Although a lot of illustrator Lizzie Mary Cullen’s work is made with black Rapidograph pens, she finds that using a carefully chosen colour palette can really make an illustration pop.
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“There’s a lot of different methods for choosing colours,” she explains, “and for me, it’s all about instinct.”
Here Lizzie shows how she coloured her artwork of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. “Located on Madison Avenue, it’s one of my favourite buildings in the city, and at night it’s really something to see,” she says.
She demonstrates her process of choosing colour: including how to select the right one for your work, and understanding how colours work together. Working with a limited palette, Lizzie is careful to ensure she gets exactly the shade she wants for each colour. For artworks like these, she relies on Pantone colours to ensure the colours come out on her prints just as she wants them too.
“My years as a graphic designer have trained me to lean on the Pantone colours, like a wizened old man leans on a stick,” Lizzie notes.
Time to complete
2-3 hours, depending on the speed of your drawing
Photoshop and good eye-hand co-ordination
I’ll start with my drawing of St Patrick’s Cathedral, hand-drawn using radiograph pens. I scanned it into Photoshop and converted it to RGB colour mode ( Image > Mode > RGB), as we’ll be playing with colours outside the CMYK gamut.
Next, it’s time to think about what colours I want to include. There are many theories on the best ways to choose colour when you’re designing. For me, it’s all about instinct. I really look at my drawing – what do I want to convey?
The work I do is all about psychogeography; exploring new ways of seeing cities and urban spaces. I go to my chosen location, take my pens and paper, and draw. On this particular night, there was fog in the air, and the stars were out. To get the feeling of vaulting skies, and the deep night sky, I wanted to pick a dark colour to contrast with the line work.
I chose this particular colour of blue (Pantone 654 C) as I thought it looked right for what I saw and felt on the night. It was as simple as that.
The beauty about colour is there’s no right or wrong answer. However, it can be quite intimidating; there are so many options and combinations. How do you know what works best? Always go with your instincts, as what evokes the right feeling in you will likely do the same for others.
On this particular night in New York, there was a chill in the air. Autumn was coming in, and the leaves were turning. The cathedral was lit by the streetlights and the bright starry sky, and I wanted to pick another colour to bring out the light bouncing off the cathedral.
I chose Pantone 7413 C, a very bright orange. It’s always good to take a gamble with contrasting colours and be adventurous. You can always rein it back in if it’s too much, something that’s much harder to do if your process is completely craft-based.
These two colours – along with the original black and white – formed the primary palette for this artwork. I sometimes use loads of different colours, all mashing together, but as this is a view at night, and I wanted to capture the stillness of the evening.
It was now time to get colouring. I selected Photoshop’s Paint Bucket tool and my deep sky blue, and started to fill in the night sky. If your paint bucket starts flooding the whole picture, you can rein it in by adjusting the Tolerance levels in the Options bar. I usually work at around 10, but if you’re filling in very fine lines, working at 6 will avoid unwelcome spread.
When I’d filled in the sky, the artwork looked like this. Next, it was time to start filling in the cathedral, and I wanted to use the bright orange colour sparingly to match how the streetlights reflected on the night I was there. Also for this reason, I didn’t want any kind of apparent symmetry in the ‘pattern’ of how I used colour either. The lighting needs to seem quite random, though focused around where the lighting was hitting the stone.
I selected my Paint Bucket tool and orange, and set about adding colour. Again, I was trusting my instincts here, and not getting too precious about where the colour was going.
As I was filling in the orange on the cathedral, I cranked the Tolerance up to 30. As these are thin lines and delicate drawings, the tolerance needed to be higher to fill in all my linework.
Looking at the cathedral, I felt that something was missing. I started looking for another colour to blend with the orange; one that would fill in the shape of the building behind spire. It needed to be quite a mellow colour, and offset the brightness of the orange.
I chose the beige colour of Pantone 7530 C, a rich, mellow brown that almost acts as shading for the skyscraper behind, and the steps of the cathedral.
The artwork was looking good, but I felt I needed to add a little colour to the surrounding area. The shop and skyscraper on the left needed jazzing up a little, so I picked a very dirty lemony yellow (Pantone 452 C) for the windows. I alternated this colour with Pantone Cool Gray 6 C.
After I’d added this colour to the shop, the cathedral looked as though it was floating on thin air. It was time to bring out some colour in Madison Avenue.
I felt it needed a dark colour to ground the buildings. I picked a deep grey – Pantone Cool Gray 8 C – to act as an anchor for the cathedral. I also filled in some of the buildings with this tone, creating the effect of shadows on the sides of the surrounding skyscrapers.
Although I’d been quite restrained with my colour palette, it had a noticeable and amazing effect on a simple line drawing. What started out as a drawing conveying the textures and height of the building, now showed a sense of nighttime atmosphere, and the light of the sky.
Now, if you compare these two artworks side by side, you can see the effect that a simple colour palette can give you. If I had gone crazy, and used the colours of the rainbow, this would have been a supreme turd of an artwork. Not to go all Jedi on you, but it’s often the colours you don’t use that have the greatest effect.