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6 COLOR Principles for artists - that'll improve your work!

There are no real rules in art, but here are some basic color principles that can help you create more beautiful artwork.


Color in Space

It's important to remember that colors change with distance.


Colors off in the distance can appear lighter in value when compared to those in the foreground, as seen above. See how the tree is quite dark in value close up? But the one far away is much lighter in comparison. Colors in the distance will tend to lighten due to atmospheric perspective. (Dust, fog, all that plays a role in how these colors change.)

Colors in the distance can also be less intense or even have a hue change.

Using color changes in your art can help show distance in your piece and help to separate the elements that are close to the viewer from elements that are further back.

Lighting & Color Temperature

Generally speaking:

Cool light results in warmer shadows.

Warm light results in cooler shadows.


Try to identify the color temperature of the light, and use the opposite temperature in your shadow colors. (Orangey-colored lights are considered warm, while lights with a blueish quality are considered cooler.)

Color Harmony

If you are struggling to pick a color palette to work with that has colors that work together, using color harmony and a color wheel can be a great place to start. Here are some to try:

  • Monochromatic (using the same color with different tints and shades)

  • Complementary (a color and its opposite)

  • Analogous (a color plus the two beside it on a color wheel)

  • Triadic (colors that form a triangle on the wheel)


Picking one of these palettes can be a great starting point for your composition.

Center of Interest

When you have a center of interest or a focal point in your piece, it will help tell your story.

You can help lead your viewer's eyes to the focal point of your piece in many ways. But one of those main ways can be through the use of color!

Try using these color changes to help make your focal point POP with color:

  • Make it a different hue

  • Make it the most intensely saturated color in the piece

  • Make it the area of the highest value contrast


Your viewer's eye will continuously flow back to this point because it has been made unique, and different from the rest of the piece with the use of a unique hue, intensity, or value.

Dominate Value

Values are super in composition. So let's think about the center of interest in another way- by establishing a dominant value, your center of interest will pop!

When you have a dominant value in your piece, this will help support your center of interest, which will jump off the page in comparison.

When you have a dominant value, the colors that are not dominant will stand out by contrast- which when done right, will support your focal point.


For example: here the dominant value is dark. So in comparison, she pops because she is lighter in value.

Unity with Variety

In art, unity of color creates harmony, it's comfortable and familiar, but it can leave a piece feeling a bit boring.

On the other hand color variety can be exciting, but taken too far and it can become overwhelming.


Learning to combine these ideas can create balance in your art, creating both a harmonious unity with an exciting variety.


Tip: If you're having a hard time finding a color palette that works best and brings out unity and variety, complementary and analogous color schemes can be a great place to start.


Experiment with these ideas and see what works for you and the piece you are working on. If you want to learn more about color and how to use it to your advantage when creating art, make sure to check out my Color Workshop where we dive into color theory and everything you need to know as an artist!


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Hey! I'm Gabrielle

I'm an American artist from the East Coast who specializes in portrait and character drawing and painting. 

My passion is teaching artists like YOU how to draw and paint portraits and characters that you can be proud of. I'm so excited to help you improve your art skills, gain confidence as an artist, and create the art you've always dreamed of!

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