From Grayscale to Color ?

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  04 April 2012
Question From Grayscale to Color ?


I spent a lot of time with painting values - and so far I set the focus to get all my values done in simple grayscale.

Now.. I want to add colors - but I am confused, because I don't know how I can add colors and keeping my values ?

- What technique do you use in order to add all kind of different colors ?

And additional I just wanted to ask this as well:
- Does it make sense to start with a grayscale painting and after that, adding color ?
- Wouldn't it make sense to paint with colors from the beginning ?

I am very interested to hear all your opinions and thoughts.

thank you very much !
  04 April 2012
There are pros and cons to coloring a monochromatic painting, and it depends on what the subject matter is.

There are other ways to ensure your values are effective, such as using a monochromatic adjustment layer on top to check your values, and when you don't need it, just turn it off.

If you are doing surface with micro-variations in hue and saturation, then it's better to just work in color right off the bat, because once you do a monochromatic version, it'll be incredibly frustrating to try to match your colors to those micro changes.

The best way to color a monochromatic image is to use the Color Blend Mode for the color layer.

If you don't understand the effects of chroma and how to control it, or have a very strong grasp of the relationship between value and color, then you're going to have a lot of problems coloring a monochromatic piece.

In the workshop I teach (linked below in my signature), the students are assigned a coloring assignment in week four, and for many of them, they experience for the first time as artists what it feels like to have their mind broken in half--essentially like a duo-CPU processor, where one is processing the values and the other is processing the colors. Many don't do well at it--they have an extremely hard time separating and merging the two sides at will, and for many, it was shocking how incredibly hard it was. Only the advanced students seemed to be able to do well in that assignment.
  05 May 2012
Question hmm.

thx robert, appreciate your comment.

ok.. hre is my problem... I'll try to explain... I practiced a lot with values.. and now I am getting there to paint pretty much everything I want just with black and white.

Now... I want to move on into the world of colors... and I must admit, I don't like to paint in grayscale and color it after... I much rather would like to paint in color from the very beginning.

In order to reach a realistic painting (which I kind a like) I need to know how I can mix many different colors but keeping the values, right ?

What I mean is this, please take a look at the following painting I found on the internet at


This image shows that many different colors are used.
Just take a closer look at the skin, and you find brown tones, as well as red ones, green, blue, al kind of mixtures. And I really like this kind of painting - even if it's not completly finsiehd with the blending process, but the values and colors are there... and that's why the portrait looks so rich.

Ok.. here is my question, which is more a technical question - about the approach how I should start painting with colors.

- How can I use different colors and at the same time keeping my values ?

As instance, just lets take a closer look at the right side of his cheek. We can clearly see, that the painter kept the values, but he used different colors - like brown tones, red, orange, yes, even black, blue and grey ones...

What I don't understand is the fact, how you start with the colors ?

Ok.. here is my approach.. I usually start painting in grayscale with 4 different values.
From there, I can create my depth and hight. The best video that demonstrates the same technique I am using is this video from

ok.. I hope this explains... ok.. and yes, I can paint the same ear not just with black, and I can also use red, green, blue, orange, or whatever... but the ear will still be monochromatic...

so again, the question is.. how can I add many different colors, but not ruining my values ?

do I need to mix a color palette before I start ?
what means, instead of having just my 4 grayscale values, I do need to have 4 values for each color I want to use ?

so let's say, I want to use red, green, and blue:
- I should create for each color my values I am starting with - matching the grayscale ?

Well.. sorry that this was just such a long post, but I am just really confused when it comes to colors, and I would love to hear all your thoughts - and of course, the way you do it - your ideas, and your approach and experience - what works for you, what does not.

thank you so much - every little post highly appreciated !
  05 May 2012
Question hmm..

ok.. I finally got some time to try something....

I made this really quick, and I didn't really hit all the values... but I think it's a starting... right ? One thing is for sure... the colors are smirred completely out of any environment... and I would say that this would be very important... because the environment would actually determine the colors... right ?

but anyways.. just a rough try....

so basically I started with grayscale, 3 values... took the three values and just added color... but kept the values....

hmm... not sure what you think about...
thx for every single comment....

till later
  05 May 2012
If you squint your eyes, you'll be able to see the values of colors more easily. So when trying to judge the value of a color, just squint your eyes and look at the general value level and don't look at the hue/saturation information.

You can also set up a monochromatic adjustment layer like I described and keep it at the top of your layer stack, so you can turn it on to check just the values. (Just create an adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation/Brightness and turn the saturation all the way down). You can also use this method to check the value of the color you are using. Just paint a daub on a separate layer and then adjust its value so that you get the value you need, without changing its hue/saturation.

And yes, all the color variations you see has to have a reason--you shouldn't arbitrarily use colors, unless you have very specific artistic reasons and actually know what the hell you're doing (as in, you understand the effects of colors, such as psychology of colors, as well as artistic color theory).

So when you add those greens and blues to that ear, you need to know exactly why you're doing it. Are there blue and greens in the environment that's reflecting it strongly onto the ear? And if so, why would the effect only be isolated on specific patches and not the entire ear?

Artists sometimes use patches of colors to let the viewer visually mix them, to create a certain effect, but again, you need to know why you're using green and blue and what effect you're trying to achieve.

The light bounces off or or shines through the skin in a scientific way that is not arbitrary. You need to know how it works. Light can enter the skin and cause subsurface scattering, which will result in a very warm tone. Blood vessels near the skin can make that area very warm too. Fat, bone, and veins will give that area a cooler tone. When skin is bouncing light also onto skin, it'll compound the effect of radiosity in terms of color and result in more drastic saturation in the color bleed.

Here's some related lessons on colors and coloring monochromatic images I posted years ago that you should take a look at:

(Sorry about the missing images in the second thread--you can still read the post though.)

I'm giving you some very broad and quick answers because such topics can get very deep and can fill an entire book or volumes of books, but they will give you a good, basic overview of what you need to think about when you work with color.
  05 May 2012
Question very interesting

thank you robert !

very interesting to read about your thoughts, value and form and using an adjustment layer as help.

well.. regarding the colors... I had another idea and approach...
my idea is based on the fact, that every object you paint and you see in real life, is always conditional from the environment... or let me rephrase....

colors, values and forms are dependent from the environment.

based on that fact, I was thinking the following:
- wouldn't it make sense (always sense) to start painting with the environment ?

even if it's just an apple, a closeup, it doesn't matter.. somehow there is light and color information that surrounds the apple, right ?

knowing that.. it would make sense to smear the environment colors into the shadows, midtones and highlight colors of the object I want to paint... as fact, that this object is illuminated from the environment...... especially glossy reflections... right ?

also, my experience with "blocking" forms shows, that it is always easier (well, at least for me) to create shapes and forms from an existing environment... even if that environment is nothing else as a big blurry color palette...

one of the nicest things in painting is actually to get a specific mood... a specific style... and I would say, it comes close to photography... if the light setup (the environment) is nice, the object looks nice as well... if the light setup is just harsh and ugly, the object itself will suffer as well.

what you think about all this ?
  05 May 2012
It's always a good idea to block in the overall rough lighting and colors before going into any detail, so that you can always make sure that everything in the scene are corresponding accurately to each other. So yes, if you have the environment's lighting and colors blocked in, it'll inform you of how the subjects should look. You can also block in the subjects first and then do the environment next to match the subjects--it doesn't matter which way you do it, as long as you have a strong understanding of how light, color, and form behaves.
  05 May 2012
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