Category: Reading

Working in Color

Color is one of the most powerful aspects of making art. Almost everyone who loves to create can remember the childhood excitement generated by a brand new box of crayons!


Everyone has a favorite color, artists and non-artists alike.  Our relationship to color is one of the most powerful relationships we have as a species. It is intrinsically connected to how we relate to our world. And so of course it is one of the most powerful aspects to consider when making art.

Color Temperature

Much of our relationship to color is based on instinct. For example, we see colors as warm or cool based on our physical response to them.


Warm things are warm colors (such as fire, the sun, hot coals, and in this case hot food.)


and cool things are cool colors (such as water and ice, which as blue or bluish).


Interestingly warm and cool colors also create a sense of perspective and depth when we look at an image. Warm colors tend to advance towards us, whereas cool colors tend to recede away from us.

In these two images note how early 20th-century illustrator Edmund DuLac uses this trick. In the first image of The Princess and the Pea he creates a sense of incredible height, as the cold blue-purple recedes from the viewer, effectively raising the height of the bed canopy. And in the second one, A Palace of Wonder, a sense of depth is created between the warmth of the interior space and the cold dark outside.



However, a great deal of our reactions to color are not innate, they are in fact cultural. For example Black and Death are associated in many Western cultures, in many Eastern cultures it is associated with white—its direct opposite.

Take a look at this info-graphic. Note how many color associations change, depending on where you are in the world. However also note how HOT and COLD or Color’s Relationship to Temperature do not.

It is however important to understand your target market and the culture that they come from, because culture has a strong influence on the development of cultural-color associations in childhood building the adults eventual perceptions of color.
It is however important to understand your target market and the culture that they come from, because culture has a strong influence on the development of cultural-color associations in childhood building the adults eventual perceptions of color.

Throughout this module and the next we will look at these basic reactions we all have to color and learn to compose in color effectively. We will build on what we have learned regarding composition, concept, point of view, and value and we will see how we can use these reactions to color to aid us in our ultimate goal, telling a great story through narrative illustration.

However, before we can do that lets be sure we have down the basics.


The color wheel is one of the most powerful tools artists and designers have to help us understand and use color effectively.  It is strongly recommended that as you examine the different color schemes throughout this post, you look at a color wheel and plot them out.


FUN FACT! The first circular color wheel was created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. As if the laws of planetary motion and gravity weren’t enough!


Foto: picture-alliance


We begin with a three-part color wheel that shows only pure colors, meaning colors which no amount of mixing will result in. These three colors are of course our primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. All other colors are derived from these three hues.


Next we move on to our secondary colors.These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors with each other: green, orange, and purple.


You can further break down the color wheel into tertiary colors.These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and secondary color: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.


And of course, we divide that wheel based on Color Temperature, with warm color opposite cold.

To create a successful illustration, your color palette or scheme needs to support your main idea. It must work to further your narrative and or concept.  


Monochromatic Color


It isn’t always necessary to use many colors to achieve a colorful image — the monochromatic color scheme consists of one color plus black and can be very powerful.  A monochromatic color scheme has one principle color in all its various tints, shades, and tones.


1980s fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta whose work we’ve looked at in previously, makes great uses of a monochromatic color scheme in this illustration, Silver Warrior.

Note the tiny dabs of warm color he uses to create high contrast focal points within this otherwise completely monochromatic composition. Those warm spots stand out due to color temperature.

Tony DiTerlizzi’s Monochromatic Palate


Illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi often works in a monochromatic palate. For his book The Spider and the Fly he chose a metallic silver and. The beautifully rendered drawings are printed in black against a silver printed page. Silver is a gray and not, therefore, really a color. But because it’s metallic, it contributes more than a standard gray. Though DiTerlizzi’s color solution may seem basic, it is unique in children’s picture books and greatly enhances the mood of his illustrations.

For his more recent series of chapter books, The Search for Wondla, DiTerlizzi chooses a different approach. Here, there are no contrasting dabs of warm color like there were in the Frazetta piece.

DiTerlizzi again works monochromatically, but in this case he chooses a two color printing process, meaning he chooses a principle color and the illustrations are all formed by the various combinations of this ink and black 2 along with the white of the paper.

It isn’t always necessary to use many colors in order to achieve a colorful image — the monochromatic color scheme consists of one color plus black and can be very powerful.  Amonochromatic color scheme has one principle color and in all it’s various tints, shades, and tones.

