Selecting the Color Scheme for a Wildlife Painting

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series How I Begin A Wildlife Painting
In the last three articles, I’ve talked about the scene design, the composition, and the wildlife. Now its time to decide on a color scheme for the wildlife painting. The color scheme of the painting is largely determined by the three previous processes that I’ve used. Of the three previous steps, the composition plays less of a role in determining the color scheme than the other two elements.

The types of trees that I’ve selected for the scene will dictate that I have grays and browns. The time of year will determine the color of the foliage. Fall scenes call for more reds and oranges, spring calls for more light greens in the foliage. Summer requires that the foliage be a combination of medium green and dark green. And for the most part, winter has very little foliage, although the bark colors stay pretty consistent.

The type of wildlife that I’ve selected to appear in the scene will greatly affect the overall color of the painting. If I’ve decided to paint mallard ducks, I have to pay particular attention to the background colors behind the ducks. If I place a mallard drake directly in front of trees with the same colors as the head of the duck, I can’t get the contrast that I need to allow the duck to stand out in the painting. Too much green in the painting will detract from the duck’s appearance. The female mallard is predominately brown mottled colors. So here placement must be such that she does not blend into the background and get lost in the colors.

Another important issue in selecting the color scheme is color harmony. A scene with a lot of green needs some red, which is the complimentary color of green, to make the painting come alive. The blue needs some orange to compliment and make the sky look really vibrant and realistic. Any purple in the scene calls for a hint of yellow to bring out the beauty of the color. Nature does this automatically for us and this is why reference photographs are so important in the design of wildlife art.

Finally the color scheme must have contrast to be believable. The dark areas of the painting require some light for proper contrast. And conversely, the light areas need some dark adjacent to them for proper contrast. Now a painting with only darks and lights is really hard on the eyes and not very pleasing to look at, so we must include the proper amount of middle tone values. These middle tones are what makes the dark and the light areas of a painting look natural.

So you can see that the color scheme is affected by all the designs parts of the painting up to this point.  Next time I’ll discuss the materials that are used in my wildlife paintings.

Until next time, keep your brushes clean, your colors pure, and as always, thanks for stopping by the North Forty.


Selecting the Color Scheme for a Wildlife Painting

Thank you.

Series NavigationSelecting the Wildlife for a Wildlife PaintingSelecting the Materials for a Wildlife Painting
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