Monday, September 24, 2018

Traci Van Wagoner Making The Rainbow's Connection --- Plus a PRIZE!

Smart Note: Both Groups Stepping Back/Take Photos -- Pages 5-6

I owe so much to Traci for all the work she puts into Smart Dummies every year. Her support has help make Smart Dummies a wonderful event. This year she has really outdone herself with her post.

I have always adored Traci's work, but recently she's been doing some new work that I hadn't noticed before. I had a lot of fun looking at Traci's "Paint Play" illustrations and I started thinking about why I liked Traci's work so much. Part of the reason I love Traci's work is the lovely colors she uses in all her images. I asked Traci to write a post about her color choices this year.

Check the end of this post for a PRIZE!

Taming the Rainbow
By Traci Van Wagoner

When Dani asked me to write about how I pick my colors, my mind sort went into panic mode, “I don’t know, I just slap color down.” It’s big question with a lot of years and experimentation behind it. I took a long time to tackle this subject, and I must thank Dani for her patience while I went back through time to figure out the answer.

Let me start at the beginning. Well, sorta. I started my illustration journey in traditional media during my first stint at college, where I experimented with pretty much every media. My favorite was oil and then acrylic because it was less messy and smelly — although I still to this day miss the smell of oil painting. My basic palette was titanium white, mars black, alizarin crimson, pthalo green, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, cadmium red, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, and a few others in and out.

When I moved to digital illustration after graduating from toy school (my second stint at college), I was gob-smacked with the endless possibilities in the color pickers in Painter and Photoshop, and I now had to worry about gamut, and printing, and how my art looked on different monitors. Eek! I started with finding color swatches online that matched the paint colors I knew and started from there. I settled on a color palette I liked, created my own paper textures and brushes, and that was that … for a long time.

After a while, what I was creating felt stale, overworked. Not fresh. Not fun. For many years I didn’t paint much. I created a lot of product illustrations for my clients at Imagine That! Design, so I had some creative outlet, but it was not fun, not really.

But life has a way of shaking things up. The product design work dried up (long story) which forced me to push my illustration work more. I got off my butt and got some more picture book jobs (for very little money I have to admit) which pushed me to explore and experiment a little. Then one day I saw Will Terry’s Santa snowboarding image which set off a switch in my imagination. I wanted to have as much fun as he seems to with his paintings, playing with color and light and unique perspectives. This set me off on a road of exploration still painting on the computer with Photoshop. My time creating was limited and confining, and painful, really.

Then a wonderful thing happened…

The iPad + Procreate = #PaintPlay

And shortly after, I discovered @colour_collective on twitter, a weekly challenge based on a different color each week.

Cue starburst of colors and wonderment.

My art side was set free. I had been so busy containing it with purple lines, and now I gave myself permission to just paint. I played with color, textures, the wide variety of brushes in Procreate. I pulled out old sketches from picture book dummies and from sketchbooks and painted many of those. I painted without having any goal or idea where I was going when I started. I could paint anywhere. I could paint anything. Paint play. And it has been a blast! You can see my #paintplay journey on Instagram: TraciVWCreations.

But the question remains: How do I pick my colors?

One color usually starts things off. Sometimes it’s dictated by the client, or the project, or by a licensed character. It can be a feeling or mood I want to create: happy-warm, sad-cool. Or the reddish colors of sunset vs. sunrise with pinkish tones. Or the time of year, the weather, a holiday, summer, winter, snowy, rainy.

The yellow raincoat was my start in my Singing in the Rain painting with primary colors complimenting.

A word can be the starting point, like a prompt word from a challenge: SCBWI Draw This Heat + colour_collective

The blue sample was my original since the warm of the girl and dog played so nicely off the cool blue, but then I decided to try the #colour_collective prompt #peach. I liked it that way better for telling the story of heat. I still debate. Do you have a favorite?

So you see, a lot of my #paintplay really is about slapping down color and seeing what happens.

One thing’s for sure, each week I play with a new color inspired by #colour_collective.

Once I have my main color, I pick additional colors.

I might pick complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) or analogous (on the same side of the color wheel). Do I want to compliment that color with like colors on the same side of the color wheel to keep mood consistent and create a sense of harmony — warmth and happiness on one side or on the side cool colors creating a sense of melancholy, or a peaceful tranquil feeling. Or do I want to jar the reader with opposing colors?

Here are few hints:

• It’s more dynamic to use blue and orange (complementary colors) to play off of each other, but it can also be too much, especially if they are next to each other and at the same value. Then you get scintillation, which can drive your eyes crazy.

• Which brings me to value. You need to keep the value of colors in mind and how those play off each other.

• You get a more urgent feeling if you use primary colors vs. secondary colors.

I generally use the complementary color as splashes of color to draw the eye, to play off the main color and make it dance. This all gets into color theory, a big topic that is worth researching if you don’t know about it. Here’s a link with more information to get you started.

And since I LOVE value and light and shadows, after I have my color palette, I choose a light source, or multiple sources. After all, you don’t have color without light; and the color of the light will change the tone of your colors. Sun — yellow, orange. Or the moon — blue, purples or even greens. I love to play with value, shadows, reflective light, the contrast between warm and cool, how light plays off things, and how you can tell a story through a shadow.

I try to paint with light as much as color. I’m not always successful at that, but I’m having a blast trying. It’s still and always will be an evolving process. So, I paint on having fun trying to tame the rainbow.

Feel free to join in the fun of #paintplay with me on twitter (@TraciVanWagoner) and instagram (TVWCreations). I also share on Facebook , but you’ll get a lot of other stuff there too about my roof garden and my pets.

Also, keep an eye out for my latest book to be released October 1st, Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life by Joan Schoettler, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner, Pelican Publishing

Happy painting!


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One person will win poster of Traci's art through her Redbubble store!*

*Prize shipping limited to the US.
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  1. When it comes to choosing colors, I'm clueless. Thanks for bringing back the "play" in creativity. Not surprised something Will Terry did inspired you. His work is inspiring in many ways! Your sculpting book looks very interesting. Look forward to it!

  2. Thanks Anne. I hope you are having fun getting your dummy book done this month and able to have some fun playing with paint and color.

  3. Thanks for sharing the information on #colour connections it sounds like a great place to play with colour. I really like your "heat" example the "hot " showing it in the two colours really illustrates
    what colour can convey!

  4. What a great post! I love your latest work and had to laugh at your response to being asked to write about color. “I just slap it down” I had the same thought when Dani asked me to write about characters. It’s funny how we think that we just do these things, but once you think about it, there is a process in there even if you didn’t realize it.

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  6. Thank you, Traci - interesting! Love the fireworks painting! Your book looks interesting. Do you have any Procreate tutorials/courses to recommend? :-)

    1. Allison, Sorry I don't have any tutorials for Procreate. I know I've seen a few people doing some, but I can't find a link to share. I think I saw them announcing their tutorials on twitter. I had a ton of fun letting loose and playing with all the different brushes and tools to see what they can do. If I find a link, I'll post it on Smart Dummies FB page.

    2. Congratulations Geralyn H.! I'm adding a link to the posters in my Redbubble store. Please let me know if there's a piece of my art you've seen that is not in my store and I'll make it available.

  7. Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I hope you were successful with your dummy books. I hope you were able to learn something from my post. It was a great refresher for myself in identifying my process and getting reacquainted with the rainbow of color possibilities.