Painting with Colors Beginner's Guide

As an animal artist with a penchant for colorful paintings with an abstract vibe, I can confidently say that colors are the vibrant soul of my artworks. Colors have this magical ability to breathe life into a painting, giving it that wow factor that makes you go “whoa” and “wow” at the same time. So, grab your brushes and prepare to learn about making colorful art with this beginner’s guide to painting with colors!

Colors have the power to evoke emotions, set moods, and tell stories in ways that words sometimes struggle to express. As a beginner, you might feel overwhelmed with all the possibilities, but fear not! Exploring colors is as exciting as a roller coaster ride (minus the stomach drop). So sit back, and let me unlock the bright world of painting with colors for you.

I’ve touched on the subject before in this post but I will go more in depth here, and it will be specifically geared towards beginners.

Let me start by giving you 6 quick tips to start using colors in your paintings. Then, I will develop the ideas behind each of these tips.

6 Tips To Start Painting With Colors

  1. Use a color wheel.
  2. Start with a limited palette.
  3. Consider the mood or theme.
  4. Consider value and saturation.
  5. Create color studies or swatches.
  6. Trust Your intuition.

So first, we’ll take a spin on the color wheel, because without the foundations, everything crumbles down.

Understanding the Color Wheel

What is the color wheel?

Think of it as an artist’s trusty compass in the vast ocean of colors.

Understanding the color wheel and the relationships between its hues will serve as a guiding light in the realm of colors. It’s like having a treasure map that leads us to harmonious color combinations and helps us avoid the dreaded clash of mismatched pigments.

And you will learn down the road that like with all maps, once you know the way, you can throw it away! Hey, it rimes.

color wheel to choose colors for a painting

Once you have strong foundation, should feel like taking an unbeaten path and going on an adventure, you can play with all the colors you want. But we’re not there yet. This is a beginner’s guide. One thing at a time.

Back to the wheel.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors

The color wheel consists of twelve hues arranged in a circular fashion. At its core, we have the primary colors:

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Yellow

These three colors are the building blocks of all other colors, like the ABCs of painting.

When primary colors come together in a warm and friendly embrace, they create secondary colors:

  • Purple
  • Green
  • Orange

Mixing red and blue gives you purple, blue and yellow gives you green, and yellow and red creates the fiery orange. Secondary colors are like the cool kids on the block.

Then going even further, we encounter the tertiary colors. These are the offspring of primary and secondary colors getting all cozy and creating beautiful hybrids. Tertiary colors bring depth and richness to our palette.

Now we can introduce another concept you’ll need for painting with colors.

Color harmony and the relationship between colors

Here are three key color relationships you can explore on the color wheel:

  • Complementary Colors: They are located opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, red and green, blue and orange, or yellow and purple are complementary pairs. When placed side by side, complementary colors create high contrast and can make each other appear more vibrant. They can be used to create energetic and dynamic compositions in your painting.
  • Analogous Colors: They are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. For instance, red, orange, and yellow form an analogous color scheme, as do blue, green, and teal. Analogous colors are visually harmonious and create a sense of unity in your painting. They can be used to convey a specific mood or create a cohesive color scheme.
  • Triadic Colors: They are evenly spaced around the color wheel, forming a triangle. For example, the primary colors red, blue, and yellow form a triadic color scheme. Triadic color combinations can be vibrant and visually striking. They offer a good balance between contrast and harmony. Using triadic colors can add interest and complexity to your painting.
giraffe1 small
Analogous color scheme
Complementary color scheme

These color relationships are just a starting point. You can also explore other schemes, such as split-complementary, tetradic, or monochromatic color schemes. Additionally, you can adjust the saturation and value of the colors to create different effects and moods.

Remember, color harmony is subjective. The color wheel is a guide, not a strict rule.

Feel free to experiment and trust your artistic intuition. As you gain experience and confidence with color, you can explore more complex color relationships and create unique palettes that reflect your personal style.

Now that we’ve unlocked the secrets of the color wheel, let’s move on to the fun part—choosing our palette!

Start Painting With Colors by Using a Limited Palette

Choosing the right palette is like assembling a dream team of colors. So, let’s dive into the delightful process of selecting your artistic allies.

As a beginner, it’s best to start with a limited color palette.

