How to Create and Stick to a Limited Colour Palette

Annie Pancake // How to Keep A Limited Colour Palette  

Anybody who's looked at my work (and if you haven't, go here) will know I love a good limited colour palette. At university, my first goal is always to approach something with a smaller colour palette. I love playing with just a few colours and the harmony it creates when everything matches up. In today's post I am sharing what I've learned about working in one, and some different methods for creating one.


Finding colour palette inspiration

So I guess the best place to start is finding a colour palette. It helps to have an idea of the colours you want to use to begin with, to start off. It also helps to get used to the colours you like using together, but for times that I'm stuck, I curate a board on Pinterest of really gorgeous colour combinations. It can be another piece of work, or a photograph, a plant, whatever, if the colours are lovely, it goes on my COLOUR board. It also takes a little training to get used to actually noticing the colour palettes of things, but it gets easy fast. I guess you could also do the real-world version of this by simply collecting things with beautiful colour combinations to refer back to when in need of inspiration.

Then, I simply choose some combinations that I feel suit my piece or that I feel inspired by that day. I take the 'general idea' of the colours (e.g blue and pink) and play with different versions of those colours (e.g aqua blue and baby pink, etc) until I find something I really like. I've actually been told by a tutor that I have a really good eye for colour, so don't stress if you're not at my level yet *flips hair*. ;)

Put it into greyscale

Ok so this might seem counter-productive, but I learned from a very wise tutor (and illustrator) at university, that the most beautiful colour combinations work just as well in greyscale as they do in colour. This is because they have a wide tonal range, and the colours don't just blend into one. So, this can be helpful to asses if you chose colours that really work.

Annie Pancake // How to Keep A Limited Colour Palette

Make your colour palette first

I find it useful to start off with my colour palette before I start drawing, or painting. It means I'm not limited by the assumption that 'grass should be green', 'shy should be blue' 'sun should be yellow' etc. Some of my favourite pieces are of people with blue faces, or pink leaves etc. Starting off with your colour palette means you just have to work with what you've got. One way I like doing this is by creating it in a little artist's palette first, using gouache. Gouache is like watercolour in that even when it dries it can be resaturated with more water. It doesn't matter how long I spend messing with it, I can always come back to my existing colours even when they dry out.

Another tip is to use coloured markers or coloured pencils. You can't mix these when you use them straight-up, so you have to work with what you have. I usually pick three or four and use them interchangeably when adding colour, just trying to make sure no blue is directly next to the other blues, no pinks directly next to the other pinks, etc.

Annie Pancake // How to Keep A Limited Colour Palette

Make subtle changes to your colour

So this one definitely helps a lot in creating harmony. For instance, If I am choosing pink  and grey, I like to add a little grey to my pink to make it similarly dusky. Also, I find adding your colours "original colours" in (like below) can really help when your limited colour palette is feeling limited, and there is not enough scope to distinguish parts of your artwork from other artworks. Here, I used the red I made the pink from, and the blue I made the blue from, etc. I retains the harmonius vibe, but gives you a little more room for detail.

Don't forget good old White

You don't always have to work on-white. You could work on any colour or paper of your choice. A lot of people seem to forget you don't have to work straight out of your white paged sketchbook. I am also guilty of this. Also, remember that you can use 'white space' to be parts of your image too. Sometimes negative space used to be part of the whole image is what makes an image so genius. Think of that old face-vase optical illusion if you don't get what I mean.


Annie Pancake // How to Keep A Limited Colour Palette

Well, that's it! I hope you found this useful, let me know if you have any other limited-colour-palette tips that we can benefit from, and let me know if you liked this post.