How to Add Color to Black and White Paintings


Do you noticed that a lot of digital artist starts off painting in black and white and then adds color later? One of the reason is that painting in black is much faster and simpler than painting in color. And with the ease of adding colors with programs like Photoshop, it is a good work-flow.

Adding color in Photoshop is easy, but to make the colors natural and vibrant takes a lot of experimentation and knowing what colors to use. With my limited experience in digital painting (and even less with traditional medium), here is a way to get natural skin colors. But first, let me just show you the basic setup.

Basic Setup for Adding Color in Photoshop

The setup for adding color to black and white in Photoshop is simple. Just create a layer on top of the black and white layer and change the top layer to Color blending mode. Experiment with different colors in order to get a feel of the effects this Color layer has on the black and white. With this black and white eye painting, I just splashed on some colors and you can see that it works quite well–and fast!

Adding Color to Sexy Black and White Eye Painting

How to Add Natural and Vibrant Skin Colors to Black and White Paintings.

Getting vibrant skin colors takes a lot of experimentation. The skin surface is extremely complex. Not only do you have different thickness in your skin, you also have different substance under your skin (what I like to call the subsurface layers). Both of which affects the colors of your skin. Then you add on different lighting scenarios and you have a very complex surface. So to create good looking skin, we need to add some complexity in the colors as well. The mistakes people make in coloring skin is that they use only one skin color. To accurately reflect the complex skin surface, you should use more than one color.–I like three.

Adding_Color_ExampleOnce you have decided on the overall skin color, pick two more colors–one for the highlights, and one for the shadow areas. Look at anyone’s skin and you see that the overall skin color, highlights and shadow areas are slightly different in hue. Looking at this skin example, I’ve used the color dropper to pick the different colors in her skin. The results of her skin colors is that the highlight color is more pinkish than the overall skin color, and the shadow area color is more saturated than the overall skin color.

So here’s something you can try when selecting your colors. For the highlight color, try going with a color that is slightly more pink or yellow from your overall skin color. I like yellow because you see that naturally at home with the tungsten lights or if you’re outdoors with a nice warm sunlight. For the shadow areas, go darker and more saturated. The additional saturation will make your skin colors vibrant and come alive. Give it a try.

Adding Colors to My Sexy Legs Painting

Here’s a video tutorial on adding colors. The black and white painting is the sexy leg painting that I did earlier. The colors I chose for this leg painting is more illustrative than real. I think it works well. Check this one out and see if you like the results.

Last Tip – Adjusting Your Black and White Layer

Often times when we paint in black and white, we end up painting it darker than it really should be. If your black and white layer is too dark, you’ll know immediately when you apply the color layer–all your colors ends up dark. Since you can’t lighten your color layer, you have to lighten the black and white layer. You can use Levels for a quick fix, but for maximum control, use Curves. Just adjust the black and white values until you get a good result with the color layer above.

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