Conquering Colour Theory

Conquering Colour Theory

Doing more with colour theory image and text
Doing More with Colour Theory

I regularly write new articles for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artist Hangout, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory and The Artists Lounge. This week, we take a meander through a world of colour and how big a role it plays in both our art and in our lives.

This week we take a look at:

  • Colour Theory 101
  • Cognitive Bias
  • Colour Psychology

These three subjects are essential topics to at least make yourself aware of when it comes to marketing and selling your art, and understanding these will maybe influence how you create the art you create too. Colour really does run a little deeper than the colour theory topics we covered in the classroom back in school or at art school, and it is also a subject that is easy to file away and never revisit in any real depth as soon as that artistic instinct takes over.

This week’s illustrations…

I’m sure you have all come across, and probably use colour wheels all of the time, so this week I decided to create a whole new series of works inspired by the many variants of colour wheels I have collected over the years. 

Every colour wheel is shamelessly also available as a print in my store, as is the colour chart, and while creating these, I was inspired to go a little further and splash a multitude of colour and colour wheel components on a new abstract, my first abstract in more than a year! You get to see it here first, and it will be released very soon in my store once I add it to my latest collection, The Theory of Colour, which you can see right here.  

Carnival abstract art by Mark Taylor
Carnival will be released into my latest collection very soon!

The proof print of this one is now hanging in my studio as a reminder to, from this day forward, think about colour a lot more and not always rely on instincts shaped by more than three decades of using colour. I have also completed a second work in a similar vein to this one and that too will be released in the coming days into the same collection!

I don’t think I have ever released work associated with a blog before but this one was different. I played around designing some colour wheel illustrations and became completely engrossed with them after spending a couple of weeks writing and compiling the article. You will also see some new colour palettes I have created for some new works I have planned, so you will get an early heads up of at least the colours I will be using in some of my works down the line and if you are a digital artist or just like the palettes, you will be able to utilise the hex codes and replicate the pallets for your own work too.

I usually plan works around three to six months in advance of starting them, it gives me time to ponder the composition and it gives my ideas the space they need to breathe and emerge, and besides, I never start a single work, I usually start creating at least six works at the same time and then migrate between them as and when I get new ideas or the vision changes and as it does, some works get completed much sooner. I always have other work to move on to by doing this, it protects me from procrastination! I created the colour palettes you will see today using an app called Aurora: Colour Picker and I will be telling you exactly why you need to grab a copy of that app a little later.

The Theory of Colour

Have you ever looked at a piece of art and thought, those colours shouldn’t work that well together but they really do? Me too. I have never been one to shy away from odd colour choices, I drive a bright yellow car for a start. Colour is such an important aspect of creating art but do we always give the palettes we use as much thought as we probably should?

I’m not too convinced we always give colour the attention it deserves, colour is its own language and it is a powerful one. Colour is all around us, psychologically prompting us, guiding us and persuading us to take actions or respond in some way either physically or emotionally. Colour is so much more than a theory we learned from a colour wheel at school. It is a perception, a trigger that is translated into action by the brain, it’s a universal language although it does have regional nuances often through symbolism.

As artists, colour is something that we are very familiar with. We select a pallet for a project often instinctively, but the real gorilla in the room is just how many of us truly utilise the toolbox of colour that we have at hand to shape the many other things that colour can bring to a piece of art beyond the pure aesthetics?

After thirty-something years I have created thousands upon thousands of colour combinations, creating mood boards, taking photos, writing notes, and figuring out what will work for this subject and what won’t work for that. There are lots of things we do as artists almost without having to think too long and too hard about them and colour is one of those things that for me at least, has in the past been only about the aesthetics of the work. Colour is more than that.

biloba flower colour pallet
Biloba Flower Base Colour

We can paint something with our chosen pallet and the work will tell one story, but if we change that pallet the very same work can tell a very different story. We almost instantly respond to certain colour combinations and when this happens there is a lot more going on than simply being able to identify the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi just from the colours used in each brand. Colour can be combined in ways that imprint in the mind and remind us of random things, colour association plays a pivotal part in colour psychology and the brands know it.

