If you glance back to Fig. 40a, you can see how warm and cool colors are used to give the koi extra volume.  Although pink is a warmer color than the blue water surrounding the fish, it is a cooler color than the oranges and yellows in the center of the koi.  By using it around the edges of the body, it causes those edges to drop back, giving the whole form a sense of curvature and dimension.  If we had used blue for this part of the job, it would have given the koi an even more dramatic sense of volume, but also would have caused the edges of the fish to merge with the background and robbed it of some of its clarity; the medium warmth of pink makes it perfect for the job.  Pink is also used around the edge of the lizard’s eye in Fig. 40b to produce a similar curvature effect.

One nice by-product of using contrasting colors is that not only will the different elements remain distinct from each other and show an illusion of dimension, but the overall piece ends up being more visually striking as a result.  When other artists ask me what brand of colors I use, the information they really should be asking for is what color combinations I use, because the way that colors are combined and placed next to each other has such a significant impact on how bright they will appear.

Back in Chapter 2.1, the tree in Fig. 12a uses a similar warm-on-top, cool-on-bottom logic to these brightly colored pieces, but with more subtlety.  The design is meant to have a naturalistic feel to its color scheme, so we avoid using bright yellows or primary blue.  Instead, a range of browns and earth tones is used with lavenders, blues and cooler browns used on the undersides of the shapes to make them drop back.  Although the separation between the dynamic range of the tree piece is less than in the lizard, it still is more than enough:  The full value contrast plus subtle warm/cool scheme of the tree gives it a total range of about 165, while the background is around half that.

Honestly, I don’t go through my tattoos rating their dynamic range point-by-point; this rating system is really just a tool for discussing and understanding the use of color and value contrast, a way of illustrating how these things can add up.  We have a wide variety of graphic tools at our disposal, including countless examples that I haven’t listed here; one of the great pleasures of tattoo design is in finding ways of combining these tools for different effects.  The dynamic range is a way of measuring in our minds the kind of effect we’re achieving, whether it be powerful or subtle.

Why The Heck Does My Orange Fade So Fast?

It's true that there is a longevity problem with many brands of orange these days. Since so many pigment makers are getting their materials from the same or similar sources, often these issues can pop up across the entire industry, so it's not just one brand that's having this issue. The modern orange pigments are indeed very bright in the skin, but they can fade to a dull beige within just a handful of years. This has got a lot of artists feeling discouraged and reluctant to use this important color.

For the time being, until the industry-wide issue is solved, many of us are mixing our own oranges out of proven yellow and red pigments. Tattoos done with this strategy are having a good track record with aging. If you do a lot of work with orange, you may want to mix a whole bottle of it. Personally I make both a light and dark orange. You'll want to create your mix by starting with a mostly full bottle of yellow, then adding red as desired, shaking each time you add a few more drops. A small amount of red can quickly overwhelm a large volume of yellow, so add carefully.

It's worth noting that the brightest yellows available these days, such as Eternal's Lightning Yellow, do have a slight green component. That means that oranges made from these yellows can never be quite as bright as some of the pure orange pigments available. But they still make a very nice orange, and more importantly, it's a color that can actually be relied upon.


What Brand Of Colors Do You Use?

You may be unsurprised to hear that this is the most common question I get asked.  The answer changes from time to time, and usually includes several brands.  My experience tells me that most brands of pigment are workable, with very few being total garbage; there are many good brands to choose from that can give you the results you want (if you want to know what I’m using today, come to the Reinventing Forum and explore the Pigments discussions). So what’s the magic ingredient to make your work the brightest?  There isn’t just one;  making your work appear bright is a combination of good materials and equipment with good design skills.  Most importantly, keep your neighboring elements different values so they don’t merge together, then use contrasting colors next to each other, such as blue and orange, in neighboring objects.  A combination of strong value and color contrast will give you the brightest look; the best pigments in the world won’t help you if you don’t use them in the most dynamic combinations.

Join the discussion in the forum.