Anima McKertcher

The Dreaming Garden

Color Reference Tip for Artists


If you're an artist, I recommend you go to Home Depot and grab one of every single color card from the CIL paint collection. I did this on Saturday. Then I grabbed the Ralph Lauren color sample book for good measure. I'm not sure how long it actually took but it felt like an eternity - there were hundreds, and hundreds of cards. Plus, I braved a record-breaking snow storm and icy roads. Ah, the joys of spring in northern Alberta!

So why bother? For three reasons:

1) Commissions

Getting the colors right on a commission is critical, especially when your collector has plans for where the painting is going to hang. But the words your collector uses for colors might be vague, inaccurate, or just plain different from what you're used to. For instance: peach, coral, and pink, or turquoise, aqua, and sea green, or mauve, lilac, and lavender. Which one is which, and would your collector, husband, sister, and best friend all make the same call?

It's so much easier to have them just point to the color on the card! This even works when there's no chance to meet with your collector locally. Just have them email you with the names and brand of the colors they like.

Then all you have to do is match their selections within reason.

2) Choosing the Right Color

Whether it's for a commission or your own self-directed painting, take the color samples to the art supply store when you're picking out your oil pastels, or your colored pencils, or whatever you're medium of choice is. If your memory is anything like mine it's best to have a tangible reference to work from and not a vague recollection.

3) Inspiration

This was an unexpected side effect of looking at all those colors. I felt instantly inspired. It was kind of like the feeling I get at the art supply store when I'm looking at all those gorgeous oil pastel sticks. Honestly, I'm getting tingly just thinking about it.

The different hues, shades, values, and tints can really get you going if you ever get painter's block. Just imagine all the color combinations you've yet to explore!

How About You

Check out how Jerry Lebo uses color references or share what you use for reference colors and why.