Think of it as a strategic decision to keep things manageable and avoid overwhelming yourself. Trust me, a well-chosen limited palette can work wonders. In fact, that’s how I learned to play with colors and make it work in the first place.

To begin your color adventure, I recommend starting with a basic set of primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. These three amigos will be your foundation.

lion painting portfolio slider
Painting created by only using the primary colors

The magic lies in the art of color mixing. By combining and experimenting with different proportions of your primary colors, you’ll unlock a world of possibilities. The beauty of color mixing is that you become the alchemist, creating your own unique shades and tones.

As you gain confidence and experience, you can gradually expand your palette to include additional colors. But for now, let’s keep it simple and focus on mastering the art of mixing with your trusty primary trio.

Remember, painting with colors is an adventure, and experimentation is key. Don’t be afraid to let your inner mad scientist loose, mixing and mingling colors like a kid with a brand-new set of watercolor pans. The beauty of art lies in discovering unexpected combinations and witnessing the magic that unfolds on your canvas.

Painting with colors paintbrushes

Using Color Temperature to Evoke Mood

Imagine a beautiful landscape painting bathed in warm, golden hues, instantly making you feel cozy and happy. Now, imagine a chilling winter scene painted with cool blues, giving you a shiver down your spine.

How did those paintings elicit such distinct emotions?

The secret lies in understanding color temperature and harnessing its power to set the mood in artwork you create.

Color temperature refers to the perceived warmth or coolness of a color.

Warm colors, like reds, oranges, and yellows, exude energy, passion, and excitement. They’re like a warm hug.

On the flip side, cool colors, such as blues, greens, and purples, create a soothing and tranquil atmosphere. They’re like a gentle breeze or the calm waters of a lake. Cool colors bring a sense of peace and relaxation.

When you play with this concept, you’ll realize that each color can also individually lean toward warm or cool. For example you can have a warm red (cadmium red) and a cool red (magenta).

Colorful Abstract Red Orange Pattern
Warm colors
Colorful Abstract Blue Pattern
Cold colors

So, how can you use color temperature to evoke specific moods in your artwork?

Here are a few tips to create moods while painting with colors:

  1. Warmth and Joy: If you want to infuse your artwork with a sense of warmth, happiness, and playfulness, lean towards warm colors. Use touches of reds, oranges, and yellows in the fur, backgrounds, or even in the highlights of the eyes. This will create an inviting and lively atmosphere, reflecting the joyful nature of your subject.
  2. Calm and Serenity: For a more tranquil and serene mood, opt for cool colors. Imagine using shades of blue and green to capture the peaceful nature of a subject. Cool colors can evoke a sense of calmness and create a soothing ambiance that draws the viewer into the painting.
  3. Contrasting Warm and Cool: Experimenting with the interplay of warm and cool colors can add visual interest and depth to your artwork. You can try using a warm color as the focal point, like the eyes or the main subject, against a cool-colored background. This contrast can create a dynamic and captivating effect.
‘Winter Fluff”
By using cold colors I evoked winter and coziness
“Tiger in the Morning”
By using warm colors I created a dynamic feel.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and play with different combinations. Sometimes, a hint of warmth in a predominantly cool composition can create a beautiful balance. Trust your intuition and let your emotions guide you in selecting the right color temperature for the mood you want to convey.

As you explore color temperature, pay attention to how it affects the overall feel of your artwork. Observe how warm and cool colors interact and how they impact your emotional response.

Enhancing Depth and Dimension with Value and Saturation

The world of value and saturation and can take your paintings to the next level.

Value: The Key to Dimension

Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It’s like the shadow that brings out the highlights and adds depth to your artwork. By manipulating value, you can create the illusion of three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional surface.

Value is not limited to black and white. To add an extra depth, I recommend playing with colors instead of black and white. Try using a dark blue for shadows and pale yellow for highlight for instance.

By skillfully blending and layering these values, you can really make your artwork visually captivating.

Horse in the Sunlight Art Print Wall Art
I never use pure black, instead, I used dark colors.

Saturation: Adding Life and Vibrancy

Saturation refers to the intensity or purity of a color. It’s like the volume knob that determines how vivid or muted your artwork appears.

