I'm thinking a lot about color lately, trying to train my eye to decompose what I'm looking at into a pattern of palette colors. One thing that's really helped is looking at the way other artists handle their colors. This week I've been studying pictures by John Singer Sargent, Nathan Fowkes, and Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi. Well, ok, lets be honest, I was procrastinating by looking at pictures on the internet instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing. But its for a good cause! I swear. Here are a few things I noticed: Big Shapes and Big Brushes First, Little Shapes and Little Brushes Sparingly : I think this is one of those things that everyone knows but forgets when they sit down in front of the computer. At least I know I do. It really struck me, however, when I saw some of Dice's work. Take a look at some of the color keys and environments he did for Pixar and Blue Sky. They're all painted in a big scratchy brush. There's no detail to speak of. There're can't be. There's so much noise from that brush that anything small would just be drowned out. But they certainly get the point across. No fidgety details needed. The hairy brush look is pretty unique to Dice if you look for the underlying concept you can see it at work in a lot of artists old and new. Have a look at Mike Yamada and Kevin Dart for example. They do the same thing, just with simple sharp-edged shapes.
Color Counterchange (low frequency, high amplitude) : I've talked about the importance of counterchange before so I won't get into it here. I bring it up mainly as an example of large, slow change to contrast it with the next point, which is:
Color Vibration (high frequency, low amplitude): This, I think, is one of the things that gives natural media such an advantage over digital because traditional painters get a lot of vibration and local variance in their colors for free. In digital its so easy to make large fields of pristine color or smooth gradations but natural looking noise is a challenge. This is what all those fancy texture brushes and scanned textures are making for you, but if you don't realize it and just use them haphazardly then you won't have control over the situation.
As an example take a look at some of Nathan Fowkes' work, especially his watercolor flowers. When there's something in the image he wants to really pop he'll throw down a brilliantly saturated base layer, and then brush his darker final colors over the top, letting the bright under and the dull over fight with each other.
This is a quick study from a photograph of the Missouri River that I used to play with some of these ideas.