How colour swatches can help you as an artist

Many artists dedicate pages in their sketchbooks to colour swatches. Apart from it being fun to make, swatches also serve many purposes. Let’s look at all the ways in which colour swatches can be of use.

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Picking a palette

I have found that colour swatches are most useful in letting me choose a colour palette for my artwork, as it all depends on what colours are available to me. It’s easy to pick colours when you have all the colours laid out in front of you on a page.

Taking stock of your supplies

Gather all your art supplies together, and make colour swatches with everything you have. Looking at all the colours on a page gives you a much clearer idea of what’s missing, what needs replenishing, what there is enough of.

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You can organize your swatches into categories such as pastels, “brights”, grunge etc. as seen in the image above.

Take swatches of all media

A common misconception is that artists make swatches of only paints. This is not true. You can make swatches for markers and brush pens…

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…fine liners…

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..pastels…

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..and even gel pens and highlighters.

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If hand lettering is something you do, your swatches can also include lines/ letters so that you know the nib sizes of different pens.

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When you have a big set of markers or pens, finding the colour you want is easier when you have a good system of swatches that also works as a kind of legend (like the one below).

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If you’re someone who uses different kinds of media, these multi-media swatches can be very helpful when you’re unsure what medium you want to use at a particular moment.

Compare brands

By making swatches every time you get a new set of colouring supplies, it makes it easier to compare brands and decide on a brand that best suits your needs. This could also sometimes mean using different colours from different brands to form your own perfect set of colours.

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Test the true colour

A lot of times, the colour on the packaging turns out to be completely different from what it looks like on a page or canvas. Avoid any surprises that can ruin your artwork with the help of swatches.

Black paper vs white paper

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Make swatches against both light and dark paper. A lot of times, particular shades of colour, such as skin tones, are not visible when the background is dark. Similarly, some metallic paints are not visible on white. Avoid such mistakes by making swatches on both light and dark backgrounds.

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Don’t forget to do the same with your lettering pens/brushes.

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Compare different shades of the same colour

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Having different variations of the same colour might seem pointless to some people, but these shades can often give your artwork depth. Swatches of these different shades makes planning your creation easier.

Blue and purple ink swatches (Source)

Diluting colours

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In a similar vein, you can also make watercolour swatches that compare colours at full strength with the diluted version of them. This can also be done with your brush markers.

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Create gradients

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By making gradients of colours (of any combinations!), you always have a bunch of colour combinations to choose from whenever you start a new work of art. Painting or colouring gradients are also a very good exercise for perfecting your blending techniques.

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Colour mixing

Your colour swatches need not be limited to what you have. Mix different colours and keep a record of them. Here are some ways in which you can do that.

i. A simple mixing of shades:

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ii. A grid system where each colour is mixed with every other colour

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iii. A quick and rough overlap of different colours

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Get creative with your swatch pages

If painting in boxes with different colours sounds a little boring, you can make it an old fashioned colour wheel instead.

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You could also illustrate the actual art materials you’re making swatches of..

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Or recreate your palette on paper.

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Make it a slightly more detailed sketch if you have the time and patience..

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Or just doodle in the boxes in your spare time.

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Do you use colour swatches? Do you find them useful? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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