Focal Point Through Color: Direct Your Viewer with Contrast


We already know that great composition will guide our viewer, allowing us the illustrator to direct the overall read of the image. We’ve also looked at how strong value contrast establishes clear focal points. Contrast and intensity in color works exactly the same way.

Strong differences in color and highly saturated color will pull your viewers eye, every time. Remember you are making deliberate choices to tell the best story you can.  Using color to both tell the story by establishing mood and setting, and creating places of emphasis to guide your viewer is critical.


Color used for emphasis can be very dramatic.



But contrast can be used to guide the viewer subtly too.

Consider this image called Camouflage by James Gurney, creator of Dinotopia. Take a good look and be aware of where your eyes travel.



Gurney conducted an experiment concerning focal points and how different people look at the same image. By adding together the eye movement data from a group of test subjects, he was able to observe where people look in a given picture.


To create the image below, eye-tracking technology recorded the data of sixteen different subjects and compiled the information into a composite image, called a heatmap. The red and orange colors show where 80-100% of the subjects halted their gaze. The bluer or darker areas show where hardly anyone looked.

The heatmap for Camouflage shows that everyone noticed the dinosaur’s face. They also quickly spotted the hidden man and the small pink dinosaur.  According to data connected to timing, these three faces drew almost everyone’s attention within the first five seconds. The dinosaur’s face was statistically the first thing most people looked at, followed quickly by the hiding man.


Why do we look the same way at this image? As humans we are drawn to faces. This is a given. However, though the contrast is subtle, the only pink things in all that foliage, (remember green’s complement is red) are the hidden man’s skin and the small pink dinosaur.



Simple Digital Coloring


There is no hard and fast rule on HOW to digitally color.  Digital coloring in infinite and there as many different methods to work as there are artists out there.  I wish you the best of luck in finding the method that works for you.

Here are a few tutorials just to get you started.  If you find some good tutorials, please share them in the class resources!


Coloring Line Art in Photoshop…

Simple animated painted style in Adobe PS:

Heres one for Procreate:

Monochromatic Palate


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.  A monochromatic color scheme has one principle color and in all it’s 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.

Color Theory Review

The Three Attributes of a Color

To accurately describe a color and differentiate it from another there are 3 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


Now Lets Learn to work in a LIMITED PALATE.


The Color Wheel


YES, you painted one of these in Kindergarden. I know. However the usefulness and knowledge that can come from this tool is limitless. So please let go your preconceptions toward color, and using a color wheel and come into this with an open mind.

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 thought this post and the following, 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 big idea. It must work to further your narrative and or concept.  If you have already taken Color and Design, you will have worked with various color schemes.   In the next few posts, and in the remaining weeks of class, you’ll look review color theory in detail, and see how those color schemes can influence narrative. We will also look at how they are applied in both fine art and in contemporary illustration

Drawing by Philippe Buchet, Color by Matt Hollingsworth


NOW lets get deeper into some real COLOR THEORY!

Inktober Prompts

Here are the official Inktober prompts from Mr. Jake Parker himself. There are always a ton more of these floating around, so feel free to search and find one that better suits you, or don’t use prompts at all! Stock up on pens from ArtSnacks and JetPens or your friendly neighborhood (cooperatively owned and run) art shop, Artist & Craftsman. Remember this is another opportunity for Extra Credit in this course!


Call for Entries:

Class-  Here is a chance to get some professional exposure for your work and earn some money from it!  And you thought this was JUST an assignment!


Watch this video about the competition from a previous winner.


We are looking for the best new and emerging artists around the globe to be part of our FALL 2018 CALL FOR ART.  This year marks an important milestone for Collective Arts. Our beer can be found coast-to-coast in Canada, and in the USA we are available in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Collective Arts will be launching in Chicago and Nashville this fall and our beers can be found in Australia! We want to show the world YOUR work as we continue to grow. 




Project 1: Beverage Label Reboot

Overall Assignment:

      • Choose an illustrated wrap around beer can or tea box.
      • Label will be a horizontal design:Illustration for a beverage label: You have been approached by a client to who wishes to redesign the packaging for an existing beverage label. You will identify your own client for this project.

5 inches high 6 inches wide for an aluminum can label wrap around label

4 inches high 6 inches wide for a tea box.

mint magic

  • This is a primarily Illustrated label. Though text placement should be thoughtfully considered. If it is not hand drawn text and part of the art, then it should not be included in the final art.
  • FINAL Art is required to be Black and White only.
  • Students will be required to present the illustration alone, as well as a digital mock up, indicating space for text.




PART 1: Generate MULTIPLE visual solutions for your client.

  • Research, Brainstorm, and Generate 4 Different Illustration Concepts.
  • Draw 5 at least thumbnails per concept, for a total of 20 Thumbnails.


Begin by identifying a client who’s label you would like to redesign.  Choose based on an inspiring name, NOT based on YOUR relationship with the product. Research the client and imagery suggested by the beverage, the brand or the name. Brainstorm in your sketchbooks based on research.

From your brainstorm identify at least 4 different concept directions their final illustration could go.  The more thorough your brainstorm, the better the final art will be. Explore these 4 different concepts through sketches related to their brainstorms in your sketchbooks.

You must also begin collecting visual imagery related to your concepts as well as inspirational images and reference images – organized them in a way that works for you.  You will need to compile them into a Blog Post about your working process, when you turn in the completed assignment.


*Be sure to use a ruler to draw the frames for your thumbnails BEFORE you begin them.

*Be sure they are in proportion to the label you are designing.



Life Drawing in New York

Since we are in New York City artists have many options to improve their life drawing skills by drawing from a model outside of this class.  The only way to improve your drawing is to practice!  Practicing our craft is VITAL!  Take advantage of the resources in our city!






The New York Society of Illustrators is an incredible resource for up and coming commercial artists.  The sketch night is a great way to get to know this institution.  Its lively with great models, live music, pro illustrators, and often comes with FOOD!  This one is wonderful and is the cheapest option I’ve found for students!













Shoestring Studio is a membership-based art studio serving painters, draftsmen, illustrators, and other artists in need of workspace, community, and shared resources. Their primary mission is to provide affordable, accessible workspace for artists in Crown Heights and the greater Brooklyn area.  They host figure drawing sessions several days per week at a very affordable rate.  You do not need to be a member to attend.  Be sure to ask about student discounts!