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How to make natural color schemes for your graphics designs

Sometimes it is difficult to come up with a bright interesting color scheme for original art which looks "natural". This article will give you a technique for creating your own set (or palette) of natural colors.

Here are six colors schemes. Two of them are natural, two are totally random, and two are based on a limited range of Hue Saturation and Value settings. Can you guess which are which? (Answers at the end of this article!)

I will now explain how to make your own palette of natural colors.

Step 1) Find an image which appeals to your color sense, or is appropriate to your current graphics job. In this example I'll use a garden scene, maybe I need to create an abstract cover for a gardening book.

Common or Garden Garden Photo

This very very normal photograph has some interesting natural color schemes in it.

Step 2) Choose a rectangular area which is closest to the "color spirit" of what you are trying to create. I will choose the rectangle illustrated below:

Step 3) Extract that rectangle with your favorite paint program into a single smaller image:

Now imagine you want to use a limited number of colors from this color scheme, you need to construct a palette. Lets say 36 colors.

Step 4) Resize the image to 6 pixels wide by 6 pixels high.

(Aside: How you do the resize will vary from paint program to paint program. It is best to use the "pixel" resizing rather than "interpolation" resizing. This is because "pixel" resizing will select pure pixel colors, whereas "interpolation" can tend to muddy and mix the colors.)

Anyway, the above rectangle resized to 6 by 6 looks like this thing in brackets: ( ) Enlarged it looks like this:

And this is your palette of colors. I suggest you resize up the 6 by 6 image to maybe 72 by 72 for easier color picking. Again use pixel resize and not interpolation resize.

Step 5) You may like to change the brightness and or contrast a little...

...but the color scheme will always be a "natural" one.

That's it! Finished! Now you have your palette will need to keep to the discipline of always choosing your color using the dropper over your palette:

If you are not yet convinced, here are some more color schemes from natural images (two of which are the natural color schemes in the quiz at the beginning of this article):

Daisies in the grass colors.

Winter Alpine colors

Greek Island colors

Cat's Paw colors

This technique is actually made very easy in Gliftic, a program which can be used to create designs for use with backgrounds (tiled and not) and Web decorations. The color scheme selector of Gliftic includes a dialog for choosing your "color scheme image":

Gliftic Natural Color Scheme Dialog

Here is a single design created by Gliftic (using the Arabesque setting) which uses the natural color schemes shown above:

The designs above are identical except for the color scheme, the first uses the "daisies in grass" scheme and the second use the "winter alpine" scheme.

Finally, what color combinations does Gliftic come up with when handed our garden color scheme? The results are surprising, sometimes bold, sometimes subdued, but always original. Here Gliftic has used our garden color scheme when creating a mandala:

I hope you have been inspired by this article to experiment with your photos to find boldly natural color schemes for your future art!


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