Friday, October 27, 2006

Color Theory 5 - eye relief

Here is a bit of stuff to wash away the dirty pictures I violated you with yesterday.This is a great establishing shot from Yogi's Big Break painted by Montealegre and drawn by Dick Bickenbach.
The strongest contrast in the picture is the cliff and tree in the foreground.
It has more saturated color than the BG and stronger contrasts in coloring and texture of the 3 objects that make it up.

1) Dark grey-green tree
2)Green (slightly bluish) grass
3) red brown cliff with dark purple-brown sponge texture

Look at all the textures on these things. They are different tints than the color underneath-unlike all the crappy BGs in the last couple posts that just use darker and lighter shades of the same purples and pinks.

Using different tints and values to texture your surfaces adds depth and makes even stylized cartoony or artistic paintings seem more real and inviting and natural.


The background in the painting-the ground, hills and sky are allvery similar in value-lighter and greyer which makes it seem farther away and attracts our eye to the foreground.

The whole beautiful scene invites us into the cartoon. It pleasures our eyes and tells us fun is on its way.

That is good logical thinking. Tell your audience you like them by giving them sensory pleasure right away!

Samurai Jack was full of brilliant color schemes. Look how moody this poster is. All the colors are related, yet the picture is not monochromatic-because of the theory I mentioned above.

Also there is a hierarchy of contrasts in the picture.

Jack is lighter than the BG which makes him read against it.

But he also blends with the scene by having the reds mixed in with his colors.

At the top of the pan, the abstracted shapes are silhouetted against a bright orange spot circled by a wash of brownish tan.

Glenn Barr has a book out now filled with brilliant color paintings that are full of thought. If you are seriously interested in learning about how to control color get this book and study it! Copy the color schemes and try to figure out the general concepts behind them! I wish Glenn would do a blog and explain his technique and thoughts. It would benefit mankind.

Jamie Hewlett's Gorrilaz- the best cartoons today in my opinion.
The foreground characters are cooler colors against the hot reds behind them. The characters instantly read even though their colors are muted.
How much more interesting is this than seeing the same old pink and purple color schemes in so many cartoons? (Actually there are some in Gorillaz, but the drawings are so great I forgive them!)

I also really like odd skin colors.

I hate the concept of "flesh color". There is no such thing! Flesh comes in an infinite variety of colors and tones. Throw out your "flesh colored" paints and mix up interesting colors that suggest flesh but aren't really.

Here is some greyed bluish flesh.

Greenish flesh

Look how different each of these color schemes are-all from the same cartoon!

I wish I could find more of the good stuff from Powerpuff Girls. The show is loaded with clever and effective well thought out color. When I googled for pics I mostly found purple and pink scenes! But I don't remember the show having mostly that.

Why can't we have more stuff like this?

Now, if I were a BG painter or color stylist and I had to go into work everyday and paint the exact same 2 or 3 color schemes that I have painted for the last 10 years I'd be suicidal.

I just don't get it.

Color can be so fun. Our eyes crave it. Artists are supposed to CREATE. Why do so few do that? What a great job it would be to invent new color schemes every day and new brush textures and techniques.

If you are some bored painter who likes inventive and succulent colors and nobody lets you do them you better post some links to your stuff in the comments because I will give you something to do that the whole world will see.


sean said...

let me say, ive been reading these lessons very carefully the past week, right now i n my class we are working on landscapes and with what i now know because of you i am having so much fun. you mention links, id love for you to look at some of my scenes, i am quite proud of them... take a look

heres one...

and heres a link to my gallery (make sure you scroll down to the good stuff :)

and my front page.

id be honored.

Sam Logan said...

Man, I love Gorillaz. They are releasing a 300+ page hardcover book in November called "Rise of the Ogre" that is going to contain the vast majority of all the artwork ever created for the Gorillaz project.

It's going to be great to finally see all of that stuff somewhere other than on my computer monitor.

Jorge Garrido said...

Great post! I liked that desaturated scene in the PPG movie when they're on the moon, it was very moody.

Ryan G. said...

