orange, but with the orange sitting on the blue, it's definitely a little vibration happening. I feel as though that needs to be adjusted. The lighter tone works fine on the blue and on the purple. But I feel as though this red on this blue, it feels a bit muddy. I'm not loving how that is working. We've got some problem areas here that we'll need to adjust. I feel as though in general, the palette isn't quite as cohesive as I want it to be. Let's start fine-tuning and making some adjustments and see if we can pull this together a little bit more. 6. Fine Tuning: Now it's time to do some fine tuning. As we saw in the last lesson, the blocking test helped me to identify where the problem areas are. So now I need to think about why those areas are problematic. I'll be going in and adjusting the colors accordingly. Now, by the way, there are several different ways that you can adjust color in Procreate. Tap on your color swatch here, brings up your palettes and down here you'll see several options. You can use the color disk to move color around, you can either move color in the center, which is in the family of the color that you had selected, or on this outer rim, you can change the hue of the color. Down here is your classic view. Again, you can move it around and see how the color changes, or you can change the RGB values here by using this slider up and down. So whatever you feel most comfortable with. I'm going to select my pop of color. Now, why is this creating tension with the orange? I think it's because it's a little too saturated. So what I'm going to want to do is try muting that color a little. I do like these purple tones, but I just want to mute it a little bit. I'm going to go here to the RGB values and just start sliding to see what it'll do. So you've got your colors here, and as I move the slider, you'll see the color shifts here and it's compared to your original. So you can see what direction you've gone in. I'm just going to slide this a little bit. I think that's a little too purple. Okay. It's a very slight change, I'm not sure if you can see it on camera, but there's a little difference here. I'm going to make some more adjustments. That clearly is too bright. Our goal here is to mute the color a little. So let's see what that does. Let's see what happens here. Okay, I think this is a very slight difference, but it is a difference. I'm going to save it here. I'm going to save my updated version right under the original and what I'll do is I will change that color universally. To do that, you go to your layer where I had my pop of color, you click on alpha lock, then I've got my new color already selected in the palette, then you just click fill layer. You can see that that's changed those four blocks of color. I think that helps a little, but it's not quite there. I want to adjust the blue as well and I think it needs to be lighter so that I can create more of a distinct difference between this purple tone. So let's go to my palette, pick the blue and we want to make it lighter, so let's see here. That's gone lighter but definitely more turquoise than I want it to be. I think we're getting somewhere here. All right, so that's still in the blue family, still a cool blue, but it's quite a bit lighter. So I'm going to save that one, I think that's working a little better. Go to my layer, alpha lock, fill layer with that new color. I'll go down here to the swatches, as well, and change that swatch. I've realized that I didn't go back and change this purple to my new purple, so let me go ahead and do that as well. So that definitely helped with the closeness of the tone. These are standing out a little bit more, a lot more actually. So there's a distinct difference between these two colors now which definitely helps a lot. I think that this orange also needs to have a pretty major shift because these two are still close in tone, creating a little bit of tension. I feel as though this orange isn't quite where it needs to be, so let's work on that next. The reason I think the orange isn't working is I feel as though it needs to be richer and a little darker, perhaps. It's kind of a muddy orange right now, so let's see if we can adjust this. I want darker and richer, so that's definitely darker. All right, let's see how that worked. First, I'm going to change it on my swatches layer, then I'll go to this layer where I drew all the orange blocks of color, hit alpha lock, fill layer, switch that over. You can see what a difference that makes in the palette as a whole. It's definitely brighter, it's more vibrant, it's more playful, but it's not quite there yet. There's some competition happening here with this. I'm not sure that this color's quite working, so let's see how we can push it even further. What I'll tackle next is this muddy red. It doesn't look as muddy anymore now that I've lightened up the blue, but it is, I think, a little too dark. I think it needs to be more saturated. Since I have muted the purple and that's no longer a really big pop of color, that one is not the one with all the saturation. I do want to bring a saturated color back in and I think I'll do it with the red. So let's make some adjustments here. You can already tell that this slider is getting more and more saturated as you go to the right, as well as here. I'm going to use that as a guide and start going in that direction, see what it does. I think that's a little too much, it's going too purple there, so that's a little bit of a change. Okay, here we go, now we're talking. Let's see how that's going to work. So I'm saving it, going to go to my swatches layer and update it here, and then go to the layer where I had done my color blocks, alpha lock, fill layer. I'm really liking how that's looking against this light blue color now. Adding a touch of pink and bumping up the saturation is making that work a lot better, I think. It looks great against the purple as well. I think it's definitely better, but something's still not quite right and I think it's the fact that this light tone stands out a little too much. Here it's now too close in tone to the blue, so that's now creating a problem there. I want to adjust this light color. Since I liked the original mid-tone orange that we had, I want to go in that direction a little bit. So move it from a cream color to more of a peach tone. Let's see what that does when I make that adjustment. Here, with the RGB values, everything is really