Are your colors boring? Try this digital painting exercise!

Are your colors boring? Try this digital painting exercise!

I’m gonna show you how to shake up your
color a little bit! First, make a new canvas. It can be any size, doesn’t matter.
Now, because this is a regular canvas, I can, of course, paint in any color that I
want. Now the thing we’re gonna do here: is we’re gonna paint in color … only,
without the ability to see the color! So head over to the layers window, make a
new layer, set that layer to ‘color’ mode, grab the paint bucket tool and fill that
layer with pure white. Let’s go ahead and call this layer ‘black and white filter.’
And I recommend locking it so you can’t paint on it. Now, to show you how this
works, I’ll grab a brush, go to my original layer, and no matter which color
I pick and paint with, my black and white filter layer is going to display my
painting as values-only. And the key is the color is still there – as you can see
in the layers window. All I have to do to see it is toggle the visibility of my
filter layer, and there’s the color. And of course turning visibility back on
makes it black and white again. Ok, just one more thing to do here: select the
sample tool and make sure this drop-down is set to ‘current layer.’ This ensures we
can sample the colors on this layer rather than the grays that are being
displayed. And with that done we can start painting! My layers window is
off-screen now because I’m just painting on that one background layer. I’m
roughing out a quick drawing to get me going, and now that I’m painting I am
just picking colors at random! Random hues, random saturations! The colors you
choose in this exercise are based on pure chance, so just have fun abusing
that color wheel! Now, the real fun will happen later … when we toggle off that
black and white filter and see what we’ve come up with! Now, this exercise is
not just pure anarchy … it’s designed based on a common painting maxim. One
that i believe in – and i’m sure you’ve heard it before. It goes something like
this: ‘get your values right and you can get away with almost any color.’ …That
was my professor voice. Anyway this exercise is designed to show you how
that works. With color on the back burner we’re free to think about other things.
So … what other things can we think about? Well, we still have full control over the
drawing. For example, her pose; the tilt of her head; the appearance of her being
captured in a moment in time; we don’t need color for that. Secondly, we
still have values and lighting. I’m choosing to light her with a diffuse
light. That is, a very soft light coming down from above. Because a diffuse light
is soft, her forms will have very delicate value differences. Just subtle
transitions of lighter to darker. Those tones emerging out of a middle range
based value. Of course, our black and white filter ensures that all the colors
I’m using – which, again, are random – that they all conform to the value structure
I’m working so hard to maintain here. And later in this video when I turn the
color back on, we’ll get a sense for how color plugs into value. Anyway just
making a quick adjustment to this part of the pose and let’s call that one
finished. Okay for this next one I’ll block in a bit of a line drawing again.
And for my base flesh tone I’m gonna choose this weird green color. Just
something intentionally off-the-beaten-path,
and we’ll see how it shakes out. And I want to give some quick credit here: I’m
reading the graphic novel series, ‘The Keepers of the Maser,’ written and
illustrated by artist Massimiliano Frezzato. I love his artwork, and this
guy is based on one of the characters from that series.
Anyway, the color exercise is exactly the same as before, however I’m doing
something different from a lighting standpoint. That is, here I’m using a
direct light where last time I used a diffuse light. I’m basically imagining
like it’s a sunlight coming in this way. That will give the values a little more
contrast between the light and shadow family and it will give the shadows more
of a distinctive shape. You can see that in, like, the cast shadow under his nose.
Also different here: the edges between light and shadow are gonna be generally
harder than they were on the first character. Partially this is the result
of a direct light, but it’s also due to the fact that this is a grizzled old man
whose planes are harsher than that of a younger woman. And edges are the tool
that will help you distinguish between the two. So just as a quick recap – while I
may have color off my plate, I’m still dealing full-on with things like
lighting values, edges, composition – not to mention academic things like
facial anatomy structure and expression. Alright let’s do one more, before we see
what kind of horrible, colorful mess we’ve made! I’ll go for a darker skin
tone this time to see how that works. Process wise for this one I didn’t even
start with a line drawing, really. I just started with a
massive value that I’m kind of sculpting into with paint. Still randomizing the
color of course! Although this time I’m kind of favoring the blue and purple end
of the color wheel … for no other reason than I’m interested in seeing how it
looks. Those are not colors one would usually attribute to skin tones, but I’m
hoping something interesting will come of it nonetheless. I guess we’ll find out
soon enough! And last thing before I finish up here, you can do this exercise
in the style of your choosing: painterly like this, or airbrush-y smooth – it
really doesn’t matter. Anyway, picking a random color here for the background,
I’ll just fill that in … and that should do it. Okay. Now, when I click this layer
off, we will see the col– let’s make this more dramatic! When I push this BIG RED BUTTON, we will finally see the color! Heeey that is pretty cool actually! I
really like how the cooler blues kind of slide into warmer tones! Like this
area here being cooler and sliding warmer as it goes down this way. I kind
of see the same thing happening in the jaw where it’s very cold here, sliding
into warm as it goes up. I didn’t plan that; I was just using soft
brushes in this area, and in this area, and because my values were kept under
control, the colors just sorted themselves out! But I also liked some of