Biloba Fower Extended Pallet
Biloba Flower Extended Pallet

Colour can be instinctive and instinct is a wonderful thing, but it comes pre-loaded with the experiences and cognitive biases that we have collected up throughout the years, sometimes that can be useful but other times not so much. For artists, instinct can be helpful, but it is our experience in creating art and the cognitive biases that guide us to a selection of colours that we use. Art buyers have similar traits too, and it is when our cognitive and other biases align that they will find a piece of our art to connect with. 

Biloba Flower Shades Pallet
Biloba Flower Shades Pallet

The Halo effect of people seeing something for the first time and forming an opinion is a cognitive bias that many art buyers have, perhaps even unknowingly. They see your art, and you, in whatever way you present it to them, so it has to look like you care, and it helps to actually care too.  Colour plays a role in this or more specifically, colour psychology plays a role in this. Colour is more than your art, colour is how you market your art too. Colour really is kind of important as are the cognitive biases that people have. For those of you who want to delve deeper into the subject of cognitive biases and how they affect your sales, there’s an interesting article here, that will give you a little taster of how cognitive biases sway customer actions one way or the other. Fascinating stuff.

Artists use colour psychology all of the time, calming blues, passionate reds, monochrome blues for sad scenes, green for serenity, purple for creativity, and orange when we need to paint in a little zoom and oomph. Black is mysterious, white is focussed and clean, and yellow is filled with joy. What we don’t always do is associate that kind of psychology to our marketing materials. We understand colour, we understand how to use it, but we don’t always understand how to make it work for us beyond the aesthetics, sure we try sometimes but the rabbit hole of colour psychology is still relatively little understood outside of the big organisations who deal with corporate branding on a day to day basis.

When we consider how powerful the choice of colour can be beyond the aesthetics of a piece of artwork, we can begin to understand how to leverage it to work for us in other ways, not just in our branding but in our marketing materials and maybe in our displays when we finally, get back into physical exhibition spaces. We can leverage it in our social posts and email newsletters, and when used in the right way careful consideration of colour will help you not just in terms of creating art that connects with people, but in terms of sales too. We know that blue and red paintings have historically sold for more through auction, but colour runs much more deeply than that.

colour wheel art by Mark Taylor
Colour Wheel by Mark Taylor - Available right here!

Beyond The Theory of Colour…

Colour theory isn’t just confined to what appears on a colour wheel and colour wheels don’t necessarily tell you the entire story either. I think back to my time studying art both in school and throughout formal art education, what gets presented more often than not, is a 2D visualisation of colour which can be split down the middle to present warm and cold colours.

Colour is more 3D than 2D, we need to know about things such as hue, saturation, tone, and values too, and depending on where the image will be seen, we need to consider colour profiles so that the output matches exactly what we created when it surfaces in front of the audience on whatever medium it appears. Colour is much more complex than just a theory.

The human eye is capable of seeing around 10-million colours, including 1000 levels of light and dark, 100 levels of blue, and another 100 levels of red-green, assuming there are no issues such as colour-blindness or other visual impairment. Everyone sees colour slightly differently. Out of all of those colours, most people who have responded to the multitude of surveys carried out by ‘properly’ scientific organisations over the years, seem to point to the colour blue as being their favourite colour. 

Science makes colour even more interesting and at the risk of beginning to sound like the proverbial colour geek,  there is a gene that is responsible for letting us see red colours and it is found on the  X chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, which according to science, means that they can see a lot more orange-red tones than men. I have no real clue as to how that kind of science works but that would explain why my wife is able to spot things in overly red paintings that I really struggle to see, or it could be that I just need new glasses.

Back to colour theory basics…

For those old hands who are adept with the principles of colour theory, when was the last time you actually sat down and thought about colour and how to use it beyond the aesthetics of your work or within your work? When was the last time you gave some thought to how the creative use of colour in your work can completely alter the way the work is perceived? For the experienced artist and the experienced eye, colour theory is second nature, and that’s a problem, we risk automating our thinking and delivering the same thing over and over through some kind of muscle memory and learned behaviour.

