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We're ready to help give you some tips, thanks to which you'll be able to get the right colors for a particular portrait painting to combine them perfectly.

How to get the colors right in your portrait paintings?

Color is one of the key aspects of a flawless portrait painting. Colors impact the perception of the paintings, according to Noble Portrait, an organization of artists who have mastered color selection for custom portrait paintings.

It is so important to choose the right palette for all items on the painting, including wardrobe, environment, lighting, background, and even the smallest details. 

If the colors are selected incorrectly, you will not feel complete harmony, and perhaps you will not even understand why. However, for an experienced artist, the answer lies on the surface: the wrong color can kill the atmosphere of any portrait and ruin the idea almost completely.

We are ready to help you and give you some recommendations, thanks to which you will be able to get the right colors for a particular portrait and combine them perfectly.

Color theory: your assistant in creating flawless portraiture

Understanding color theory remains a crucial point for any painter. It concerns the interaction and combination of colors (depending on their location on the color wheel, they can be analogous and complementary to each other, form pairs and triads, etc.), as well as their mixture depending on the main characteristics, including brightness, saturation, and temperature.

Of course, a painting is primarily a flight of imagination and the disclosure of creative potential. However, it will not hurt to make sure that the colors you have selected are compatible.

Knowing all these basics will help you get the right colors and convey the idea and the mood of your portrait. Besides, we would like to give you some more hints:

  1. Each color combination has its own properties. By betting on similar colors, you get softness and peace. The choice of complementary colors is a lifesaver for those who seek to convey strength, energy, and a kind of challenge.
  2. Don’t forget about neutral tones. They are very important for any kind of painting, including portraiture, because they create a vital balance and help to hold the attention of the audience. A completely neutral palette for a portrait is not the most good-looking (and, frankly, not the most realistic) option. However, you have more freedom in achieving harmony through the presence of some neutrals.

Remember About the Psychology and Meaning of Color

Yes, for portrait paintings, it is necessary to take into account all aspects of color, including the peculiarities of its perception by the audience. You’ve probably noticed that when you look at different paintings, you feel certain emotions and even a change of mood. In fact, this is how color works. 

As for the portrait, here the colors help to understand the personality and even form an attitude towards the person depicted in the picture.

So, looking at the portrait, where light and pastel shades prevail, you will feel warmth and tenderness. A rich and bright palette will help convey the energy, cheerfulness, or authority characteristic of the model. A very dark and deep color scheme will be the best solution if you want to focus on the elegance, mystery, or complicated inner world of the subject.

When selecting colors and their combinations, do not forget about the peculiarities of color temperature as perceived by the human eye. Warm colors (here we mean yellow, orange, red, and most of their shades) become noticeable immediately, while cold ones (most of the greens and blues) fade into the background and usually do not catch the eye at once.

Study the Skin Tones Carefully

Do not think that the skin tone is something pink, beige, or just nude. This approach seems rather childish, and if you want to paint a great portrait, it is important to look deeper.

The tones of human skin are divided into three large groups:

  • cold, 
  • cool, 
  • warm. 

Besides, within these groups, you may find different undertones starting from snow-white and very pale translucent skin to very dark and slightly glossy. To make the portrait realistic and truthful, it is important to capture this shade with maximum accuracy and mix the colors for the skin correctly.

Warm colors (orange, yellow, and red) will help to achieve a warm skin tone; cold ones will also give appropriate variations. Using mostly neutral beige and white, you will get skin with a more toned and textured appearance that we dare call “aged”.

Also, remember the tone transitions on the skin of the face to make the portrait more expressive and realistic. For example, the skin around the mouth usually acquires a more pronounced reddish hue due to its thinness. The shadows around the eyes, the pattern of the ears, as well as the area around the wings of the nose — here you will need a slightly darker tone for a more sculptural depiction.

Observe Moderation in the Number of Colors You Select

Today, the palettes available to artists are truly boundless. So, you may yield to the temptation to use a huge number of shades is very great. It will be better if a beginner adheres to the principle of “less is better” when choosing colors to mix. Later, when you start feeling colors better and can predict the results of blending, you will be able to operate with more shades.

Learn the Basic Principles of Color Mixing

As a rule, the number of one to three dominant colors is the limit for the painters. Then they pre-mix them and adjust their shades for different objects and shapes depicted on the canvas. Looking at the painting, you may notice how the same color looks warmer, lighter, colder, or darker in different parts of the portrait.

Pay attention to the difference between mixing colors on the palette and on the surface of the painting. As a rule, true colors become duller and murkier if they are over-processed on the surface of the painting. The main thing is to recognize the differences between the mixtures created on the palette and the mixtures applied to the wet surface of the painting and use this knowledge accordingly.

Pay Enough Attention to the Background

The background is the basis of the portrait, so take care of choosing its color and applying it before you start drawing directly. The right shade will create the right atmosphere, convey the mood, and ensure harmony. Even if the composition you have conceived is quite dense and replete with details, do not neglect this moment, because the ground color will be noticeable anyway.

You can use either a neutral light or white background or a colored background if it harmonizes with the skin tone and clothing of the model. Another important aspect is the purity of the background. If it is excessively colorful or loaded, it will be difficult for viewers to focus on the subject.

Experiment, Reveal Your Talent and Enjoy Portrait Painting!

Of course, in painting, as in any other art, you can’t reach excellence in a second. Inaccurate mixing of colors, failed skin tone selection, palette overloading—mistakes can be different. But correcting each of them becomes another step toward perfection. Don’t be afraid of experiments and attempts—they give you more skills day by day.

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