Three Attributes of a Color

To accurately describe a color and differentiate it from another, there are three attributes to measure.



When the average person says “color” they are actually mean hue. The hue of a color is its particular light wave energy frequency. Remember, light is waves of energy, and white light is contains all possible colors! Violet is the highest visible light frequency and red is the lowest, which we humans have receptors to see.

In this diagram, note how the blue becomes pink, but all of the colors in between are of equal intensity, as it as it moves from right to left.


Saturation (or chroma as it is sometimes called) means a color’s purity. When people are talking about a color’s intensity they mean its saturation or chroma.

In the diagram, note how the blue becomes less saturated as it as it moves from right to left.


As we discussed earlier in the course, colors have values just as shades of gray do. A color’s brightness or darkness, and its nearness to white or black respectively, is the color’s value. Value is independent of hue or saturation and can be seen even in a black-and-white photo.

Tints, Shades, and Tones

Value has is has its own color terminology.

Remember that the value of a color is how light or dark a color is, or how close it is to black.

Tints are when we add white to a pure hue:


Shades are when we add black to a pure hue:


Saturation also has its own color terminology.

We get different tones when we add gray to a pure hue:


Another way to envision this is as the hue itself becomes less saturated, it appears more and more gray.

Munsell’s Color Tree

Talking about color can be very misleading! For example, when you go to a paint store, you can buy a can of Honorable Blue, Flyway, or Wondrous Blue! When we say Flesh Tone, what exactly does that mean? Whose Flesh Tone are we talking about?  It can be very confusing!


Albert Munsell, an artist and professor the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, felt the same way. In 1905 he developed a “rational way to describe color” using numeric notation instead of names to describe color. To assign these numbers he used the three attributes we discussed above: huevalue, and chroma (saturation).


In the diagram above, you can see the traditional color wheel as the center ring, and Munsell’s Color Tree, as it came to be known, growing from the center. The trunk of the tree represents zero to ten in value. The farther we move from its “trunk” represents an increase in chroma, until the hue—represented by the separate “branches”—is at full saturation, farthest away from the center.


Munsell’s Color Tree

Jillian Tamaki on Idea Generation

Please Take a look at the work of Illustrator and Cartoonist Jillian Tamaki.

Read and Discuss Jillian Tamaki, Idea Generation


In a short post discuss the article.  Consider questions like:

What are Concepts?  What methods does Jillian Tamaki use to generate hers?

What are the specific steps she takes?

Do you have other methods unique to your process?


Be POLITE!  Be sure to read each other’s observations BEFORE posting your own.

Yuko Shimizu: Advice for aspiring illustrators

Yuko Shimizu is an award-winning Japanese illustrator based in New York City, currently teaching at the School of Visual Arts.

She is incredibly gracious in sharing processes and advice on her blog for emerging artists. Please read her post, and share your response in the chat below.

While you are at it… Read some of those other posts too! (TIP: Use the filter in the bottom right corner to sort for aspiring artists!)

Nuts & Bolts: A blueprint for a successful illustration career

Our first reading of the semester will be from:

Nuts & Bolts: A blueprint for a successful illustration career 

Please Read the First Chapter and be prepared to discuss the Chapter as a group next week.  You will find a PDF of the chapter under MENU> COURSE PROFILE > FILES
Please PURCHASE this book as we will use it several times as a reference for the course. 

Visual Vocabulary

This short excerpt from Yuko Shimizu‘s blog post considers the importance of developing a unique visual vocabulary. After reading this prompt, consider how you can use your sketchbook as a tool to develop your own visual vocabulary.  What are your areas of knowledge, passion, or curiosity?



“ I believe many of you who are reading my blog are aspiring illustrators. If you are, here is something you may want to remember, or to work on, if your art school instructors haven’t taught you already: we have to be remembered by something we are good at, so when a prospective client sees a topic that needs to be illustrated, they know who to call.


The most obvious themes prospective clients think of in connection with my work are Japanese or Chinese themes. I am Japanese, but I had also studied Cantonese for three years, and I have strong interest in Chinese culture. And people somehow see that in my work. There are other themes, like sexy girls, action and sports, comic-book look, snow, and water and underwater themes.”


What kind of things / themes are you interested in drawing?

What visuals might become important visual signatures for you?