How to give your artwork a sinister vibe

Artist Paul Tysall explains how to adjust colour temperature and capture a sinister mood.

sinister dude

There's so much to the process of painting that, by the time we complete the image, sometimes we appear to be miles away from the original image in our heads. This is why making a colour comp before the rendering stages will help you stay on track.

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More often than not, when we're talking about the mood associated with a painting we're focusing on the subject, but it's the lighting and colour that enhances our emotional state. Obviously, you should be aware of the colours you're applying throughout the painting process, how they react with each other combined with their subsequent colour theory properties, but sometimes this can become lost as we render the final piece.

The notion of colour theory stems from dividing the colour wheel into two halves: warm and cool colours. Where the dividing line starts and ends is debatable. The emotional aspects of colour are purely associative: from the warm colours of the sun or a campfire feeling welcoming, to the fresh greens-yellows of nature conveying serenity, all the way round to the blues that remind us of the night sky or cold weather conditions. These associations appear to be fairly universal, another reason how visual art can transcend language.

So if the colour palette has strayed off course, how can we get it back on track? There's one powerful Photoshop colour correction tool among the Adjustment Layers options: Color Balance.

01. Start a new layer

sinister step1

From the Layers window select the Create New Fill or adjustment layer icon and then scroll up to the Color Balance option. In the Properties window you're given a selection of sliders. From here you can edit 
the Midtones, Shadows and Highlights of your image; choose the relevant option by clicking the Tone drop-down menu.

02. Adjust temperature

sinister step 2

Slight increases and decreases with each of these options will shift the overall colour temperature. Moderate use can help to apply colour unity within an image by removing existing colours and creating a more restricted colour palette. If you're still undecided about the direction of the colour palette, try using Color Balance to trial new options.

03. Focus on the bigger picture

sinister step 3

Don't be too precious about minor aspects of colour in your image when you're colour correcting for the overall mood. If your colour correction has knocked out a key hue, you can always assign a Layer mask to the Color Balance adjustment layer 
and then reintroduce the underlying colour back using a brush with a low Opacity setting.

Artist's secret: Make use of Selective Color

sinister dude secret

The warm skin tones combined with that red background made sense in the original, but the message wasn’t right. Some minor colour tweaks and we’re back on track

This works in the same way as Color Balance, but instead of targeting value ranges you can identify specific colours, including the blacks, whites and neutrals. Great if you want to increase (or reduce) the temperature of new hues arising from your colour correction edits.

Words: Paul Tysall

Freelance artist and designer Paul has extensive knowledge of various digital art tools. He can be found writing about these in-between watching Blade Runner. Again.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 119.

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