close to the right, so I'm just going to take a guess and say that I have to go left with my slider. So let's start here. As you can see, as I slide, the tones on these other two sliders are shifting. I'm starting to see the peachy color that I want emerge on that second slider. So let's see what that does. If I shift this a little bit more I'm starting to get a color that I think might work. I'm going to try this. I'm going to save that one, go back to my layers, pick my swatches layer, and switch out that light color for the new one, then go to my layer where my light color's blocks are, hit alpha lock, fill layer and change all of those. I think this is working better. As a whole, I feel like it's more cohesive. The slight blue is working way better. All the other colors are showing up well against the light blue. I no longer have that tension with the light purple. These two, which are now my two mid-tones, are fairly close in tone, but not so close that they're competing. I can still clearly see this peach color against the purple. Now, there is a closeness in tone with the new saturated red and the new darker orange, as you can see here and here. But actually this doesn't bother me in this instance, because I can see this saturated red working as a great shadow against the orange when I'm creating my art piece. I'm okay with that. Now that I've made those adjustments, I feel pretty good about how the colors are working together. My aim was to go for something fun, vibrant, and energetic, and I think this combination is achieving that. Now it's time to play with these colors and see how they work in a piece of artwork. 7. Applying The Palette To Your Artwork: The last part of your project for this class is to create a piece of artwork that represents summer to you. Your piece can be an illustration, hand lettering, surface pattern, whatever you want. I've drawn this whimsical sketch which was actually inspired by the photo that I used to pull my colors from. I've got three scoops in a cone surrounded by florals, and I've included some playful hand lettering that says "Summer, " and now it's time to add color. Before committing to final inking I'd like to do a quick color placement exercise so that I can get a feel for how the colors are going to work together in this particular piece. All that means is going through and roughly filling each element with color so that I can work out my color placement. Now, of course you're not going to want to do this directly on your sketch, so I'm going to create a new layer, and start picking colors from my palette, and doing a quick fill. We're not looking for perfection here, we're just really looking for a rough idea of how the colors will work. I'll speed this part up for you as I work through it. One of the biggest things you want to think about is creating balance with your color placement. You don't want too much of the same color clustered together, and you want the viewer's eye to move around the entire piece. You want to make sure that you have each of your colors positioned throughout the piece. In most cases, you'll also want to make sure that your pop of color is used in small doses, so it doesn't overwhelm the piece. In this case, most areas where I have that saturated pop of color are small design elements. Here, I've used it in a larger area, but I know that my hand lettering is going to sit on top of these ice cream scoops, and the lettering is going to be in white. That's going to break up this area quite a bit. I think that's going to work out fine. Now that I have an idea of where I want my colors to go, I can start inking. My piece is inked, but as you can see, it's pretty flat, and could use some dimension. Now this is where all the hard work done during the fine-tuning process really pays off. I know that all the colors in my palette play nicely together, and that's going to make it really easy to layer them on top of one another to create depth. Let's start with the cone. This is my mid-tone orange, and the dark orange is a perfect choice for creating shadow on top of that color so, I'll go in and just add a little bit of dimension there. I can also use this deep orange to add some line details which will also help with the feeling of more dimension. Now that my cone doesn't feel quite so flat, I'm going to go in, and do something similar with these leaves, which are in my light blue. I think the mid-tone purple will be a good color to use for this. I'm just going to go in and add a little bit of dimension to each of these leaves just to give it a little visual interest. I think what would be nice too is if I also added just a little line detail in each leaf. I've gone through and added more visual interests to all those leaves, now I'm going to turn my attention to the florals. In the fine-tuning lesson, I had mentioned that this saturated red could work well as a shadow on the deep orange. That's what I'm going to do here to give these flowers a little bit of dimension. I just going to go in and add a little of that red. Nothing too overwhelming. It's just going to give it a little bit of dimension. Well, I hope you can see that on camera, just so it doesn't feel as flat. Now I'll go through and do something similar with the other flowers. I think I'll try using the mid-tone purple to add a little dimension. I'm just going through this quickly here because this class is more about color than anything else. But I will do another class on how to create these dimensional florals. I think that works. What I'll do now is go through, and continue adding detail, and texture throughout, and finalize this piece. There it is, my vibrant summery palette, and illustration. 8. Final Thoughts: Thank you so much for joining my class. If you struggle with color selection, I really do hope these tips will help. Remember, please be patient with yourself, especially if you're just starting out. It takes trial and error and lots of practice before you build muscle memory for a new scale, one last suggestion I'd like to offer is to start building a library of color inspiration and add to it often, create a pinterest board, and whenever you see a beautiful photo with colors that appeal to you, add it to your board. That way when you're going to start a new project that you need to build a palette for. You've already got a starting point. Don't forget to post your class project in the gallery below. I can't wait to see what you create.