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Mike Azevedo’s Color Theory Tutorial

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We have teamed up with concept artist Mike Azevedo to show us his decision making process when it comes to color and light. Mike is an artist who works primarily in the Games industry, he has worked on projects such as League of Legends and Hex for clients such as Blizzard, Guerrilla Games and Games Workshop.

First off, Mike takes time to give us the basics of Color Theory in this video tutorial. He offers the way he uses the relationships between colors on the color wheel and the tone of the light in a composition to change the way he approaches a figure. Have a look:

 

 

Now that you have a handle on the basics of Mike’s Color Theory techniques have a look at the tutorial Mike has prepared on this dashing Older Knight. He walks us all through the steps he takes to make sure the color values are right and the light and shadows are effective in his drawings.

 

Step 1: Structure

This first step is essential to making a solid painting, colors are great, but they can’t save a bad drawing. When sketching out the figure, I like to think about the attitude of the character and the simple geometric forms that compose his structure.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 2: Base colors

Once the structure is set, I like to go straight to color. I select colors that are 50-70% dark and not very saturated since you can always add more color later. It’s good to think about this stage as the “original colors of the objects before adding direct light source and shadows”, the true color of the object or subject.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 3: Adding Shadows

At this stage I think about the direction the light comes from, which planes are definately not facing the light source directly and the shadows casted between objects. I try to think like a sculptor. In this composition I use a dark orange because I want to have a blue light on the figure and adding a bit of the complementary color to blue creates the effect of shadows accurately.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 4: Shadow Accents

I find that most of the time adding shadows creates more volume than adding light does. So I like to create accent shadows, tiny dark shadows that reinforce the form. I especially place them when objects are in contact and I love to use triangle shapes for these. Sometimes this step solves the problem of adding volume to the figure and you don’t really need to add much light later because the form is already there.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 5: Ambience

Now it is time to focus on making the character look like he’s somewhere. I added some dark blues and greens to the background to emphasize the orange shadows and I added a Darken Gradient Layer in blue to imply the light fading off to the side.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 6: Light

Keeping in mind the original color of the object, the intensity and proximity of the light source as well as the material of the object (i.e how reflective if is) I now add the neutral blue light. It is important that you figure out how the light changes for every object and differentiate the materials, metallic surfaces are going to reflect more blue and the skin is only going to reflect a little bit of that blue.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 7: Overall Check

Now, I zoom all the way out and check if the materials look correct. For this composition I decide to tone back some of the skin brightness and I also add dynamic brush strokes to the background to direct the eye towards the character. It is important to not move forward past this step before you feel good about what you have, adding detail will not make the mistakes go away (I wish I knew that when I started).

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 8: First Zoom in

I am 45 minutes into this painting and this is the first time I have zoomed in. Now it’s time to make the area around the eyes and mouth more defined, good reference pictures and a vast visual library are the key now for not overwhelming the image with information at this point.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 9: Play within the boundaries

Now it is time to have fun with the nuances and try to add new colors that are interesting but still respect that initial decision of a blue light source. For example, adding a more saturated orange or yellow to the lit area of the face is going to ruin the temperature here, but adding  some dessaturated pink or purple is fine. You have to remember the limits you established when you defined the light source and object properties and then you have to stick to them.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

Step 10: Effects and glow

I tried to emphasize the blue  temperature a bit and added a Glow Layer with blue on top of his armor, scarf and eyes. I also added a red overlay layer to make his cheeks, nose and mouth more red, trying to keep it subtle. And to finish off I added a soft light layer filled with blue on top of everything. These little tweaks can go a long way to unify the painting.

 

Mike Azevedo Color Theory

 

And that is the finished painting. I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and have learned a bit more about Color Theory.

 

 Mike Azevedo Color Theory
Mike Azevedo at work in the studio.