3 ways to start using colour in your artwork

So you’re scared of using in colour in your paintings?

 As a super colourful painter who uses colour to the max in all my portraits and murals I often get asked about how to go about it. People are often a bit nervous about stepping out of their monochrome comfort zone and getting bright! But don’t fear...

Here’s 3 ways to begin to add colour to your work...


  1. Start small. You don’t need to go rainbow crazy in the first painting or drawing. The best way to start is with two colours, whilst you get used to how they work. I suggest choosing red and blue to start out as they’re primary colours so they won’t look muddy if they end up mixing. Use blue for shadows and darker areas and use red to lift up more raised surfaces.  Leave areas white for highlights but get used to using blue for shadows rather than black as, often, a really deep blue is much more effective in a coloured painting than the harshness of black. I’ve sketched out a couple of apples using only blue and red so you can start to see how, using only those two colours can be very effective, especially if you pay careful attention to the light source.Digital apple sketch demonstrating colour and light by Anya’s studio
  2. Digital apple sketch demonstrating colour and lightPractice working with different colour combinations. Before you go for every colour in your pallette try out some different combinations and see which you are particularly drawn to. I love a combination of blue, pink and orange but also use the warmer yellows/reds/oranges in contrast to blues/purples in my paintings. I tend to avoid green most of the time, not because of any other reason than it doesn’t bring me as much joy and I find it less natural to work with.





     In this painting I used mainly warm colours (red/orange/yellow) to depict the brown fur, with purples for the shadows. It is sometimes easier to choose colours for painting pet portraits as I want to retain the impression of their natural fur colour, whilst using more unnaturally colours. 


    Your colour palette might also be dictated by the subject or customer who has commissioned the painting. I have been asked on numerous occasions to use or include certain colours and, when I painted a portrait of my Dad who spends his days working in the woods, it only felt right to use greens and browns to depict him. It really is a matter of using your gut sometimes and experimenting will make you more comfortable in following your instincts and knowing what will work.



    3. Don’t be afraid for things to go wrong. Whenever you change your method of working or start to experiment with a new medium there are bound to be a few less-than-perfect creations along the way! The only way you know when to stop adding colour is to go too far sometimes and overdo it. Maybe start using cheaper paints and paper so you’re less precious about them and don’t pressure yourself to create finished pieces to begin with. Start a sketch book that no one except you needs to see and fill it with experiments and ideas.

    Here’s that apple again but I chucked a few more colours on, again following the principles of using the cooler colours for the shadows and warmer colours towards the light source, or where you want to lift the item off the page. Adding in orange, pink, green and purple has given it more life and texture and made it more eye catching to look at. 

    Digital apple sketch using colour

    What I love most about art is the way it can never be wrong. It’s all about throwing yourself into it like a young child does, unafraid of what the picture might look like, and just relishing the colours and textures they’re placing haphazardly down. Don’t worry about your painting looking exactly like the subject, that’s what photographs are for. Instead aim for it to be an expression of what you are portraying but also, ultimately, an expression of you. Practice, practice, practice and eventually you will discover your own style.

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