Of Cats And Dragons

Magic Staff

Art: Blending Modes, Color

Published 2020-06-12
Carol E. Leever

As I said in the first Blending Mode blog, the blending modes are grouped. One group darkens stuff, another group lightens stuff. But there are a couple of other groups to play around with. And some of these do weird things. For example, take the DISSOLVE blending mode. It literally dissolves your brush strokes. The 2 strokes on the right are on a normal layer: one uses a hard round brush, the other uses the soft round brush. The two strokes on the left are identical strokes, but the layer is set to DISSOLVE.

blending mode 8

Some of the blending modes are great for adding color to grayscale objects. Typically when I first start painting, I always work in grayscale so that I can get my values correct (ratio of darks to lights). It's just easier doing it in grayscale so you don't have to worry about colors.

But eventually you'll want to add colors to your paintings. That's where blending modes come in. The COLOR mode in particular is very useful. It adds color to an object without affecting the values. So everything that is dark stays dark, and everything that is light stays light.

Here's a ball that has been shaded and highlighted in grayscale.

Gray scale 1

Originally I created the ball on a single layer. Then added a new layer, clipped it to the ball layer, and painted my shadows. Then I clipped another layer to the ball layer and painted my highlights. When I was all done I merged the 3 layers into one image with just the ball on it. (I often don't merge my layers, but for this example, it will just be easier.)

I now want to add color. I create a new layer above the ball, clip it to that layer, and then change the blending mode to COLOR.

Gray scale 2

Now I can paint color on the new layer without affecting the dark and the light values. I'm going to pick a sort of mid-green color for the ball, and paint over it. At no point do I change the starting color.

Gray scale 3

The small green circle at the top is the color I use. But you can see when I paint over the ball, the green is dark and light based on the shadows and highlights I added.

It's a good idea to use multiple colors so that your images don't all look 'flat'. What I mean by that is vary the color. Shadows tend to be 'cool' -- that means the colors typically have a bluish cast to them. I'm going to add more color to the ball so that you can see what I mean.

I take my 'green' color, make it slightly bluish and paint into the shadow area. Then I take my same green color, make it slightly more yellow/reddish and paint it into the highlight area.

You can see this effect in my example below. The ball on the right is the exact same ball as the one on the left, but with more color added. The colors are above it -- I actually used 2 colors for the shadow. The darker one is more bluish than the other one so that I had something to put into the really dark areas of the ball. The lighter color has a definite yellow cast to it. This makes the ball on the right more vibrant and warm looking in my opinion.

Gray scale 4

Either way it gives you some options with the color. And it's easy to experiment without actually ruining your values.

There are other blending modes you can use for color as well. Each give you different effects. One of them is the OVERLAY mode. The OVERLAY is in a group with others that effect how much light is getting through to the layers. Some artist use OVERLAY instead of SCREEN to add their highlights because the effect is much more subtle, but it can be used for color as well.

Gray scale 7

Here is the same ball with different modes. In this example the COLOR mode is actually a bit too harsh -- you can see the gradient in the color instead of having a nice smooth blending. The OVERLAY layer is a bit smoother, and it gives the color a nice rich, darker tone.

The SOFTLIGHT mode pushes the color to a more gray option, taking out some of the saturation. HARDLIGHT mutes everything -- it is closer to the original color but takes away some of the shadows and highlights. And the VIVID LIGHT mode makes everything much more intense. The VIVID LIGHT mode makes the highlights really pop, but in this case over-emphasized my shadow at the bottom of the ball and ruined some of the blending. I might use the SOFTLIGHT for the shadow part of the ball, then create a new layer and use VIVID LIGHT for the highlights. That would make for a dramatically different image.

Gray scale 6
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