Digital art

How to unify a composition using a set colour palette

Melanie Delon set colour

Melanie Delon explains how to effectively adjust colours in a set palette to bring unity to your work.


Melanie Delon
Melanie Delon
Mélanie is a freelance fantasy illustrator who works as a cover artist. However, most of her time is spent on her personal artbook series which is published by Norma Editorial.

It’s not particularly difficult to paint a scene with an almost monochromatic colour scheme The hardest part is to stick to the colours you’ve chosen, because the tendency is to add more colours to the character and the background as you go along.

So the best way to start is to choose a very simple colour scheme – one that’s the same for both the background and the character – and then slowly construct the composition.

You can add more colours to it as you proceed, but always in the same tone. I won’t pick a red if my composition is mainly blue, for example.

Once the base of the composition is done, I add different elements and details. The trick here is to ignore the colour scheme. If my background is a pale blue then I’ll choose a slightly darker blue for 
the fabric. In this way I stay within the 
same tones.

Melanie Delon set colour
This is the base of my composition: you can see that there’s no light or shadows, just the colour blocks. The colour scheme is very limited here, which forces me to stay within the same tones.

Of course, I still need to have my character visible. I don’t want to lose it amongst the background, so the technique I use is to play with the light and the intensity of the colours.

I usually add a very soft sort of halo of light or shadow (depending on my light source) behind the character. This further separates the character from the background. In addition, I increase the outer shape of the character using a slightly different colour on specific parts of the image.

Finally, I apply either the Photo Filter or the Color Balance Mask tool in Photoshop. The latter can come in especially handy when unifying colours once the painting 
is finished.

Step-by-step: Adjusting colours  in a set palette


Overall the composition will be green and pastel-like, with little contrast. I choose only the basic colours that aren’t too saturated, or dark/light. I need to have something almost neutral so that I can add more hues later.

To produce harmonious colours I generally use the Color Picker and work with the RGB or CMYK tool.

Melanie Delon set colour


 I keep my basic colour scheme and re-use it on different elements. For example the fabric has the same tone as the sky, and I add some greenish yellow to the image (fabric, rock and sky), to bring some unity to the picture.

The shadows and main light aren’t strong enough, so 
I tweak their intensity accordingly.

Melanie Delon set colour


I realise that the composition needs to pop, which will put the emphasis back onto the character. I duplicate the image and set it on a Soft Light layer at a very low Opacity.

This gives more depth to the colours and makes different elements stand out. I use the Color Balance Mask 
to adjust and unify the colours.

Melanie Delon set colour


If you need to adjust the colours just use the filters in Photoshop, such as the Photo Filter. This can be helpful when you have to quickly correct a finished painting.

Melanie's tutorial was featured in ImagineFX issue 82 as part of our Artist Q&A .

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