Choosing a color scheme can feel overwhelming and even scary, especially when you are new to painting. Fortunately, though, inspiration can be found everywhere. By paying attention to your surroundings and following a few basic guidelines, you can choose color schemes like a pro. Here’s what you need to know.

Finding Inspiration

At one time, the natural world was the only place to find much color. The manmade world was fairly drab, as only the wealthy could afford colorful fabric dyes, inks, and paints. Today we are surrounded by color at every turn, but nature remains a powerful source of inspiration.

Make a habit of spending time outdoors. Photograph elaborately colored birds, the fiery orange of the setting sun, or fog settling over the mountains. Nature’s color schemes are part of our collective unconscious, and will always appear harmonious and pleasing to the eye.

Also explore the modern man made world. Start paying attention to print and internet advertising. Visit art museums. Spend a day wandering through fabric stores, antique shops, and local craft markets. Check out the latest fashions at high-end boutiques. Take a walk through some model homes. Notice the ways that professionals from various fields put together color combinations, and take photos (with permission) of those that you find appealing.

Guidelines for Finding Harmony

More is not better when it comes to your starting paint set. Focus on just eight colors: black, white, red, yellow, blue, orange, violet, and green. Look for pure pigments that accurately represent the true version of each color. These colors can be mixed in various ways to create a stunning range of hues, shades, and tones.

Paint only in simple color schemes such as monochromatic or complementary. Make time to play with color mixing on a piece of paper, ensuring that you find a blend that you really like before adding it to your painting. Remember to choose one “mother color” that will dominate the painting (along with black, white, and grey, which can also be mixed into the mother color for more variation). Use the other colors sparingly, for highlights.

As your skills grow, slowly start to experiment with additional colors and more complicated color schemes. Remember, though, that less is often more. Resist the urge to overcomplicate a particular piece just to show off your prowess. Instead, always take the time to think through the subject matter and the mood you want your painting to evoke. Consider the inspiration for the painting, and the color schemes that truly seem to “fit.” Also leave yourself open to change. If you are paying attention, your eye will tell you what your painting needs next.

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