If there is one thing I have picked up on more than anything else after thirty-something years of creating art, it is that the more I know about art, the more I realise how little I know. I really thought that I had colour theory in the bag. Let’s go back to school for a moment and recap.

Primary Colours…

RGB Colour Model art by Mark Taylor
RGB Colour Model by Mark Taylor and available here!

All colour starts out with primary colours, red, yellow and blue, and for digital artists, red, green, and blue is otherwise known as RGB which is the colour model that screens use to display colour. However, colour isn’t an exact science, mix ultramarine blue paint and cadmium red paint and the resulting colour is a muddy brown rather than the purple we were told it would be back in school. That result is science, or rather the science of pigments, to get that deep rich purple you need to mix paints only made with a single pigment and different paints will mix in very different ways. 

Cadmium red and ultramarine blue aren’t by nature, primary colours, they contain other pigments, chemicals and organic compounds to make them slightly warmer than true red, or true blue. It’s worth remembering that what might be called a true blue from one manufacturer might be different from what is called a true blue from another. Yeah, they never mentioned this at school, why can’t there just be one blue!

CMYK colour model by Mark Taylor
CMYK colour model by Mark Taylor - Available here!

Secondary Colours…

If you equally mix red with yellow, yellow with blue, and blue and red, you will have secondary colours which are green, orange, and purple. These are derivatives of the primary colours mixed together. Again, the theory is that yellow and red make orange, except when they make brown or some other crazy colour, again, depends on whether it is a true red and true yellow but let’s assume they are and you get a nice orange. Same with red and blue which in theory gives you purple and blue and yellow which should give you green. It is kind of colour 101, but I am constantly surprised at just how much paint of different brands behaves in very different ways.

In short, colour theory is a foundation but subject to change depending on the pigment. Top tip here, I know budget paint is way more affordable than some of the single high pigment paints available but the high pigment paints not only mix better, meaning that you don’t have to buy so many variants, they usually cover better too and they will remain colourful and take longer to fade or crack if the surface has been properly prepped. I digress but if you are just starting out, there’s no point in starting out with the habit of false economy.

I always get asked about whether or not student grade is worth buying over studio-grade, and the answer isn’t very simple at all, it depends mostly on what you want it to do. To reduce the costs overall, just go with the single pigment - absolute yellow, red, and blue, and select a warmer and cooler variant of each colour together with a bright white. That will work out less expensive than one of those ultimate student sets with a bazillion tubes for fifty-bucks. If you can then afford to extend the palette, go for the vibrant colours that are more difficult to mix, Dioxazine purple and burnt umber purely because you will use this a lot and you might not want to mix it all the time, and Phthalo green especially if you work on seascapes or trees. If your budget extends a little more, raw titanium when mixed with burnt umber is great for fleshy tones. In answer to the question of student/studio grades, student paints are great for practice, studio paints are best reserved for a paying client.

complimentary colour wheel by Mark Taylor
Complimentary Colour Wheel by Mark Taylor - Available here!

Complementary Colours…

Complementary colours make a colour wheel worth having to hand for a quick reference in checking opposites. Red is opposite green, blue is opposite to orange, each giving a high contrast against its direct opposite. You can also split complementary colours, so for example, the complement of blue-green is red-orange and the split complement of blue-green would be red and orange. If you are creating any form of text on your work, here’s another top tip, choose anything but complementary colours unless you are trying to recreate the feel of a 1990s GeoCities website with random GIFs and an overall bad design that wasn’t all that bad back in the day, but only because we didn’t know better.

Split complementary colour wheel art by Mark Taylor
Split Complementary Colour Wheel Art by Mark Taylor - Available here!

Split Complementary…

Split complementary colours are another variation of complementary, this time the base colour is used together with two colours adjacent to its complement. There is slightly less tension in these palettes so long as the choice of colours are well balanced, and if you are fairly new to painting, split complements are reasonably easy to get to grips with.