the more abrupt temperature changes like here in the cheekbone. I really like how
this blue seems to pop out so aggressively. In fact I’m kind of seeing
that in three places: there, there, and there.
Now I think if I were to plan these colors I probably would not have done
that three times … but I do think it’s a good idea to implement something like
that – especially if I were to control it a bit more. I also really like how the
ear is, like, super warm – versus the entire rest of the head which is colder. And
while it’s interesting that the warm is focused on the ear, I’m not sure that’s
exactly where I put it if I had the conscious choice!
I mean it’s so odd … yet kind of interesting at the same time. This is the
kind of thing that will definitely inform me in future paintings.
OK, ready for the second one?? Let’s push the RED BUTTON. Whoa! It’s like a
color bomb went off! So I have a couple thoughts. The color here definitely tests
the limit of this painting principle. I’m not quite sure I can get away with all
of these colors … at least, not at the same time. However, where that statement does
hold up is: I don’t think any of these color combinations are, like, against the
law. I mean sure, it’s pretty odd that two near-complementary colors are merging in
such closed quarters. But it still reads as skin, does it not? The color overall is
distracting in my opinion because it kind of demands your attention
everywhere and I just don’t think that’s ever a good design idea. But, like,
remember how I started with that green color? You can still see evidence of the
green, and, you know, these areas here, and a lot of it down here in the beard, and I
really do like how those greens have subtly modulated into oranges and
purples and blues, as I laid those colors on later in the painting. I think in
future paintings I can use that idea. You know, starting with a weird flesh color
and then painting over it. That can be a way to generate interest in your colors.
One thing that I think does work quite well is how these shadows are all one
consistent deep reddish color. I think that kind of eases the eye from all the
colors here going on in the lights. And I do kind of like this shadow under the
nose how it gets bluer as it gets further away from the nose. I think
that’s really nice. But I also want to draw your attention to the fact that,
despite these crazy color choices, it still looks like a grizzled old
character with three-dimensional forms lit by a direct light. In that sense, I
*can* get away with any color! It’s almost like the values and edges are
responsible for the objective reality of the piece, and the colors contribute to
the emotional reality of the piece. That’s kind of how I think about color
when I paint. This is part of a piece I did for an actual project. And you can
see how, when you’re intentional with your color design, you can move color
around quite a bit! I think these blue bits here that are
right up against neutral oranges and more aggressive purples – that’s not so
far removed from what I’m doing here! Same with, like, this area of the hair
down here. It’s just that in this project I’m exercising more restraint. And I’m
doing the same thing on this one. Look at all the little blue color notes that are
popping out in her hair. Those are not there to actually look like anything.
I consider them more emotional touches. And you notice I’m doing that a lot more
in the hair than I am in the skin area? That’s the choice I made in this
painting so the colors don’t all compete … like they’re kinda doing here.
All right – let’s go back to our first sketch! We push the RED BUTTON and – ooooh!!
The first thing I notice are those reds that really pop out against the grays.
Just gonna drag in the color picker here and sample some of these grays. You can
see what I mean. Notice the saturation for most of this is kept in this overall
section of the color picker. That includes the hair, the flesh, even the
background. This is a common habit of mine. I find that when you base your
colors on grays, they tend to slide in and out of each other pretty easily –
opening up possibilities for all kinds of color harmonies! If you’d like to
learn more about the ins and outs of that, check out episode 5 of my ’10
Minutes To Better Painting’ series! Over top of those grays, these saturated reds
here, and this little bit of purple there, the speck of blue right there in her eye –
those colors really gain a lot of identity. Because when a saturated color
appears against grays it’s like a loud voice in a quiet room. Anyway, another
thing I kind of like about this is how the brow takes on an overall bluish
tinge, the cheeks and overall reddish tinge, and the jaw is almost some kind of
neutral greenish thing. Having three zones of color in the head like that is
something you’ll find all throughout art history. And I guess while I couldn’t see
the color when I painted this, some of my influences and instincts were still at
play. Moving on, though. When I painted this, I made the compositional choice of
having the values in her head be much darker than the background. All these
colors I’m using here … though they have so much variety, it’s the value that
really reins them in and keeps them in service of the composition. If you want
to test that, just zoom out and you notice that her head still really stands
out. But, going back to color – you can get a sense for how these saturated bits
that I’m circling also stand out! I don’t think they stand out quite as much as
value contrast does, but they do still have a voice. I’m gonna stop here. But if
you want to talk color for literally hours more, check out Head on over to the workshop section,
and I recommend ‘Digital Painting 1, 2, and 3.’ You’ll get hours of real-time painting, a selection of my favorite digital brushes,
as well as a lot more discussion about color and how it plugs into other
painting fundamentals! Well, thanks for watching, everyone! I hope this exercise
will inspire your color use, as well as give you a glimpse into the endless ways
that color can behave in a painting. And how other fundamentals – drawing, values,
edges, composition – how they can be shepherds for color – corralling it into
its appropriate place. Well, happy painting. I’ll see you in another video 🙂