Saturated colors create a focal point or draw attention to a specific area. These vibrant hues command attention and can highlight the unique features of your subject.

On the other hand, desaturated or muted colors give a softer and more subtle appearance. They can be used in areas where you want to convey a calm or serene mood, such as the background or areas of the subject that are less pronounced.

The key is to strike a balance. Too much saturation can overwhelm the viewer, while excessive desaturation may result in a dull or lifeless painting.

If you’re familiar with my art, you know that I like bold and vibrant colors a lot. I tend to paint with extremely saturated colors. So again, let this serve as a guide, not a strict rule. Experimentation and your own personal preferences are key.

Whimsical Cow Illustration Art Print
Saturated colors

Contrast and Variation

Both value and saturation work hand in hand to create contrast and variation in your artwork. Contrast refers to the difference between light and dark values or between saturated and desaturated colors. It helps to create visual interest and make your subject pop.

By placing areas of high contrast near each other, you can create visual impact and draw attention to specific features or details. For example, contrasting a light-colored subject against a dark background can create a striking visual effect.

Example of a high contrast

Nature is filled with subtle variations, and capturing these nuances in your paintings can elevate them to a whole new level.

Practice Painting With Colors by Creating Color Studies

Now, it’s great to know the theory but practice is the only way to truly master colors.

Color studies involve experimenting with different color combinations and observing their interactions. They allow you to see how colors behave when placed side by side, helping you understand their relationships and discover harmonious blends.

Here’s how to practice with colors studies:

  1. Start by selecting a subject or reference image. It could be a photograph of an animal or a landscape.
  2. Using what you learned here, pick a few colors. Remember to use a limited palette, three to four colors are plenty if you’re a beginner.
  3. Recreate the subject using only the colors you selected. Color studies are not about perfection—they’re about exploration and discovery.
  4. Pay attention to the relationships between colors—how they complement or contrast each other—and the overall visual impact they create.
  5. Repeat.

By creating color studies, you’ll become more familiar with your palette and gain confidence in selecting and mixing colors. These exercises serve as valuable references that you can consult whenever you’re uncertain about color choices in your artwork.

TIny Wings Strong Heart Hummingbird Art Print Wall Art

Trust Your Intuition and Play and Explore

There’s a magical ingredient that no color wheel or technique can replace: your intuition.

As an artist, you possess a unique perspective and a creative instinct that can guide you in making bold and impactful choices.

Embrace Your Unique Vision

Embrace what makes your artwork unique and allow it to shine. Trust your instincts when it comes to selecting colors, compositions, and techniques that resonate with you and capture the essence of your subjects.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and take risks. Follow your intuition as you explore new artistic territories. This is where the magic happens—where your artwork evolves and grows in ways you never imagined. Embracing your unique vision is what makes your art truly captivating and authentic.

Listen to Your Feelings

Art is a form of expression that often defies logic. Sometimes when painting with colors, you may find yourself gravitating towards certain colors or compositions without knowing why. It’s your intuition nudging you in the right direction. Trust that feeling and go with it.

Plus, as already mentioned, art has the ability to evoke emotions and tell stories that words can’t fully capture. When you’re unsure about a color choice, ask yourself: What emotion am I trying to convey?

Practice, Reflect, and Refine

The more you create and reflect on your artwork, the more you’ll develop a deeper understanding of your artistic instincts. Take the time to reflect on your finished pieces. What worked well? What could be improved?

Growth as an artist comes from embracing your intuition, learning from your experiences, and constantly refining your skills.

Ultimately, your intuition is a powerful tool that can elevate your art to new heights. It’s the secret ingredient that infuses your artwork with your personal touch and makes it resonate with viewers on a profound level.

Working with acrylic paint

Conclusion: Painting With Colors is a Journey

Choosing colors is not just about picking hues randomly. It’s about understanding the principles of color harmony, exploring different combinations, and trusting your intuition to guide you towards the right choices. Whether you’re using digital painting techniques or traditional acrylics, the principles remain the same.

But always remember that they are no rules in art. Every artist has a distinct voice and vision—a perspective that sets them apart from the rest. Let yours shine.

Paint with passion, paint with joy, and paint with colors that tell the story of the subjects you love. Happy painting!

PS: If you like the artworks in this post, go check out my shop 😉

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