Analogous Colours…

Analogous colours are simple, they’re the ones next to each other on the colour wheel. They usually match well and provide a little contrast, and if you are a landscape painter, these tend to be your palletised best friend. Selecting these is about selecting a dominant colour together with a second colour that supports and a third colour is used as an accent, maybe along with black, white, or grey.

Analogous Colour Wheel by Mark Taylor
Analogous Colour Wheel Art by Mark Taylor - Also available here!

Triadic Colour…

A clue is within the name of triadic colours, three colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel which tends to create a vibrancy that will make any work pop, even if your hues are more muted. Another top tip here, again select a dominant colour and use the two remaining colours as accents.

Triadic colour wheel art by Mark Taylor
Triadic Colour Wheel art by Mark Taylor - Available here!

Tetradic Colours…

If we look at the meaning of tetradic, it means having four-fold symmetry. Think of it as a rectangle and you will have an idea of how these colour pallets are created. Two complementary pairs with each pair on opposite sides of the wheel, and there is a square variation, this time with four colours spaced evenly around the colour wheel that would make a square shape if you connected them all up.

With both of these, it is better to select a dominant colour but with tetradic, you can pay more attention to warm and cool colours within your work.

I could write an entire article on colour context, it is often complex and works in different ways with different mediums which is why some pallets look better than others in certain projects and on certain mediums. Unless we suffer from colour blindness or have another visual impairment, we all see almost the exact same colours. 

Science has a part to play in this too with wavelengths, optics, and cones, and science is to blame for the debate we all had about that dress back in 2015 when different people thought they were seeing a different dress. Was it blue, was it green, was it gold? You can read the Wikipedia article about it right here.

When we display our work online, there is a good chance that almost everyone else is seeing a slight variation. This could be because we took a photograph of the painting without the correct lighting, or camera settings because we’re not all professional photographers, but the subtle variances will also arise from the fact that computers and monitors are generally colour blind when it comes to us looking at something on the internet or just on a screen. That’s all to do with colour accuracy, profiles and collaboration of the device and whether or not the viewer is using digital colour profiles.

It’s why when we send over an RGB image to a printer who works with CMYK, the colours look off and another print run is needed, you can see how these models work in my RGB and CMYK images above, although you might want to click on the link below each image to get a closer look. If you want to test this out, place a piece of bright white paper close to a bright white background on your screen and turn the paper at an angle and you will see just how different the colours look. If they look massively different, that will give you an idea as to why.

This is why colour context becomes important to keep up to date with, some colours work differently when placed together and even more so on screen. Even in traditional painting, understanding colour context and how colours have an effect on each other when in close proximity can really pay dividends and prevent colours from clashing too garishly. That can work positively too as it can also provide subtle effects such as using black on a dark blue background which can produce a feeling of depth and especially when you graduate the black down towards the blue colour of the background.

Understanding how colours work together is a starting point to working out the relativity of colour and more than that, it can help us to work out things like values, saturations, and how changing from cooler to warmer tones and visa versa can cause some considerable differences in how we perceive colour. While most of us artists will understand this, buyers might not and it's good to be able to explain.

Additive and Subtractive Colour…

If you are a traditional artist you might ask why RGB (Red, Green, Blue) or the additive colour mixing model is important to understand. Humans for all of their faults, see colours in light waves. Mixing red, green, and blue light sources of differing intensities change what we see. The more light that’s added, the brighter the mix, mix red, green and blue and you get pure bright white.

This is important even if you have no intention of picking up any digital art tools anytime soon, you want to show off your work in the best light and whilst photographing it in perfect lighting conditions and using perfect camera settings will help, the image will still only be representative of the original colour and then you have to tackle the unknowns such as the inability of computers to see exactly as we see. If you have spent time and money making your logo or your work look its best, what you don’t want is for the colours to look too washed out or too muddy when they appear on someone else’s screen because the image was created in anything but RGB.

