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How to Choose Colours for your Colouring Pages - Colour Theory for Beginners

"Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this?" - Pablo Picasso

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying ‘they have an eye for colour’. Not everyone does. Colour selection is something that doesn’t come naturally to many people. It can be daunting when you open a set of pencils and there’s 150 colours (or more) to choose from and not knowing where to start.

So why do we put effort into choosing colours. Well, it’s because we want our page to say something. We want our art to have some sort of effect, an impact, on not only the people viewing the work but also on ourselves.

This can be created by directing the viewer towards a focal point on the page or by using colour to convey an emotion.

An example of using your background to create a focal point from Mythic World by Kerby Rosanes

By using different colour techniques you can express yourself creatively and generate an atmosphere on your page.

In general, most people will link colours with an emotion. For example, blue conveys sadness, red depicts anger, green portrays greed or jealousy and black represents fear.

Colours can also be representative of the four seasons with winter being described with cool blues and greys, summer with bright reds and yellows, autumn with purples and oranges and finally spring with pretty pinks, yellows and greens.

Examples of the four seasons from Johanna Basford Lost Ocean, Rita Berman's Meine Reise durch Europa, Meine Reise durch Asien and Meine Winter Spaziergang

Using light and shadow in your colouring can also be used to convey emotions. Bright, light areas will depict happiness where dark, shadowy areas can produce sadness or fear. Keep an eye out for these lighting tricks next time you are watching a movie.

Example of using shadows from Worlds Within Worlds by Kerby Rosanes

Colour Theory

Colour theory is a practical guidance to using colour to create your art. It explains how we perceive colour and the visual effects of how colours interact with each other.

There are 6 different harmonious colour schemes that you can use to compliment your colouring pages.

Let’s go through each one and I’ll show you examples.

1. Monochromatic

This is the use of only one colour, however you may use many tints, tones and shades of that colour.

Let me just go off on a little tangent here and go through the definitions of some terms you may hear thrown around the art or colouring communities.

What I mean by tint, tone and shade.

  • If you take the pure colour which is also called the hue and we add white to that colour, then the new colours that you make are called tints and the more white you add the more different tints you can make. It’ll turn from your original dark red and gradually get lighter.

  • If we add grey to the original colour this is going to give us our tones and you can slowly add more grey and the tones will become more muted.

  • If we add black, we are getting shades. These will gradually get darker the more black we add.

In summary, colour plus white equals tint, colour plus grey equals tones and colour plus black equals shades.

I tried to find an example of this to show you but I haven’t actually used this first method in my pages. If you have seen the one colour challenges that often pop up in groups, that’ll give you an idea of the finished result. I have a couple of examples that come close from Worlds Within Worlds by Kerby Rosanes. Here is one below.

This is the closest example I can find of monochromatic (without the hand) from Worlds Within Worlds by Kerby Rosanes

2. Analogous

This is where you use colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. I recommend using 3 colours personally, but you can use anywhere from 2 and no more than 5 to ensure the picture is still harmonious and pleasing to look at.

An analogous example from Circle of Life by Melpomeni Chatzipanagiotou

Now while we are looking at this page. I want to discuss the fact that there is blue in this picture too. If you saw my January completed pages video you would have heard me talk about grounding colours. Or what I call grounding colours, there is most likely a technical term for it but I am not a professional. So by grounding colours I’m talking about certain elements on a page that if coloured realistically may bring in other colours into you page. Such as sky and grass or trees. Those colours I don’t always count towards my colour palette but I will always try to colour them in a tint, tone or shade that will match the rest of the page.

For example if I was colouring an autumnal page with purples and oranges and browns. I might colour the sky as a sunset or I may colour it blue (which would be a grounding / neutral colour – not neutral in colour but neutral on the page as in it doesn’t count) then add in touches of orange or purple to the sky from my colour palette to make it cohesive.

I may also colour the grass green but add in a burnt ochre to bring in a brown / orange colour, I may do the same for the trees, or give them orange / brown leaves or even purple leaves. So you are bringing those colours through to those elements. Although those elements are not focal points they are neutral or grounding elements.

