Skip to main content

Freelance Artist Andrew Davis wanted to improve his digital painting skills, so he returned to his favorite foundations: color and light! Through a series of assignments, Andrew learned to leverage values, materials, and tones to guide the viewer through a scene. Check out some of these exercises, which include:

  1. Movie Stills and Paintings
  2. Original Composition Values
  3. Sphere Exercises
  4. Landscapes
  5. Color Studies
  6. Warm vs. Cool Scenes
  7. Bus Romance
  8. Final Project

Hi, my name is Andrew Davis and I am an animation student at Azusa Pacific University. Growing up in Southern California, I constantly drew creatures and Pokemon. This led to my passion and exploration of animation and illustration! I wanted to strengthen my skills with color and digital painting so that’s why I took The Art of Color and Design at CGMA.

1. Movie Stills and Paintings

The first assignment was to deconstruct references from movie stills and paintings. I used concept art from the game Doom and the film Klaus. They were the most recent pieces of media at the time that I liked. I learned about how these pieces used value to communicate their focal point.

In the second Klaus painting, I found that the light value coming from the window contrasted that character, which became a framing mechanism. This made that character a focal point. It was actually a common pattern to use of “dark against light” to help create a focal point. The use of dark values against a light background can lead the eye to where the artist wanted you to look.

Don’t miss out on CGMA’s The Art of Color and Light course, taught by DreamWorks Animation Art Director Chris BrockFreelance Concept Artist Axel Sauerwald, and Illustrator/Lead Color Artist Marco Bucci.

2. Original Composition Values

For my original composition, I designed a scene of an adventurer in danger of falling from a branch into a lake of alligators. I was inspired by Uncharted and other adventure movies. Like my previous references, I used dark against light to frame the main points of interest, which was the character in peril and the alligators in the lake below him. I placed my character closer to the top left of the composition so that he would be a point of interest. I made him smaller and put him in perspective as well.

My instructor, Chris Brock, gave me very helpful feedback at this point. He showed me how I could push the perspective of the scene and also make the background values lighter to better frame the character.

Read “How to Approach Color and Light: Exercises to Build Fundamentals” for another approach to similar exercises.

3. Sphere Exercises

For the different spheres, we played with creating different materials. I referenced the video that Chris made and also looked at various other references to make the spheres. The different materials altered the way that the sphere looked and how the colors reacted with lighting.

Another helpful sphere exercise was to paint a sphere in a scene. This was probably one of the most difficult assignments for me because I had a hard time painting the lighting accurately and making the sphere look like it belonged in the scene.

Chris helped me by changing the local color of the warm lighting scene. For the cool lighting scene, it really helped to adjust the core shadow.

4. Landscapes

I chose this landscape of a boat on a lake because I liked that it had a wide range of values. It was a great opportunity to challenge myself!

I started by defining the basic shapes of the trees and how the reflection looked in the lake. This was a tedious process because of the amount of detail in the trees. Then after the background elements were finished, I added the boat on top.

Chris helped me a lot with breaking down the details into basic shapes and helped me create a more cohesive image. By using simple shapes and values he helped me see that I could make the process a lot less tedious.

Curious to see a feedback example from this course? Watch Miki Mintllo critique a student’s assignment!

5. Color Studies

For these color studies, I was able to apply what I had learned throughout the course. First, I determined the light values and dark values. Then, I collected the values I thought were the most abundant throughout the scene. I noticed that there was a larger variation in colors in the lighter values than the darker values.

Swipe to view color studies.

6. Warm vs. Cool Scenes

I chose two photos that my brother took for this assignment. I first picked colors from the reference and I identified the light and dark colors of the scene.

My stronger understanding of color helped me accurately pick the colors for the scene because I was able to identify the warm and cool colors and paint those colors in the correct areas of the scene.

I chose two stills from the film Spirited Away because they have very appealing lighting in their scenes. For the first scene, I re-keyed it with a sunset lighting.

For the second scene, I changed it from a night time scene to a daytime scene. The second scene is my favorite because the light coming from the window added a lot of visual interest.

7. Bus Romance

My idea for this piece was a boy and a girl sitting together on a bus and the girl falling asleep on the boy’s shoulder. My initial idea was to have a closeup on the characters and have the rest of the bus in the background.

However I decided to do a different perspective to have foreground elements to frame the main characters of the scene. I used the lightest values from the windows to contrast the darker values from the characters. I put the characters directly in the middle of the composition so I could have a balance of foreground and background elements around them. Making sure that the eye leads to the main characters first was the most important factor to me.

For colors I knew that I wanted to have a warm color scheme with the lightest value being the window behind that characters to help frame them.

I continued playing with lighting and seeing how the warm light would affect the inside of the bus. My main focus for details was the two main characters as well the window behind them.

At this point in the project Chris helped me by pushing the warmer colors on the characters and making the other foreground elements cool colors. He also helped me figure out the lighting coming from the window and how it affected the other elements inside the bus.

Swipe to see the progression of details and colors in Andrew’s scene.

Check out Composition For Concept Art And Illustration taught by Freelance Concept Artist Axel Sauerwald and Art Director/Concept Artist Mauricio Abril.

8. Final Project

I feel like my final project came together really well. I definitely struggled during the color key stage but with Chris’s help I was able to take it to a nice finish. I like the storytelling in the scene I created and it conveys the emotion I was trying to go for.

Final Thoughts

  • I always liked the way color could be used to convey emotion. But before taking this class, I didn’t have a good understanding of color and when it came to painting my drawings, it became very difficult choosing colors that felt right. That’s why I wanted to take a class to help strengthen my skills and understanding in color.
  • The instructor’s notes helped me a lot during this class. Whenever I was having trouble with an assignment, I brought it up to him when I uploaded my homework and he addressed those issues I had in his feedback.
  • The most impactful lesson that I took away from this class was the importance of cool light and warm light. Being able to identify whether your scene is warm vs cool became very important while painting.
  • I would 100% recommend this course because the fundamentals covered in this class are very important for painting and even drawing. The teacher is very nice and easy to talk to and he is easy to get in touch with as well. This course has taught me many important fundamentals that I apply to my everyday painting.

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

See Andrew’s other work on his ArtStation and Instagram!

Don’t miss out on CGMA’s The Art of Color and Light course, taught by DreamWorks Animation Art Director Chris BrockFreelance Concept Artist Axel Sauerwald, and Illustrator/Lead Color Artist Marco Bucci.

Read “How to Approach Color and Light: Exercises to Build Fundamentals” for another approach to similar exercises.

Curious to see a feedback example from this course? Watch Miki Mintllo critique a student’s assignment!

Check out Composition For Concept Art And Illustration taught by Freelance Concept Artist Axel Sauerwald and Art Director/Concept Artist Mauricio Abril.