Subtractive colours are physical, hold in your hand colours, or at least that’s the easiest way of remembering them. If your work is going to be produced on a physical non-screen surface such as paper or canvas, essentially we are subtracting the light from the image. However, if you produce your art either through print on demand or through any other print service, they will either recommend a profile or setting or will accept whatever is sent. Each and every one of them will handle colour differently depending on their own facilities and equipment, so always check first.

Hues, shades, and tints…

One of the things I do remember about art class was that we were taught that if you needed a tint, you added white, if you need tones, add grey, the hue was the pure colour and for the shade, you add black. That’s a useful and quick way to remember although, in practice, shades can be a little more complicated than that and I will expand on that in another article in the future. 

If you want to find out exactly how black works I would recommend reading up on subjects such as specular reflection, diffuse reflection, iridescence, matte specularity, and white would be yet another article on its own. Subsurface scattering, white balance, and exposure are things that can affect how white is perceived. White can reflect anything that can be reflected and in a perfect shadow, white is really black because there would be nothing it can reflect, and yes, when you begin to think about colour it can be mind-blowing, just hand me a box of crayons and be done already.

But the clever use of hues coupled with the use of warmer and cooler neighbouring colours, a single pigment bright white will look warm when placed next to a white with a hint of blue and cool if the neighbouring colour was white with a tint of red, by using colour context it allows us to really push the pallet and create some pretty great effects.

We’re not even close to August yet and in the Northern hemisphere, winter is still hopefully a few months away, but if you are preparing your Christmas seasonal art, thinking about warmer and cooler variations of white together with a bright white will add some realism to snowy landscapes. I tend to use creams and greys too, and shadows I find turn out much better if a slightly more opaque tint is used around any trees or a much warmer white to provide some contrast.

Shadows tend to be the colour of the object casting them especially when light is passing through a translucent object, opaque objects, on the other hand, will cast a hue of black but unless there is absolutely no light, they will only be a hue rather than a full-on black. Again, it’s that science thing, cones, spectrums, wavelengths, the colour of the shadow will in most cases be a darker hue of whatever the shadow is cast over.

Colour theory chart by Mark Taylor
Colour Theory Chart by Mark Taylor - also available here!


When we think of monotone we might conjure up an image in black and white which uses tone to describe light, shape and form. It doesn’t have to be though. A monotone palette can be any colour other than black and due to the inherently high contrast between the dominant colour and white, which could also be any colour other than white, the range of tones of the dominant colour used will determine how subtle or bold the final image is. When we take this approach of adding in a further colour, we call it duotone and it’s a great effect if you want to give work a retro vibe.

High and Low Key…

When we talk about high and low key works, we are talking about colour values. Low key works have a limited value range and are dark, high key works are much brighter. If you compare some of Van Gogh’s early work to those of Monet, the differences are more noticeable. Van Gogh created a number of works in a low key.

Limiting Pallets…

When we begin exploring art we are taught to limit the palettes that we use, as we evolve and become more proficient and more influenced by the art that we see, we start to use every colour combination imaginable or palettes that we have become more influenced by, but it is also worth stepping back occasionally too and going back to limited pallets.

If you have a logo for your art business you could consider using the colours within the logo as a pallet for your art. Remember we spoke of colour association earlier, limiting pallets and tying them into branding is another way to build brand awareness. Adding your work to branded templates is also a good idea for social media posts too. Apps such as Adobe Spark Post also allow you to utilise your brand colours and create templates, these are ideal as they produce a consistent look and feel to your posts and using the power of colour association, the audience will eventually recognise your posts over and above the other posts appearing on their timelines. The only downside to doing this is, of course, it takes time which is a luxury that we don’t always have.

What to think about…

I mentioned earlier that colour wheels only tell part of the story of colour. The colour wheels that we will all be familiar with from our school days are based on the RYB (red, yellow, blue) model and usually have twelve different colours representing the subtractive colour model. However, other types of colour wheels exist. There are wheels that cover RGB specifics such as hex codes, and there are colour wheels that have multiple discs showing a range of colour models, some of them even have mixing wheels allowing you to line up colours and see the mixed colour in another window and most of them are affordable and available from online sellers such as eBay and a good independent art supply store will more often than not, have a really great selection of colour wheels.