Dereck Turner

100 thoughts on “Are your colors boring? Try this digital painting exercise!

  1. Marco Bucci says:

    Color reveals begin at 5:00 🙂
    I'm using Photoshop CC, but you can follow these same steps in most digital painting apps. Happy painting everyone!

  2. Isaac Villegas says:

    I've been grinding at value studying so this seems like something really fun to mess with.

  3. ProDoucher says:

    That… is so amazing! I am at lost of words…

  4. Carole Pivarnik says:

    This is so good, so illustrative of how value does most or all of the work!

  5. Tartantaz Creates says:

    This is definitely something I’m going to try 😊

  6. Vic2or says:

    I love your channel!! I wish I could buy all the content in your store. You’re absolutely amazing! Thank you for making these videos.

  7. Elisheba says:

    I literally wait for your videos… It's so valuable. Thank you so much Marco 😆

  8. Blacku Draws says:

    I will definitelly try that! 😀 Thank you for anotyher great video

  9. huskytzu says:

    This is insane

  10. jimmy mc says:

    i tried it and it turned out amazing and very different i wold 1000000000000 reccommend

  11. Demani Nichols says:

    Congratulations this is the greatest thing I've seen

  12. Kyle T Webster says:

    I love your videos, Marco.

  13. Daniel Godínez says:

    Wow!!! this is an amazing exercise. I'm always strugling with the color, but i thing this is a great way to make interesting color palettes and add detail and complexity to the paintings, starting like this and the adjust some design things, could bring amazing things!!! I think i'm going to try it 😀

  14. Daniel Godínez says:

    Also where did you get your brushes or did you made it? Some or them are cool, and i will like to try them too, lol 🙂

  15. Aspyn Smith says:

    Ah man, I have an acrylic piece I've been wanting to add more color to, but never felt confident to start, I'm definitely trying this and will implement it onto my painting

  16. Armored Wraith says:

    Awesome video again Marco, hope your 2020 is brilliant!

  17. Hiran Nagar says:

    Amazing. Just tried this out reallly fun. For ipad and tablet users you can on a new layer fill any grayscale value, then set the layer blend to colour. Then paint colour in a new layer beneath it.

  18. Redsamme says:

    What an interesting concept! Great video, you explained it well, and I learned a lot. Your paintings came out pretty interesting in the end!

  19. ATRIIIO says:

    holy shit, why didn't i ever think of this before!?!?!?!? thankss youu

  20. carlos benitez ovelar says:

    I made a floating cottoncandy tree with his trunk going into an acid trip.

  21. Jesús Alberto Pineda Barrientos says:


  22. Chemsem says:

    This is a wonderful exercise! Thank you for the inspiration

  23. Brandon Dennis says:

    This was a really good one Marco!

  24. ok says:

    ''Ok MarCoO''

  25. abdelhady m says:

    i can hear your voice the whole day, wow

  26. Chaos Wolf says:

    Actually, this is a reaaaaally good excercise to see with which color combinations you can get away with and which ones suck. Especially for mor stylized (comic) charakter designs.

    Thanks Marco, your awsome as allways 😀

  27. youkilledkiller22 says:

    I love everything EXCEPT the inside of her ear.

  28. Sarah Nichols says:

    This is an awesome exercise! Thanks, I’m going to try this.

  29. Jay Edry says:

    Marco I miss you buddy! This is literally one of the best videos I've ever seen. Thanks for this.

