Sunday, February 07, 2010

How To: Using Kuler to Create Color Swatches

I'm starting to appreciate the "science" aspect to painting more and more, especially in regard to color. It's one thing to just slap a base coat down, throw a highlight on, and then wash it with a shading wash. It's another to paint in a way to represent reality. Don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of quick painting to get models on the table, particularly for models I'm primarily painting just to play. However for the last year I've been trying to train my eye to better understand the colors I'm seeing in the real world. It's actually quite fascinating once you stop and look closer. What follows is a new technique I've added to my toolbox to help in that regard. This was inspired by starting to work on the Lady Justice model, and her predominant feature: long flowing red hair. I've tried red hair before and had, at best, mediocre success. Time to step up my game!

The first step was to find a reference photo. A quick Google photo search turns up plenty of options. I scanned a few and settled on this one. I've included the link to the original site, which has nothing to do with painting of course. I won't elaborate too much on why I chose this photo too much. The key reasons are: 1) It matched the tone I was looking for, and 2) It was large enough to provide good detail so that when I load it into Kuler, it would be easy to pick out various color zones. That leads me on to the next step...

Enter the magic of Kuler! There's definitely other ways to accomplish this same goal, but I'm going to use Kuler because it's free and easy. Simply pop it open in a browser, hit "Create", and then "From an Image". Then you upload your reference photo. Kuler will automatically attempt to guess what colors you want for your theme, but that's not why we're here. You'll see that it gives you the image with 5 targets to move around. Simply move the targets around and they will display their target pixel's color at the bottom on the swatch. For this photo, I moved them all to various points of the red hair to get a sense of the color variation. If you want to create a Kuler account, you can save your swatches for future reference.

Something fascinating about red hair is that it isn't really all that "red" most of the time. It's more brown and orange than anything else. The swatch above shows that it's got a lot of flesh and tan tones to it. All of these colors have red components to them, but are not dominantly red.

Armed with my Kuler swatch, I now embark on trying to mimic those colors. I've got a bunch of plasticard pieces sitting around to create actual physical swatches with. As you can see here, what I've done is put down some paint that I think fairly matches the first color from the Kuler swatch. Unfortunately trying to photograph both my laptop screen and the swatch together doesn't do it justice. However, in this case I managed to match pretty closely using just P3 Umbral Umber. I then repeat this process for the other colors of the Kuler swatch until I've filled out my plasticard swatch.

And here's the finished plasticard swatch. I labeled the back for reference. This will definitely come in handy in the future. There's clearly plenty of ways to accomplish this same goal. For example, I've heard of other painters using notebooks to keep notes of particular color builds. For me, having swatch cards like this will come in very handy I think. This will also be useful as I start to work on Lady Justice's hair.

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