When we think about colour we might also want to think about temperature, the strength of the colour, hues, tints, colour relationships, and the emotional responses that colour can bring about. You can use colour more effectively once you begin to understand how the eye perceives it, take a look at Paul Signac’s Femme à l'ombrelle (Woman with a Parasol -1863 - below) and instead of mixing colours, Signac applied small dabs of red-orange, blue-green, red-purple and yellow to the canvas in order to deceive our eyes into thinking that the work was created with a single colour, the effect allowed the eyes to mix the colour instead. It’s a complicated process and the results need to be looked at from a distance, but I rarely see this effect used today, possibly because it is a complex effect to pull off in the same way that Signac did and it is a process that adds a lot of time to the creation of the work, I once tried it and failed miserably.

Paul Signac’s Femme à l'ombrelle Painting
Paul Signac’s Femme à l'ombrelle -1863

I touched very briefly on symbology earlier, colour really is a powerful conveyor of messaging. Different cultures treat different colours differently. In China, red is seen as lucky, in South Africa, it is the colour of death, red might also be a warning sign as yellow could be too, red and black in nature represent danger, so your palette choice to an extent could very well also be dictated by your audience, their culture, and their geographic location. 

We can use colour to enhance feelings, yellow and orange, for example, are known to make you feel hungry, which makes even more sense when you take a look at the logos of McDonald's, Wendy’s, In-N-Out Burger, and Pizza Hut. None of those is just colourful branding or as a result of copying each other, although there may be an element of that, those specific colours used by those businesses are known to make you feel hungry. That’s colour psychology playing a huge role in the success of major companies, and persuading us to do exactly what they want us to do. Who needs mind control when you can use colour eh!

If you Google, colour psychology (other search engines are available) you will begin to get a taste of how we are shaped and moulded to perform actions or spend money through the careful use of colour. There is a realm of information out there that goes beyond the basic colour wheel that digs even more deeply into the psychology of colour. Even peoples personalities have been grouped into blue, red, white and yellow, through the Hartman Personality Profile which you can read about right here.  This really is some let’s take the company out for an away-day exercise kind of stuff, but it really does demonstrate just how powerful colour can be and more specifically how colour is used in every aspect of our lives and often in unimaginable ways.

Alizarin Crimson colour tile
Alizarin Crimson - captured from a box of chocolates!

Alizarin Crimson extended Pallet
Just some of the colour model options presented from Alizarin Crimson. It really does take out the guesswork!

Simplifying Pallet Selection…

Colour wheels, they’re useful if you are an artist even if you are an old-hand, but they’re also so very old-school in the modern-day. Today there are apps and programs that exist that take much of the guesswork out of selecting palettes, and there are a few that I currently use. Aurora: Colour Picker is one of my favourites and the pallets created throughout this article have been produced using it.

Bahama Blue colour tile
Bahama Blue - Randomly captured from a drinks carton!

Bahama blue extended colour pallet
Bahama Blue - A selection from the extended colour pallet

It is a fully-featured colour picker and colour dictionary app that is available on iPhone, iPad, and even the Apple Watch. It contains essential features such as picking a colour from static images such as photos, taking a photo of colour and seeing the exact same colour pop up on-screen complete with information such as HEX codes, RGB, CMYK, HSV, XYZ, CIE-LAB, HSL, luminance, distance, the name of the colour, and more. All of this information can be shared from the app via email or copied and pasted wherever you need it, or you can generate colour pallet images which are really useful when you want to provide colour choices to clients commissioning your work.

You can drag and drop colour to and from other apps and when I left a review I let the developer know about a couple of features I would love to see, two days later the ability to print out individual pallets and import and export Procreate swatches had been built into the app and released in a new update. You seriously can’t get better service than that and that is exactly why I love independent developers. You can follow the developer on Twitter @JPEGuin and you can find the app on the App Store right here

Of all the apps I have downloaded on the iPad, this is one that immediately went into my top six most-used apps list, and those who know me, will know that this in itself is an outstanding achievement, Photoshop CC barely scrapes in at the moment. I haven’t put Aurora down since I first picked it up. What’s more, the ability to create unique pallets and export as a Procreate swatch on iPad means that there is a nice small business model right there if selling independent Procreate Swatches is your thing as it is for many who make a living through the Procreate community selling brushes and swatches.

