Author Topic: Choosing colour palettes for projects - specifically illumination ...  (Read 3285 times)

Offline Moya

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I only have a little formal design training, and very scant colour theory (mostly just what I've worked out myself). 

I'd be really interested to know how the pros pick a colour scheme when contemplating a new project.  I mean, I've got as far as "it's for a baby girl, so gold and pink and some soft pastel blues..."

The project in question is going to be four illuminated letters (spelling out her name) and they need to not overpower each other.  I'll be painting them with gouache on parchmentine paper and (hopefully!) using transfer gold for the gold parts, if I can get it to work and if I don't ruin it by being in too much of a hurry. I'm always in too much of a hurry ...

Do you sit down and work out all your colours beforehand, or do you just wing it?  If you work them all out, do you mix gouache to the colours you think will work, and then just discard it if they're not good?  Do you do elaborate colour diagrams?  How do the pros do it?

For reference, here is the basic layout (obviously there'll be a lot more embellishing going on in there!) -


Offline Estefa

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Hi Moya, that looks like a wonderful project!!

What I do, if I am not sure about colours, is I make copies from the pencil sketch and colour them to test colours (when it's a more complex project – I don't do that with an envelope :))! I sometimes make a colour scheme (just touching squares of colour) and try out different combinations. For example if I know, I'll need one dark colour for contoures and 3 to 4 lighter shades, I'll draw a square, divide it in how many colours I want to use, and fill them with different combinations. I use magic markers (because I have them still from my study days, I wouldn't invest in them just for that), you can use anything – crayons, markers, watercolours. Then I test it in the copied layouts. Then I'd mix the colours finally (or finish the piece in Photoshop).

For inspirations you can use anything – sometimes I take a photo, a painting, a poster, a look out of the window that fits the subject of the project … (for example like you say, a card for a newborn boy. Look out the window, blue sky, light brown houses, a red car – so that's a colour scheme I can work with, I have two background colours, a signal colour, maybe I need to add a colour for depth / contour, maybe dark blue …)

You see, my process is very intuitive. Usually if there is a client I still can explain quite well why I chose the colours, i.e. why the colours are just right for the project ;).

You can also think in terms of should this be controversial (complementary colors), funny (colourful), sad (less saturated colours, colder hues), futuristic (you could use neon colours + metallic tones) and so on …

(I do this now often in Photoshop, but I am really fast in Photoshop, so I also wouldn't recommend it if it's not an everyday tool for you ;). This is just meant to be a fast way to try out your design and make variations.)

I hope that helps!
Stefanie :: Website :: Blog :: Instagram

Offline Moya

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Stefanie thank you so much!  That is actually exactly what I needed to know - and the idea of taking a picture as a palette is perfect.  I'll keep posting progress on Instagram of how I go with it.  Thanks again!!!

Offline patweecia

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hi moya,

with regard to the color scheme...you can take a look at the perfect palette's blog (http://www.theperfectpalette.com/).  although it's a wedding blog, she has created pretty color combinations.  you can take those combinations and tweak it a little, if you like :)


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Offline Moya

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hi moya,

with regard to the color scheme...you can take a look at the perfect palette's blog (http://www.theperfectpalette.com/).  although it's a wedding blog, she has created pretty color combinations.  you can take those combinations and tweak it a little, if you like :)

oooh what a resource patweecia! Thank you!  That looks super useful :D

Offline ultraQuiche

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http://calligraphypen.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/calligraphy-design-acanthus-leaves/

I don't have too much to contribute about colour schemes. What I usually do is I'll pick a colour that I want to be my 'root colour', then I'll use its complimentary colour and throw in a few neutrals like greys and browns. I usually work with many shades of the same colours, too.

It's somewhat unrelated, but I think some acanthus leaves could look very nice in this project. Just a thought. Here is a cool, simple tutorial. (Sorry, could only paste it up there in the most confusing, awkward place possible)







Offline Moya

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I've actually been using that tutorial for years :D I love it, it's so simple and easy to go through.  I did this frame last year using something similar.  But as you can see, colours were my downfall then - this time it's going to be better planned!


Offline ultraQuiche

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Same, I've been using it forever too! They seem good for frames and stuff, I used them in a border I posted on the broad edge forum.

I dig the pixels, very retro looking.

Offline Moya

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Gotta love a pixel or two  8)

(I blurred it because I was posting that photo on Reddit and that is not a place I would like to leave the full name and birthday of anyone, even a newborn ;) )

Offline Faeleia

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Hmm.. I'm not at all experienced with illumination, but I'm good with colour combinations, so I can usually tell what colours complement whatever colour you decide to feature (in the name).

If you are going with parchment, that's already offwhite (oat?) + dusty pink and blues, then maybe light olive green, gold and black and white (sparse) will bring out whatever details you need, esp for little vines or roses etc.

You should premix your colours (make more than what you think you need, test the colours to see if they are what you want on the parchment, make a rough draft with the colours marked out so you can refer to it and have several brushes to load the nib (paints dry fast, so cleaning a brush out to change colours will frustrate you.

And then wait until gouache are COMPLETELY dry (maybe after a day?) before putting the gold leaf. Don't want to end up in tears..
« Last Edit: June 23, 2014, 01:18:29 AM by Faeleia »

Offline Moya

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Re: Choosing colour palettes for projects - specifically illumination ...
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2014, 01:34:09 AM »
Thank you Faeleia!  That is what I'm going to do, I think :)

With the caveat that I will apply gold leaf first - that is the only way, I have found, to reduce the risk of it sticking to anything else.  Even if the gouache is dry.  It just means it all needs to be very well planned in advance. 

Which I'm totally going to do ... after I do the summer exchange ... and that other thing ... and a commission I have to finish ...  so many projects, so little time!!!

Offline Sola

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Re: Choosing colour palettes for projects - specifically illumination ...
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2014, 04:52:13 PM »
Hi Moya, you have it right—at least according to what I've been taught by a very skilled illuminator at my calligraphy guild. The order of execution she taught was:
  • Layout/ruling
  • Transfer/outlining, if applicable (for miniature paintings and versals)
  • Lettering
  • Mordant + Gilding
  • Miniature painting/outlining of gilding (if necessary)
The reason for doing gold before painting is exactly as you said—the leaf is only too happy to stick to the gum arabic in your gouache and once stuck, can't be removed without scraping. :-\