Ink Washes and Crosshatching
Interview With Brenda Lyons
On 23-Book Deals
News for September
Colours TestsAsk an Artist
by Annie Rodrigue
This month, Ellen Million asked me:
I would like to know why you should do colour tests? How long should you spend on them? With digital work especially, I found that I had trouble keeping from turning the 'tests' into full-out coloring. Any tips to keep this from happening?
I don’t think colour tests are something that everyone wants to do or think that is essential before doing a painting. I’m actually convinced that some will like to go with their guts and do the colours as they go. I do believe though that if you are creating a piece for a specific job, then colour tests become essential. The client will probably want to be offered more than one choice. You as a professional you will want to try out many of your ideas to pick the best one. And some, like me, like to have a digital colour test before starting a painting with a traditional medium just to make sure we know where we are going. So I see colours tests as a safety net for the artist.
I have seen colours tests used in another context too: some will do them as colour storyboards for animation or film. The goal here is again to get an idea of the mood, but also to make sure that there is colour continuity throughout the film and between the shots. This could certainly be applied to a body of work where you would like 3 or more paintings to work all together. A good example would be an artist doing a set of playing cards or tarot cards. Colours tests would allow you to check that.
So colours tests are really an extra tool for the artist who likes to double check everything before starting an imposing piece or project.
I actually have a hard time giving a straight number, because I have found myself working sometimes only a few minutes on a colour test and other times hours. There are no good or bad ways to do this. A colour test is a guide. If the guide is wrong, then you should start over until it is right. If you do not like how the colour test turned out, then you should start another one from scratch. When this happens, I suggest not ever looking at the test that doesn’t satisfy you while doing the new one. This will allow you to get a fresh look on the piece.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend spending days on one single test. The idea is to put as many ideas in paper as you can. But sometimes, I do spend a few hours on a test, because I might put more than colors on my test, I will also work on lighting or mood.
How to Prevent Turning an Test into a Full-out Coloring
Funny, because the latest piece I finished is actually a colour test that I continued. And it turned into a full painting. There is nothing wrong with that. The final result is what is important, but I can see why we wouldn’t want that to happen every time we do a test!
There are plenty of ways to prevent this though. First, remember that a colour test is a colour thumbnail of your final piece. There is no need to work on the details, so a good way to prevent working too much on it is to actually resize the file. I do all my tests in Photoshop. Most of the time, I scan the sketch phase of my project. This already prevents me from working on little details since the sketch itself is rough. After it's scanned, I will resize it so that I get the idea of what is going on, but cannot zoom in the file.
When I colour, I always use flat colours. No shading is done. And if I want to add mood, I might add a few highlights here and there, but they are rough and flat. If you start doing a colour test with lots of shading, highlights and effects then you know that you are no longer in the thumbnailing stage. That’s when you need to stop.
Here are some examples of finished pieces next to their colour test. Both of these tests were done with sketch/thumbnail of the piece.
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