Colouring a scene

I’m in the midst of colouring. It’s going well, but I’m realising that there’s a lot more too it than just filling in the spaces between the lines… the colour contributes to the mood in just the same way that facial expressions, body language, point of view and composition do. Why do people make picture books?? I’m loving it, but the more I go the more I find how complicated the process can be.

Continuing on from last week, here’s how I’ve been colouring a scene.

I start off with the pencil lines:

new bullies scene linesNow I do a bit of planning. Where will the light source be? What time of day will it be? This little panel is part of a series where the backgrounds all join up. The sky will change from overcast in the left hand panel to stormy in the right hand panel. When it’s overcast the sunlight is diffused through the clouds and the light source seems to be coming from everywhere at the same time… shadows on the ground become lighter and softer. I’ve tried to do this with the panel on the left below, but it’s very hard to paint. It’s easier to define the objects in your scene if you have one clearly defined light source (see the panel on the right).

p14-15-colour-testsI do these colour tests in Photoshop because it’s very quick and easy to do so. The colour test is very important for me, because it gives me a plan. I’ve decided where I want the shadows to fall, I know what colours things will be (roughly), and I know that adjacent colours complement each other (or clash, if that’s what needed).

The next step is the final colours. I’m using a program called Corel Painter (v.10), which mimics real media such as charcoal, pencils and watercolours. Ideal for me. I’m using the digital watercolour brushes which blur, diffuse and blend like real watercolours. working digitally brings certain advantages- it’s easier to make changes to a scene after you’ve painted it; you can save the colours you use all the time in a palette, so you don’t have to mix them each time you want to use them (although Painter does include a virtual paint palette where you can mix colours as you would in real life)… you can save your originals onto a usb drive and create backups… it’s awesome. One thing they haven’t been able to recreate yet is the smell of paint, or the weight of the water droplet hanging from the end of the brush…  computers can’t match the experience of placing a brush into real water and moving real watercolours about on a piece of fresh paper. But to get this book done on time, I’m happy to sit in front of a computer and play with digital colours.

In this book, I’ve been starting each scene by laying down the shadows first in a soft-edged light brown colour, as I if I were using real watercolours. It helps me to place the light source in the scene.


Then I start laying in the colour in light washes…

p14-15-colour-1I build these layers up bit by bit by bit, until the colour has reached an intensity that I am happy with.

p14-15-colour-2I realise that’s a very very simple breakdown of the process 😉 so if you want a more in-depth look at how watercolour brushes work in Painter, check out the blog of digital artist Joan A. Hamilton.

I am especially grateful to her for posting the settings for her blender brush, which has been very handy so far. Thanks Joan 🙂

Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at .

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