For most of us, starting a new work of art can be a daunting task especially when there are large areas of seemingly only one or two colors.  There are a number of tips to make this job a little easier.  One of them is in breaking down the work into areas where we look at the shapes.  For example, in any composition there will be a number of shapes within an area that provide insight into where to begin and end a given color(s), whether it be with hard edges or soft edges.  One of the first things I do when working on a piece is to choose where on the paper I want to start and then I look for specific shapes within that area.   Then I lightly color in those shapes in an approximate form using a base color appropriate for that spot but not so dark as I can’t build onto it.   That way I can actually see where I will need to go without losing my way.  Looking at a large piece of white paper can make you “snow blind”  so having some color as a starting point takes some of the guesswork out of the task.  This is part of my color mapping process.  If  you move along blindly, inevitably you will wind up coloring over an area that either shouldn’t be there or be that color or that dark and then you have to fix it.

So let’s start by looking at a reference photo.  I have zeroed in on one area of an image to illustrate how we look for the shapes.  The first image is the original reference photo cropped in.  In the second image I have very loosely (I’m not very good at drawing on the computer) drawn in a few colors highlighting just a few shapes but if you look closely at any image you’re working from, you’ll begin to see shapes within shapes and these often very subtle shape changes represent slight color changes and will if included make your art have great depth and look very realistic.  I added a final image of this picture reduced to grayscale and posterized so you could more readily see some of the shapes.  Converting (and doing it as a Save As) your reference photo to black and white or grayscale is very beneficial in helping you see shapes especially in terms of values.  Note the numerous small and odd-sized shapes in the chrome frame around the headlight.  The frame is not just a solid silver or gray.  In color, some shapes are almost invisible but the subtlety of the color changes are a great addition if what you want is to create a realistic 3-dimensional aspect of the subject.  In the third image below it’s really easy to see some of the value differences in terms of shapes that are really impossible to see in the first image, so don’t always look for the obvious.


I encourage you to take some time and using a few good but different photos, convert them to black and white and try to see all the shapes that are there and make note of the ones you really don’t see in the color version.  This is a really great way to learn to see your values and with practice it will help you when starting a new piece.

I hope you find this article beneficial and have an awesome day!  Any clarification needed please feel free to comment back and I will do my best to answer your questions.


Car Shapes 1 Car shapes Car Shapes 3_edited_edited-1

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