Thanks for posting good examples to juxtapose the shitty ones. Have you heard of Guy Aichison?

clow said...

My boyfriend's mother paints/decorates her house and she is very good, but she tends to use the same colors, mening she dosen't have enough variation. I've found myself having to look at another person in the room, just to "ground" myself... It's almost like my vision all of a sudden turned to black and white, or rather sepia since she tends to go for browns/tans/creams.

Anyway, that's what this made me think of. She could learn a thing or two from Mr. John K., but I think lots of people could.

Mcnuggetinator said...

Wow, These colors are so nice and they feel good on my eyes. I especially like that one Glen Barr painting with the whole retro 50's Sci-Fi theme.

By the way I remember in one post you talk about copying Jamie Hewlit's influences, Do you know any of them?

Anonymous said...

Glen Barr has been one of my favorite painters/illustrators for a while now. i wish he had a blog too.

Staunts said...

Yeah, I just got my copy of the Gorillaz book, beautiful stuff. For those who might not know, the Gorillaz animation is done primarily by Robert Valley and Passion picturtes, based on Jamie's designs. Talented bunch!

Dustin said...

I was wondering when you were going to mention Samurai Jack. I started watching the whole series recently and am always blown away by how colorful, beautiful, yet simple the background design is.

Ted said...

Everyone be sure to click the home button on Barr's page; you can view many paintings that aren't in his prints.
His more recent style differs from his older style (styles, actually; there have been several distinct styles he's worked in, including a Steadman esque caricature style he used for Film Threat's serial killer calendar illustrations), and unfortunately there's not a book collection of his older works (he's been featured a number of times in Juxtapoz, tho, so that fills in some of the gaps in the official record). My favorite stuff of his is probably the line illustrations he did for Dave's Comics in Royal Oak (a place John K made an appearance at in 1995 to pimp dolls and paint sets; unfortunately Dave's is gone now, and Dave himself has wandered to the far middle south of the state to run a giant space from which to sell the types of things John seems to like on his shelves), and the paintings of Glenn I like the most are those that reflect that style (his Bad Betty painting, for instance, first showed up in line form as a Dave's ad).
You can see Bad Betty, and Glenn's keen Frankenstein 6000 model kit, and some other older materials at
(Remember, Glenn's stuff may not be safe for work.)

-jabajaw- said...

backgrounds do seem to be lazy nowadays.i remember watching the new adventures of tweety bird or whatever it was called and they wher literaly just a crapy vector line drawing over a big ass color!!i was like damn!That hurts!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yesterday, while I was waiting for the bus to work, I was thinking about the Gorillaz stuff in conjunction with what you've been posting about, so it's great to see some examples and your comments.

I've been way into those designs for a while now, and letting some of that stuff creep into my thinking.

Also... I don't know where to find the Powerpuff art you're thinking about, but I have a good idea of what you mean and you're not mistaken. I think people mostly post the action stuff, but there were some great color schemes in a lot of the backgrounds, for example the exteriors of the Professor's house.

I did find this though:

I'm not sure who made that or if it's exactly representative of the cartoon series itself. It seems a bit too sepia for an actual series image, but I know they didn't just use candy-colored garish junk.

A lot of the fan art I found certainly overloads it, though.

"Samurai Jack" is an example of something with limited animation that more than makes up for that by piling on the mood and cool-factor. I don't see why any low-budget, limited-animation series can't use well-designed color to look like a billion dollars, instead of looking like a shabby dollar-store bubble-blowing set package.

Oh... semi-related to Gorillaz, there are thousands of books of designers here in Japan, and a lot of them are similar to that style.

Beyond the "Pokemon" anime glop that definitely features the single-blue sky and the straight-out-of-the-bottle green grass, there are some truly outstanding artists working in the video game and comic book industry here and they almost all put out these lavish, hardcover books full of illustrations. Some are heavy on the poo-pee color schemes but many are completely original, and many I'm sure have influenced Gorillaz and "Samurai Jack" alike.

