Illustrator Victo Ngai on How to Use Color to Make Your Art More Powerful | Class Excerpt

Illustrator Victo Ngai on How to Use Color to Make Your Art More Powerful | Class Excerpt


– So as I mentioned before,
when I first started out color was one of my biggest weaknesses when it comes to picture making. Sometimes I have a very
particular feeling that I want to convey with my art, but
I’m not exactly sure what those feelings look like in colors. Or sometimes I want to use
one particular color very much but I’m not sure what other colors I can pull to support that hero color. And what really helped me
personally is by browsing a lot of different kinds
of palette and pulling them and just straight up stealing them and try to make that
work with my own piece. And that’s what you guys are
going to do today as well. Welcome to the dark side. (ominous music) – (laughs) I love it. – Okay so our dark side
is not really that dark, even though we’re stealing,
we’re not stealing everything. And I think it’s very important
that you kind of steal from artists that work
really different from you. So even if you use
exactly the same palette your work in the end will
be totally different. What’s more, when we use their color it’s usually just the foundation. We’re gonna build on top
of that and then develop the color further to suit the
piece that we’re working on. So in the end it’s not gonna
really look like the original color palette that you start out with. So talking about stealing, there’s technique to stealing as well. You can’t just steal
everything, like paint or leave pieces are very hard to
steal because the color shifts pretty much every
brush stroke or every pixel. So it’s hard to really narrow down what are the major six,
seven colors they use. So in the beginning it’s
much easier to steal when the colors are clearly separated in an image. For example, old propaganda
poster or nouveau posters or textile or wallpaper patterns,
these are all pretty easy examples to pick the colors out. There are also a lot of
useful design color palettes that’s around online, they’ll
just give you the swatches straight up so you don’t
even need to do the hard work of color picking, which is
very manually demanding. But, I personally prefer to
collect the materials that I color steal from because I
think the process of curating, you’re also building
your own virtual library. You’re also curating your
own tastes and preferences and eventually that’s gonna become part of your own art style as well. So I haven’t always worked in digital. When I figured out that
color was my weakness, the first medium that I
turned to was silk screening because you’re able to
pre-mix a color, test it out and see what they look like
before you commit to a palette. And you can do things in layer, which kinda translate to how
I work nowadays in Photoshop. There’s a lot of similarity
with the layering system. Here’s a pretty early piece
that I did and here’s what the color palette that I stole from. And I think this piece is pretty obvious why I stole the color pallette. I wanted a piece that sort
of had that propaganda vibe going on, and even the composition with the glowing sun and everything. Here’s another one with more
of a different composition, but I just really love the
color pallette in this poster, that I tried to see if I can
make it work into my work, even though it shares nothing
similar with composition. And the last one is
more of a recent piece, and this one I sorta want to
revisit the old simplicity look of the screen printing,
and just really using flat colors, no gradient and
no complicated texture. And you can see on the right is the color inspiration for that. So now that we have finished
making flats for all the major elements, lets
think about what kind of color palette we’re looking for. We can always seek emotional
and tonal clues from our piece, like in mine I feel like it’s
pretty soft, quite feminine. And it’s around springtime right now so I was thinking about something pink. And that clue gives me a
direction of my research, hunting down a color palette. So one of my favorite places to look for color resources is my bookshelf. I have collected a lot of
books just for the color. This is a series of
books, this is one of them from the VNA museum in England. It has amazing collection,
just different kind of textile and different pattern. So I kinda bookmark the ones
that I thought could work that has the kind of soft
pink that I’m looking for. This is one of them, and
then this is another one. Here is another book from the same series. I thought this is a pretty cool palette, a little bit more modern
maybe with the pink as well. So I look through a few
more books and in the end I decided I wanna make this my pattern. So this book are actually
textile from kimono. Just really zoom in to
show you the pattern on it and I think this is a
really lovely palette. So I’m gonna pull that into the computer. So when you’re working with
analog resources there’s a few way you can easily get it into Photoshop to pick the color out. Scanning is one of them, or
taking it with your smartphone. Everyone has a smartphone now. Make sure the color environment
is good, white light so it’s not tinted with yellow. If it is off, you can always
adjust it a little bit before you pick out a color in Photoshop. So I just took a image
with my phone and then bring it into the
computer and now I’m gonna pick out the color with
the air dropper and create swatches that I can use later. So what I’m gonna do
first is I have created a new layer on top of
this and on that new layer I’m gonna set a gray bar
background so that I can see the color I picked out. I’ll just pick a mid-gray
there and then fill it. And then I have another layer
on top of the gray layer and now I can start using
the eye-dropper tool. So first we pick the green
here, a pink, this light yellow, this white part, this gray with a blue tint, this red, and finally this dark purple. So now we have a seven color swatches, that we can bring into
our work and use it. So I edit the neutral color
bar there just so I can see the color clearly and not being distracted this layer right here. And also I think it’s an
interesting exercise to kinda understand color and see how
the key points we are talking about, especially color
relativity is at work. For example, here the green
looks a lot more vibrant because it’s adjacent to a
sort of complimentary pink. But here on the neutral gray
it starts to look a lot duller. So as you can see now I have
the color palette that I just built and that I dragged it into this loosely colored flat file. And I can start to apply
them to the different layers, keeping in mind with the hierarchy that I want the image to have. And obviously in this
one I want the attention is with the lady so I think I’m gonna have the red be in her hair because that’s gonna be the most attention grabbing color. So this is her hair layer. I have it on layer lock, what that does essentially is locking the pixel. Notice if I don’t have the
layer lock and I try to fill, it just fill everything outside
or I have to really aim for it. But if I have the layer locked,
then I can just use short key to fill, which is Alt+Delete to fill the foreground color. That just makes the process a
little bit faster for myself. And we remember that the
higher contrast gives you the most attention, so let’s think
about using a lighter color for her skin so that we have the high contrast the hair and her skin. So let’s pick this sort
of near-white color with a tint of blue here and then
again we can use the shortcut to fill it or we can simply
fill it with this tool as well. And I think the shape I sort
of want the body to read as a continuous shape and
right now this part is breaking it up so I’m probably
gonna turn the red dress into a similar value with the skin color and the yellow seems like a good choice. Now let’s move on to the
background, which is another big big part and really sort of contributes to the mood of image. I sort of want that romantic
pink feeling we have, so I’m gonna grab this baby pink and then put it into the background. As you can see all of a sudden the light really changes in the image. So now all of a sudden it feels a lot more warm and amicable than before. Now let’s also change the tree. So what we’re doing here
is actually replacing all the placeholder colors with one of the colors from these swatches. And this is still a rough step, so some of the colors
might not work so well. See here, I didn’t lock it. That was a good demonstration
of what you shouldn’t do. Then you can just keep going
until you have pretty much filled out all the flats
that you have created. And at this point don’t worry too much. I feel like I’m short on color yet, we’re gonna expand on that. Right now just try to stick
with the swatches and use all of them for all of
your layers of flats. You can go ahead and do what I just did, create swatches and then
use the swatch apply to your layers of flats and then next step we’ll start developing those colors.

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