So if we go back to this page, there is the addition of a blue sky, but it’s not noticed as it isn’t a focal point. It allows the image to stand on it’s own and doesn’t detract from it. If I had continued with the colour palette into the background, then the main picture would have gotten lost. So don’t think if you are using any of these techniques that it will look bad if you have any other colours on the page, especially when colouring a scenic picture. Just try to make sure you use a similar tint, tone or shade. So for example if your picture is in muted tones you aren’t using a bright blue for the sky to draw attention to it (unless that’s the aim) and same goes for if you are colouring a bright vibrant picture, you don’t want to add in a grey blue sky, you want to use a brighter colour.

This is another example of the analogous technique with my 'grounding colours':

From Hanna Karlzon's Spirit Animals

3. Complimentary

This one I’m sure you have all heard of! The complimentary technique requires using 2 colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel and when you use this palette the elements on your page will pop.

Here are some examples:

Examples are from Kerby Rosanes Worlds Within Worlds and Geomorphia

4. Split Complimentary

This is similar to complimentary but instead of picking the colour directly opposite on the colour wheel you pick the colours either side of the opposite colour. Like the complimentary technique this is also really good for making items pop and drawing the eye to a focal point.

Here is an example using blue and the split complimentary colours of red-orange and yellow-orange:

Example from Millie Marotta's Secret of the Sea

5. Triadic

This technique is where you use 3 colours equally distant on the colour wheel. Your page is going to look vibrant and the colours will compliment each other.

This technique works really well when you use one colour for the majority of the picture and then use the other two colours to create a focal point in order to make particular elements stand out.

Example of the triadic method from Worlds Within Worlds by Kerby Rosanes

6. Tetradic

The Tetradic technique uses 4 different colours.

This includes 2 sets of complimentary colours. So two sets of colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

When looking at the colour wheel to choose your colours imagine drawing a rectangle or a square and the four corners of that shape are the colours you need to use.

This technique works well when you are incorporating backgrounds with foregrounds. For example blue and yellow for sand and sea and then pink and green for additional elements such as fish. Or blue and green for sky and grass and then add in pink and yellow for other elements such as flowers. Same 4 colours, 2 completely different types of pages.

Here is the cabin page from Rita Berman's Meine Reise durch Europa again showing the two sets of complimentary colours which are red and green, orange and blue.

Now don’t forget you can use different tints, shades and tones of the colours you want to use as we defined earlier.

Here is another example from Johanna Basford's Rooms of Wonders using red and green with violet and yellow.

Colour Combinations

So all of those techniques will help you put colours together. Once you know what colours you want to use, you will then need to put colour combinations together. Putting together colour combos is a whole other topic which I’ll be talking about soon on a video about coloured pencil blending techniques.

I do currently have videos with 6 different colour combinations on leaves and flowers for 9 different pencil sets that can help you if you are stuck. They are in my playlist called spotlight series. Or if you find my playlist for a brand of pencils they’re also in there.

I also have my coloured pencil conversion chart if you want to colour match combinations you have to different brands.

Also, many of these examples I've shown you are colour alongs on my channel. If you watch my colour alongs, take some time to write down your favourite pencil combinations from my videos to save them for future use.

There is also a colour tracker up on my website you can use to keep track of the colours you use on your pages.

Colour Palettes

You can also check out ready made colour palettes. Now there are ones you can purchase such as the colour cubes and the colour catalogues by Sarah Renee Clark as an example. There are also free palettes up on pinterest, this is a free resource. If you are new to pinterest and don’t know where to start, I do have a pinterest board on colour palettes that I’ve pinned which you can check out for ideas.

If you do find some palettes you like but are struggling with choosing pencil colours, there are apps such as 'coloured pencil picker' that you can use. You can upload your photo and it will work out which pencil colour will match in the brand that you choose.

There is also a website you can check out which is a random palette picker, but you can alter the colours and really make it your own if you wish to play around with it.

The website is:

Again it’s a free resource so feel free to check it out.

I hope this has given you some insight into how to pick colour palettes for your colouring pages. If you go back and pause this after each technique and have a look in your collection you may find some completed pages where you’ve already used these techniques without realising and once you start consciously utilising these methods you will most likely start reaching for colours without a second thought.

Happy Colouring,

Karen x

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