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Light and color perception tips

Light and color perception tips

Hi! I’m going to share a few tricks about studying from real landscapes (and photos in general) and capturing their mood rather than getting lost on intricate details. It really is simple as that; Try to mimic what you feel, not the details/technique. (the images used here have this “wallpaper” feel that might distort a few colors. Be aware of that when searching for references) Shall we begin, then?


Blur your eyes when analyzing your reference!

(Not sure if overdoing this is good for your eyes, but) it removes all details and leaves you with a nice composition setup. Check the image above blurred and notice how it becomes easier to identify the atmospheric perspective and to trace imaginary lines where the bright orange lights give space to the darker tones in the corners. It gets easier to position the trees as well!) The top of the image isn’t as bright as I though it was, also.

Avoid painting above a black or white background.

Try to use at least the sky color as background, or set up gradients with the prevailing color areas before beginning. The figure below could have a setup of blue background + large, dark green gradient representing the leaves and a few beige strokes (the branches) above everything.


Avoid the color picker!

Pretend it is like opening the console in a game and typing in some cheat code to get out of an area in which you’re stuck. I tend to color pick after I’ve established most of the painting or if I can’t figure a color, then I reset the color window and try to figure it again.

Values are the the most important thing in a figure.

Why? Because Colors ≠ values. Values (aka tone variation, “shadows,” “grayscale”) give form and these alone can make a figure identifiable. As for colors (or hues), they’d look like a mess without any grayscale logic.

I think this image from idrawgirls.com (check the full article here!) summarizes it well:


Work big to small.

Try to keep 100% of your painting visible on the screen most of the times when in the initial stages. Why? Because zooming in = details. Establishing good composition and lighting before refining an image is essential.

No need to rely on custom brushes.

Photoshop’s chalk brush + removing hardness from any round brush will help setting the initial mood for almost anything.

No pure blacks and whites, again.

Try to use at least some colors – even on the darkest shadows! – and you’ll notice that the painting becomes less flat and more dynamic. Pure blacks/whites may happen in some kind of environments/landscapes (specially on highly edited images such as wallpapers) but it is not the norm.

  • If you feel adventurous enough, render small grayscale thumbnails referenced from real images using pencil and paper!


I got to keep practicing, but using the methods above has helped me improve quite a lot! Thanks for reading this, guys, and forgive my occasional broken English! Check my tips ‘n tricks session for more guides.



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