  30. MidwayWuzzupman says:

    This helps so much!
    I always feel overwhelmed by dealing with colorshifting, saturation, and value all at once. This feels like a great way to keep your values focused while still getting to play with color. Thanks Marco

  31. BlueWorld says:

    Do you know how to do this to on procreate for the ipad pro?

  32. tauruk says:

    This was an intensely satisfying emotional and visual experience

  33. randomnickify says:

    Thank you profesor Voice!

  34. Eybietie says:

    hey marco! love your vids. I happened to watch a video of yongyea and "I" was thinking "wow – yongyea sounds like marco!"

  35. Aylard says:

    No matter what colours you will pick senpai
    What comes out is always golden

  36. Really Cool Stuff says:

    I took a composition class about 10 years ago and the teacher was showing us Frazetta paintings. We were like wow yeah, that's cool and stuff, and he was talking about values, and then he said "that sky is GREEN, people." We simply had not even noticed that the sky in the Frazetta painting was green. It totally worked and we didn't even notice.

  37. Jorgh Istkrieg says:

    How can I do that on traditional media?

  38. Ricardo Franco says:

    Watch out! Here comes Ethan Becker! 🤣🤣

  39. Lory Wolfsong [Witch] says:

    I don't need to watch the rest of your channel, I subscribed before the end of your video. Thank you.

  40. A Mucho says:

    I love it… Thank you Marco

  41. kirigirimaii says:

    is it possible to do the same exercise on paint tool sai 2?

  42. Snokalo says:

    I did this but with everything in grayscale, good thing I’ve memorized the order of the colours in the colourwheel

  43. Rony Silva says:

    how do I do that in paint tool sai?

  44. Wei Li says:

    It's realy a great way to improve your color sense

  45. Aisha Merchant says:

    You are a genius!

  46. Just Nobody says:

    Aw yea I wanna try this
    forgets how to set up layers
    Aw shoot-

  47. Water Ho says:

    How can I do it with my iPad? T_T

  48. david perez says:

    Awesome excercise!

  49. Visual Tale says:

    This video is very educational and amazingly entertaining! thank you for your yet another excellent video!

  50. Nguyễn Tân says:

    Everything we see is not true to reality – you have taught me a lot. Thanks
    I'm Vietnamese.

  51. af0ccce597b35 says:

    Always fun ideas from Marco, ty I will try it later

  52. Beth annamitta says:

    Ok I'm not digital painter right, I'm just focused on drawing and painting with paint. I did an under drawing of green tonish paint type ( professor was upset n tore it off my easel lol) I was only making a suggestion within layers of skin, cool kinda with warm idk I think I'm seeing it here but I'm not sure ,but I'm going to go back and try it again thanks this video helps.

  53. nouha23k says:

    i've been learning alooooooooot thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

  54. Inainis says:

    does anyone know how this could be done on paint tool sai?

  55. Marina McKinley says:

    I am kinda relieved because I pride myself as a colorist. If it turns out all this time that I had the "easiest job," I would feel like I wasted time. I am glad that color choice is still important to evoking feelings and being part of a design. It is still an important choice to make.

  56. Heidi Rodis says:

    This looks like a fun excercise to try Marco! Thanks a lot! I'll try this one out! By the way, do you think it would be a good idea to draw it in color and then do the final adjusting of the edges and stuff by putting the B/W filter on before finishing the final product? Have you tried that before?

  57. Manas says:

    I'm really gonna try this out

  58. RohitVinay Art Channel says:

    A fun concept, definitely trying tips

  59. Will Zhu says:

    I found applying gradient map onto the value layer offers the similar effect but with more control overall.

  60. Itaveli says:

    Thank you for inspiration, just done this exercise:

  61. Manuel D. says:

    This video was very interesting! It's a really good idea to make us experiment and explore things that normally we would not try in a planned project. It can help us to discover new concepts and combinations we didn't even think about. It's kind of a way to play and discover!

  62. halim ay says:

    Sorry but the result is worst on the 3 paintings than if you painted with direct colors, i personnaly didn't liked the colors it was too random

  63. danivali says:

    wow you're good

  64. Kanaakulya Nakibinge says:


  65. Scrambled Meggs says:

    Anyone know how to do this in Procreate?

  66. KamiCollo says:

    but….how is it random if he's still picking the hues

  67. Rob Gracioli says:

    Heyy mann, make more videos bout your sckechbook and how you paint in real life. 🙏🙏🙏
    Love your art !!!!

  68. Laura Maue says:

    MARCO, YOU GENIUS. My color palettes are typically restricted and tentative, but I'm trying to break out of that. Going to do this asap!