The even better news is that you also get analogous, harmonious and other colour palettes generated at the same time. This is an outstanding app if you are a professional artist or a hobbyist.

If you own Procreate or Photoshop, or you just love colour, you have to own this.

I even used it to design the new colour scheme for my walls at home. The developer is responsive and the app solves a real pain-point, and especially for digital artists and graphic designers who need to know exact hex codes, but it is also useful for traditional artists too, giving you the real names of each colour. I will certainly be checking out the developer's other apps hopefully very soon.

Shadow Blue colour tile
Shadow Blue colour tile - I used this as part of my redecorating scheme at home!

Shadow Blue extended colour pallet
Shadow Blue Extended Colour Pallet - also ideal for use in 3D design apps that allow independent colour choices to be applied to the 3D environment.


For those of you who don’t have access to an iOS device, Adobe Colour is another option. Firstly, it’s not anywhere near as intuitive as the Aurora: Colour Picker app and it fits in a slightly different market and does slightly different things, although it is still relatively easy to use if you are a digital artist. It works best on desktop rather than mobile but only in that it becomes slightly easier to navigate on a larger format screen. You are still able to generate a variety of pallets and you can export them. It’s an option for those without iOS but if you do have iOS and Procreate, Aurora: Colour Picker might be much more useful to you as far as colour goes.

If you are looking for an app-based model, Adobe covers this through the Capture CC app. This isn’t though a colour dictionary in the same way that Aurora: Colour Picker is, but this also appears in my own top six most useful apps and it is a great companion to Aurora. Capture CC allows you to take colour samples from an object or scenery, taking colour from the photos that you take or are on your device, and adds them to palettes in your Creative Cloud library.

If you are using Adobe products, this works a little more seamlessly with Adobe products than other apps, but aside from colour, there is a function within this app that I tend to use a lot. That’s it’s unique ability to identify the fonts used on billboards or in magazines, or anywhere else you see text. You take a photo of the text and the app will analyse the image and present a range of fonts that are either the same or as close as possible to the font you need. 

If you subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud premium tiers, Adobe fonts are one of the bundled benefits that give you access to a massive font library that can be used in commercial projects. If you are working on commercial projects that involve the use of fonts on a regular basis, the costs of subscribing can be more economical than buying a licence for individual fonts. Trust me on this, my pre-subscription fonts bill was eye-watering at times.

The other benefit of Capture CC is its ability to capture shapes and generate a vector image. Those can then be uploaded and used in platforms such as Illustrator or other vector-based applications. This is how I create my own digital brushes for use in both Photoshop and Procreate, take a snapshot of the shape and grain that you need for the brush, make the necessary adjustments and you have a bespoke brush. The entire brush creation process can take minutes rather than hours, although you will have to refine the settings to get the brush to respond exactly how you need it to. Another use for Capture CC is to capture things such as your signature from paper, that’s something that can be difficult to replicate on screen and using it this way allows you to replicate some of those paid signature watermark options that are increasingly popular in ads on social media.

Live life in colour…

Today there is more of an overlap between digital and traditional art than ever before. Traditional artists are able to utilise the tools that were once aimed squarely in the realm of digital art, and digital artists have to understand how to use colour just as precisely as a traditional artist. Understanding the colour wheel and periodically spending some time thinking about how you are using colour, not only helps to keep you focussed, it helps in pulling together palettes that work for you and your buyers.

Traditionalists might suggest that art doesn’t have to match the décor but a large segment of the art world buys art to match the décor, we have to recognise that as artists if we want to not only survive but thrive. It doesn’t have to be a core market but it is a market that will often carry you through the slower periods in the art world calendar and you can pick up new collectors too. 

