Set the Right Mood for Your Digital Paintings Using Light and Color Values
Light has a great amount of influence on how people perceive something so it comes as no surprise that light can significantly increase the feelings and moods of any scene, whether it's for a photograph, a film or a painting. For digital paintings, the lighting you add to your project is incredibly important. Light not only helps establish the mood of your scene but also helps it pop, and increases the visual appeal.
Even in the absence of realistic lighting for a more cartoony painting, where shadows and lights may not be as vital, knowing what the proper light and color values should be will help you ensure the minimal lighting that makes its way into your final painting is selling the mood you want for your scene.
Your lighting should be decided early on in your painting process and well before any color choices are decided. The easiest way to establish the lighting for your painting is to start with black and white values to help describe the lighting for your scene. This consideration of values early on helps to describe the forms, and creates a much more prominent three dimensional aspect for your painting, as you can see from the image above.
By describing these types of forms, you are essentially defining the shadows and highlights with different levels of light and dark. By using simple black and white values you can see that the light for the painting has been established. When the light is decided at this stage, it becomes much easier to pick the right color values for your painting. For example, by establishing the value, it's much easier to decide the brightness or darkness of a color based on the light you’ve established in the black and white values.
Tips for Setting Up Light and Color for Your Paintings
A great benefit to most digital painting software is the ability to use layers in your composition. Working with layers is extremely important not only for adding in colors and textures to your painting, but also creating non-destructive changes. Try to make sure that your layers are organized and named properly so it doesn't become confusing when you start creating numerous layers for a single painting.
As mentioned above, it's important that you determine your light source early on by simply working in black and white values to help describe the type of light source you want for your painting. If you are familiar with studio lighting in a more traditional lighting setup, you may notice that a key light was used to illuminate the front of the character, and a rim light or backlight was added to the back to help make the character pop. Of course, adding lights for a painting is much different than what a photographer would do, because a painter simulates a light setup through values instead of setting up physical lights, but the desired results are typically the same.
Choosing a background color for your painting is extremely important for helping to add contrast into your painting. For example, if you are creating a warmer lighting for your scene, a cool, light color for your background will help make the lighting and warm colors really pop. The background color will also help set the mood for the painting.
If you start dropping down colors directly onto your painting, you may notice that all the black and white values are hidden by the new color being painted. While this may be a desired look if you are going for a cartoonier painting, it’s definitely not what you want when the base lighting for your painting has been established.
In order to preserve all the dark and light values you created early on and still add color, you can simply change the blend mode in your 2D application. For example, if you use the Color blend mode in Photoshop you can paint a new color directly over your subject and the dark and light values will be preserved.
To really push the realism for your painting, you can go in and add small specular highlights to certain areas to help them pop. For example, painting highlights in the eyes can help add that extra bit of realism. You can also start blending in textures and colors together to smooth things out. In the example image above, you can see that by creating small details and highlights, you can really increase the quality and appeal of your painting.
Using these tips will help you set the mood for your digital paintings, increase their visual appeal and make just the right elements pop. Learn more about how light and color choices can affect the mood of a scene with this in-depth Light and Color Study on Multiple Colored Light Sources and more digital painting tutorials.