I don't care what anyone says- I've been to the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka and looked at actual background paintings from some of Miyazaki Hayao's movies and those are some of the most beautiful paintings I've ever seen.

They're more representational than the HB one's you've been posting, but the colors on the clouds and skies are usually time and weather pattern specific and wonderfully lit. They're masterpieces of observation in terms of nature, and infused with light.

I tend to go for the more stylized HB schematics, and I'm going to start re-coloring a lot of my art and reposting it. Looking over it, I see I didn't apply much of these ideas at all. I'm pretty disappointed in it, but I'm looking forward to fixing it.

Thanks for the eye relief! That's just what we needed! Truly inspiring.

Anonymous said...

How strange. Just yesterday I was wondering what you thought of the 'Rillaz art, John!

stiff said...

Hey John,
Before you started these color theory posts, I had no idea how to even begin to analyze a color scheme, much less make one of my own that didn't suck. And I'm still somewhat colorblind (those of you that aren't: be glad you can appreciate all the subtle variations in color that are being presented), but I've definitely learned a lot in the past week or so. Thanks.

Kitty said...

You know... I'd be mad at you for knocking pinks and purples but I forgive you because you like the Gorillaz artwork and made a compliment on it. <3 The Gorillaz is my favourite band. And you also said something nice about the powerpuff girls. (What I studied in 5th grade for my art, people would beg me to draw them a powerpuff!)

a little off topic:
Not only do the Gorillaz have good art, the music is great. have you ever listened to them? I like the variety of music styles.

Shitbitch said...

In the wild, bright garish colors are a signal for danger. More mild colors are often used for camouflage.


I've been dealing with a whole bunch of disney crap at work, blue sky green grass, it all looks awful.

I mean my colors are far from perfect but at least I MIX THEM UP SOME!

Also Gorillaz are some of the only mainstream artists that I listen to alot, it was there animated videos that got me into them because those videos are so neat. I just wish they didn't do so much live action stuff (like there Dirty Harry video) because it don't look as cool as it goes when it's cartoons with live action stuff intergrated in (like Murdoc playing a real bass).

Also Samurai Jack is still some of the most amazingly done TV animation ever. Need to get that DVD, so many good artists on there.

Hryma said...

I'm glad to see Glenn Barr on your page, he is one brilliant artist!

Anonymous said...

If you guys are into really hardcore color theory. May i suggest the work of Guido Molinari.

Here one of his abstract painting.
At first glance it look like lazy
simple color bar. But on second look...
Who many green he use? ;)

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of Aaron Jasinski? He is very inventive with color and mood.
Too bad his site is flash.

Matt Greenwood said...

The Yogi backgrounds you've been posting are amazing. The atmosphere is great.

Just wondering if you could give me a bit of feedback in terms of colour, etc on my cartoon? I'd really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

WTF. i went on Youtube to see if i could find some good Powerpuff still for you and all I found was this crap!

WTF! Sure its cool how they re-imagined the characters. And i like how the girls have street clothes. BUT it's a total perversion of the original concept. Fuck i have to ran tin detail on my own blog. Noise face Jerk

Anonymous said...

i made an album of PPG screen shots for you to use.

there are only a few color schemes because most of them are from 2 or 3 episodes and couple promos.

Joe Hodali said...

Dude, i have that same exact poster, it's so cool.

mike.monroe said...

I'm bored, I'm really enjoying color theory, I like to paint and I WANT to paint for a living.

So now what Mr. K?

Also, I've always wanted to thank you for actually taking the time to blog about this kind of stuff. It's such a great perspective alignment to hear this kind of stuff coming from people who have really made their mark in the field.

Pedro Vargas said...

You're awesome, John! I never really had the confidence to ask you, but I was wondering what you thought about the colors I use in some of my paintings. I'm not much of a painter but more of a drawing type of guy and I barely learned shit in my color theory class only basic terms I needed to know. The stuff I'm learning here is just so incredible compared to the stuff I learn in school.

Here are some links to some paintings I've done.

Painting 1
Painting 2
Painting 3

I'd like to know what you think if it's no trouble.

Anonymous said...