Often those buyers who purchase art to match the décor will return the next time they change their décor, it’s a market that needs to be served and there are no hard and fast rules to say that you shouldn’t be the one to serve it. The art world will get back to it's old-normal eventually, it always does, but first, it will have to navigate its way through a new normal and with some buyers now staying at home much more than they did, we have an opportunity to be agile to this market too. 

First impressions count, how you look and present yourself and your art online determines how you and your art is perceived, and how people respond. It’s not enough to care about what you do, you have to look like you care too, and the same is true of everything we do in supporting and marketing the art that we create. Whether it’s a logo or branding, how we present social media posts, whether we use huge watermarks or prefer slightly smaller images that wouldn’t be any use to print off but could be themed in such a way that the art becomes more of a product, colour allows us the freedom to do some things differently to everyone else and it has a huge role to play in how people respond and react to artworks. Colour has to be an integral part of your marketing strategy beyond the aesthetics of the art.

The theory of colour collection of artworks and gifts from Mark Taylor
The Theory of Colour Collection marketing image - a transparent white provides shading to make the image look inset to a frame. 

There is an entire science behind colour, even many sciences, what colours just seem to work better together, how colour is perceived, what colours will attract what audience and which market, what colour persuades people to buy, what colour will be the next trend, colour may very well be just one of the best marketing tools we have to hand.

I guess the question is, just how many of us and especially those of us who have been in the business of creating art for an almost eternity, really give colour the currency it deserves. I know for me, I have so often stuck to default pallets that experience tells me will work for whatever project I am working on. I still get excited about creating art, even after thirty-something years of creating it, but whenever I step back and think more deeply about my process, a lot of it has become almost automated in that I don’t have to think for very long or very hard about the next step in that process, or at least for part of the process anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, 90% of what I do needs some deep thinking about, and 90% of my creative process is filled with nothing but thinking. I think about the subject, composition and especially if there’s a challenging technique I need to use, but there’s a heap of stuff I don’t have to think too hard about that I just seem to do almost on autopilot and I think colour choice sometimes falls within that.

Instinct is wonderful at times but I’m not convinced we should totally rely on instinct alone when it comes to creating art. Instincts are hard-wired into our brain and I do wonder if things as seemingly simple as selecting colours are as a result of instinct at all, or whether we are just acting on experiences, prejudices and beliefs that we have collected and stored in the memory bank. If that’s the case, then how do we move our art forward from that thinking and how do we know that's what buyers really want? We have to be open to changing things around sometimes.

If we are thinking about pallets as much as we think about the rest of our creative process, there’s suddenly a heap of options that we have available to us with which we can take our artwork forward even more. If you have any great pallets you want to share, tips for using colour effectively, or you want me to feature your most vibrant and colourful works in an upcoming article, leave a comment or get in touch!

In other news, I just changed my payment processor for direct sales so buyers and collectors ordering work directly are able to pay using a wider range of options, and my Go Fund Me link for donations to support the upkeep of this website will be migrating to the new platform in the coming weeks too. All direct transactions will be secured and processed via Square with no minimum spend! Purchases through FAA and Pixels continue to be handled by FAA and Pixels! More on that one to come but it looks like a really great way to handle payments, I will keep you all posted!

As always, I hope you are all staying safe and well and that you are being able to stay creative!

Mark X

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. It's an Island in the Atlantic Ocean and it rains persistently in my land-locked county. If you want to own a piece of my art, you can order it through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here.   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything and without intrusive ads or promotional posts from paying organisations! You can also view my portfolio website here. I am proud to be fully independent!

You can also follow me on Facebook herewhere you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit, along with pallets, tips and colouring sheets and my latest creations. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest right here

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee or leave a tip, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!


  1. This could be compared to taking a college class Mark! So incredibly informative & comprehensive. Thank you for all the work in posting this.

    1. Thanks so very much Colleen, that’s so deeply appreciated! You’re most welcome, I loved creating this one! Hope all is well with you and you are staying safe and well xx


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