  69. Constantine Bardash says:

    you are amazing, thx for tip

  70. Kat AT says:

    tried this out on my Instagram it was really fun

  71. Lena Dick says:

    Hase anyone a clue how this could work in Procreate? I dont think the "current layer" option for the colour picker exists there 🙁

  72. Adequately Trying says:

    I'm uncomfortable with how much you sound like cody ko

  73. SlowMotionSword says:

    Just saved for the layer tech.

  74. Lame Loura says:

    Very creative and useful. THank you, Marco.

  75. Andy Liu says:

    God Danm! This is like a "blind color drawing" and yet all the colors are working together nicely! I really like the 1st and 3rd one. The background and subject compliment each other very nicely and strong. Did you really pick randomly or you subconsciously know that your subject is mainly cooler hues and darker values, and you choose almost complimentary colors and brighter too?
    I feel like if I did this exerciser, my painting will explode into madness with colors all over the place lol…

    This method is really great, it's like doing a colored painting without thinking about colors, time is only spent on getting the values right, which saves a lot of time!

  76. Seth says:

    This doesn't wait in Krita, does anybody have any tips?

  77. Diego Cordero says:

    Hi Marco. Why do you always work in a small size of canvas? It's because of space, because of your computer or because you don't see necessary work in a bigger canvas.

  78. Espermaschine says:

    Great narration !

  79. Rico Doodle says:

    I am struggling with color and this is exactly what I needed! Thank you Marco! Love your videos as always!

  80. Mariam Manga ʚĩɞ says:

    This is brilliant. I love it so much. Gotta try it right now!! I also suggest a little control over the colors can be good to decrease some colors fighting each other like the old man's painting. Like for warm colors, we can use either saturated or desaturated colors but cool colors can be relatively desaturated and not go so much towards the vibrant ones. Yet to experiment thought!! Thanks so much 🙂

  81. jauxro says:

    Ohh! Nice

  82. jauxro says:

    They end up looking a little like they're formed out of TV static in the end

  83. asd asdas says:

    How I wish I am fully colour blind now.

  84. Amalia Valentine says:

    This is such a neat exercise, thanks! Anyone know if this is possible in Procreate??

  85. Linh Hananue says:

    Holy hell, this is the most interesting exercise i've ever seen

  86. underfire987 says:

    This will sound poor, but this process didn't work at all I got something that just clearly did not work together at all quite different from your results.

  87. Meashayshay2 says:

    Your end results remind me of renaissance-like master paintings. They're all perfect imo. This is such an awesome exercise.I think it would be great to do as a warmup or even for full projects. Can't wait to try it~

  88. s plus says:

    damn!! such a genius way!!! thank you for sharing!!!😍😍😍

  89. Miss Childsh says:

    his voice always sounds so passive aggressive. The intern must be getting on his nerves

  90. imajinary says:

    You know, I always have a lot of anxiety when watching most art tutorial videos, I find it difficult to control my feelings/sensitivity, I have the terrible habit of putting myself down when I see good art from others and whenever other great artists say things like "doing this is wrong" or "stop doing that, it's not good" I feel devastated, sometimes to the point my whole day is ruined because my mind just keeps echoing that feeling, and that ends up eating away my motivation for art. But the way you express yourself through words is so much warmer, gentle in a way, that it doesn't cause me any anxiety at all, and instead it encourages me to keep going! I'm glad you're my favorite artist, because then I can listen more to your videos and try to keep away from the ones that cause me harm until I learn how to deal with my emotions.

    Thank you, Marco ^_^

  91. AmethystMoon says:

    Wow this is a very nice exercise! Definitely gonna do this in the future

  92. Drago Player says:

    One of the most underrated art videos on youtube right now

  93. Letícia Pedrosa says:

    Love it

  94. wonbebe says:

    Why would you do something so controversial yet so brave?

  95. Drea Bruine says:

    why are you so angry but without showing it

  96. Ivan Naumov says:

    Marco, could you sagest any descent resource to study face expressions, please. Right now I am trying to sketch faces from films and photos, but my observation skills aren't good enough. As a beginner, I am missing some face details here and there.

  97. Juan says:

    There is not single video in your channel that i didnt learn something new even in topics I cover from diferent sources before.

  98. Rodeen says:

    weird, the blue nose shadow is what looked the most odd to me

  99. Gustavo Gontijo says:

    It is amazing how you can turn valuable information on something really fun, informative to watch! THANK YOU!

  100. Nalanix says:

    is it possible to do this with phone?

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