From Hasdrubal(

Hot looking toon chicks could be a whole topic by itself. John, please do it sometime!

Would it be correct to assume female TV execs desire emasculated content when a pitch is made?

I've wondered if bad color scenes could be a subtle way of emasculating the audience?

Kristen McCabe said...

Oooh! Those Yogi bg's are yummy!

I always enjoyed the color pallets on My Life as a Teenage Robot:

EIBass said...

I paint when ever I can. I was afraid of color for a long time and still struggle using dark colors. Here's a blue skies kind of picture I painted. Lots of blue and now I'm stuck. I can't tell what it needs. I'll use yellow ocher instead and I bet I'll be able to finish it.

I’m going to try and apply some of this color theory to my paintings.

Dave_the_Turnip said...

Your posts seem to have a very inspirational effect on me. I cracked out my colour pencils and just had some fun trying different things. I haven't done that in a very long time.

I scanned what i just did. It's at

I think i'll be doing this a lot more often now. Thanks. :)

Markus said...

Thanx for these fantastic theory lessons. It's really great to see how you've analyzed the scenes in terms of guiding and pleasing the eye. I will incorporate your theory in my own work, for sure!


Pedro your stuff rocks my socks off!

I know my stuff isn't up to par with yours or John's stuff but here are what I consider a few fairly well colored peices of mine. I am really here for feedback so ya'll drop by and tell me how much I suck so I can get better!

Sexy Poo Hat Witch
Godzilla Bear (best IMO)
Gator Town, I am seriously going to redo the background for this one and maybe redraw the crock.

They're far from perfect but at least I use some colors that can't be found in a Crayola 8 Color box.

The GagaMan(n) said...

Hurray! John K does like some modern stuff after all! =D

cemenTIMental said...

I don't care what anyone says- I've been to the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka and looked at actual background paintings from some of Miyazaki Hayao's movies and those are some of the most beautiful paintings I've ever seen.
Me too!!! Any animator should go there, and weep. ^_^

there are SO MANY of them! and just pinned up on the walls, or in sketchbooks you can flick thru... so incredible but done and treated so casually! :) it's like having the mona lisa just lying around on a bench in the louvre + you can pick it up and touch it :)

Peggy said...

I was going to whore some of my color schemes out, but honestly, I'm not much of an actual painter - I just fake it with some simulated brushes in Illustrator now and then. Besides, I'm going through a Pop kind of phase right now, where I'm as likely to use painfully pure process colors or abuse your eyes with moire patterns that make vibrating, illusory colors of pain as I am to actually make anyone nice and happy.

junior said...

funny, here we'd say americans are pretty cold, and so are most european countries. I guess latin america and africa have the warmest people to many non-american westerners.
Now that i think about it, the poorest countries have the warmer people, I wonder if money makes you suspicious and closed somehow.

Kat said...

I have been coming back for these posts more and more often.. finding your color schemes criticisms to be most appealing at the moment.
One more thing that I find especially beneficial about reading your blogs is learning about the creators. Very helpful, thank you!

Just starting out as a painter and a colorist (or an artist in many senses, really), I would be thrilled if you took a look at some of my work:

Hammerson said...

John, please take a look at some of my stuff , in particular the couple of Halloween drawings on the top of my blog. I would love to hear your opinion and advice. In the second picture I tried to do an experiment in "creative" use of poo & pee colors... I don't know if it's any good, or offensive. It's all done in Photoshop, since my painting skills are really poor at the moment (I will soon work on improving that).

Brian said...

Can I get your feedback on the following? Would you consider this okay color selection? (The drawing is basic... my goal was to focus on color with this.)

weiner link

Anonymous said...

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perspex said...

dare i say it---
LOVE that Jaime Hewlitt, and his freaky eye-popping colors. every month, me and my friends woudl be dripping drool, waiting for the new Deadline and his insane ideas of what color is. i wish i knew how he did it. Hewligan's Haircut was another great book, color-wise. thanks for putting his stuff on here. funny- of all the JHewlitt sites, there isnt one that has lots of good large drawings.