Color Picker Guide for Photoshop Painters - Part 1

If you're a Photoshop user, I'm sure you've seen and used the color picker. 

It would seem a fairly straight forward tool.  However, when it comes to Photoshop painting, there are several considerations that will make your paintings stand out from those of an amateur.

As artists, we need to have an understanding of color.  As digital artists, this requires us to understand the color picker as it relates to the natural world and the subjects we paint.

For this blog, we will be focusing on the left side of the color picker -- the box where we can actually click to choose our colors. Generally speaking, when I am painting in Photoshop, I don't typically use any of the numerical options on the right.

There are certain areas of the color picker that are outside the colors we see in our natural world.  The uppermost section and the lower section are generally what I like to call 'no man's land'. 

The upper section (outlined in red with the big CAUTION text) is typically only seen inside a light source or as a tiny specular highlight.  It would be a rare exception indeed to choose a painting color for any other purpose from this area of the color picker. Doing so will instantly indicate to the skilled eye that the artist is an amateur.

The lower section of the color picker (also outlined in red with the big CAUTION text) contains colors that would only ever exist inside a black hole.  While the color black isn't totally off limits in a painting, it should be used similarly to a specular highlight - VERY sparingly!  Black tends to muddy colors and cause a general amateurish look to an otherwise beautiful painting.

As digital artists, we shouldn't be choosing our colors from the areas of the color picker outlined in red with rare exception.  

There is also a section of the color picker on the right side of the box outlined in yellow.  While these colors do exist in our natural world and can be included in a painting, a skilled artist will only use these colors sparingly.  These colors are quite intense and are actually tiring to the eyes when they are used excessively.

Allow me to share an example...

This is a sphere painted in mostly the colors on the top, bottom, and right side of the color picker.  While it is well painted, no one would really choose to study this sphere for more than a few moments because the colors are just too vibrant. It is visually exhausting!

This is a sphere painted mostly from the colors outlined in white in the color picker diagram above.  While the colors are vibrant - they aren't excessively vibrant.  Colors chosen from the area outlined in white have a calming effect and encourage the viewer to study the painting, analyzing the brush strokes, and to enjoy the composition. 

The specular highlight was chosen from the uppermost "CAUTION" area, and the contact point between the sphere and the floor was chosen from the lower "CAUTION" area -- and yet, it's not too much. 

This is a skilled use of the color picker box.

Choosing most of your colors from the area of the color picker outlined in white will instantly help your paintings to look more professional and less amateurish.  

Happy painting!

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