“been sick for awhile so thought i’d take some time to draw something fun n’ relaxing”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Down the color wheel with Merrigo

Retronator Artist Feature

Oh my, I’m very late with this. It’s been exactly two years since the last artist feature in the mag. The blog has seen a few in the meantime, but it’s about time for another longer look at an artist’s work.

I had a short chat with Amanda a.k.a. Merrigo about this article in July … 2016. So yeah, very late. But we’ll make the best of it. We’ll make it into a learning experience. Amanda’s work is just perfect to talk about color schemes.

“quick doodles from last night ☼”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014

Amanda is a graphic designer by day, pixel artist by night—or some permutation of the two. She’s a bit of a mystery, a magical presence that we can interpret only through fleeting moments captured in her artworks and punctuationless, lowercase/UPPERCASE sentences that never needed the 280-character upgrade on Twitter. To be fair, her 2017 tweets have sentence case and a period here and there. She doesn’t title her works though, so I’ll use her one-liners as captions under the artworks.

“office views 🌆”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Our journey down the color wheel starts on the cool, blue side of the spectrum, staring out the windows. But is it? Is it so blue? Here’s the full palette of 20 colors Amanda used:

Indeed a lot of shades of blue, but also hints of pink and tan. If we narrow it down to five representative hues and shades, we could come up with these:

Every color tutorial on earth (and kindergarten color mixing class) talks about the color wheel, so I’ll assume you understand the basics by now. You know that orange is complementary to blue because it sits on the opposite side of the wheel. Together they create contrast (hue-wise) and as such introduce an important compositional element into the picture.

Without spending a whole article talking about composition, let’s just say it’s much less about cookie-cutter templates like the rule of thirds, and much more about contrasts. Contrasts of shapes, sizes, values, and yes, colors.

Let’s look again.

The complementary bright, warm, orange windows stand out from the dark, cold, blue skyscrapers. Your eyes jump from the building up close, to the big skyscraper in the back, to the flowers on the shelf, and back to the windows. It’s a dynamic dance between the bright spots that hold your gaze before jumping to another spot.

Contrast this with the sky in the image. If we try to ignore the buildings and just look into the distance, we’ll find our eyes slowly drifting in random directions over the clouds. Light blues and pinks create a smooth gradient on which our eyes slide like butter. Even though the hues do a 90 degree turn (from blue to pink), all the shades are light and muted (unsaturated), placing them closely together in our color chart.

Merrigo has plenty of works with the sky done this way.

I’ve included the value histograms (technically lightness) so you can see that the shades barely occupy any part of the full 0–255 range.

OK, that’s as sciency as we’ll get, lest we forget to enjoy the artworks themselves. The point is, contrasts create tension and focal points …

“warm ups & palettes” (1 image of 2), Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“Been p busy so have some snippets of stuff sittin’ around my desktop 👏”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017

… while colors closer together—even complementary hues—create peace.

“Nice brunch & early june gloom”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“Long time no see 👋”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017
“Some goodnight doodles. New Zelda has won my heart T____T”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Similar colors are like a soft pillow for our eyes to rest on. Our gaze slowly drifts around, like a feather falling gently from the sky, rocking left and right. Like clouds, floating in the … You get it.

“Lazy day with some sleepy colors 😴”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017
“🌴 Some quick warm ups 🌴”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017

From blues and yellows, we’ve now come to purples and oranges, closing the gap between the hues. There’s no more jumping over the center of the color wheel, we’re now firmly on a single side—even less, on a slice one sixth at most.

These are not complementary colors anymore. Instead, a color scheme that lives inside a narrow range of hues is said to be analogous. And boy is Merrigo the master of analogous.

“getting used to the new commute home”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“✌️”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017
“Aaaannd wind down. Good night!”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“Some draws old & new”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“weekends over. have a good week everybody ✌️”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“Morning thumbnails over coffee 😪”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

From warm to cool, from day to night, it’s hard not to lose yourself in Merrigo’s landscapes, moments, vignettes, triptychs. It’s all so peaceful, you want to stay there forever.

“Landed back home! Have some late night draws”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“last one for the road ✦”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017
“Worked from home today to wait out the Big Bad Storm. Have something I doodled on in between work and waiting on emails ☔”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017

At this point we can’t even put an argument for an analogous scheme anymore. We’re right down in monochromatic territory.

Monochromatic doesn’t necessarily mean black and white, it just means single color—any color. The hue sets the mood, but it provides little to no contrast. It’s all down to values.

Amanda wasn’t (and isn’t) always so softly calm in her color choices though. Especially her earlier works had saturation to spare and values spanning the full range.

From monochromatic …

“Some draws after work.🌿”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“Doodled while the internet went down during the storm. Tadaa 🌸”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“scenery warm up from earlier. my brain is stuck on full body commissions”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“I’ve had too much free time in the office and have gone overboard”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“🌞 Beach doodles before bed 🌴” (top), “small little study of a fave-o plant pal 🌿” (bottom), Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“some zeldz \m/ very hyped for majora’s mask coming out soon!”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

… and analogous …

“finished pic + color testing from along the way”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“good mornin’ 😴”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“im just gonna leave this somewhere so i dont keep working on it until i inevitably F IT UP”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“messin’ with palettes”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“we need a beach day, man”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014

… to complementary.

“dream workspaces #109281” a.k.a. “wait i’ve never actually posted a gif on twitter”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“tada festive twitter header”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2013

This last color scheme is more than complementary—it’s double complementary! Because of its four end points it’s called tetradic.

It’s quite violent, don’t you think? The red–green combination is represented just as prominently as the blue–yellow. There’s quite a fight going on for who will dominate the image.

From one of her oldest works, to one from just a month ago, Amanda isn’t afraid to mix the colors up sometimes.

“Good evenin! Have a lil rest stop🌼🏡🌼”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017

The span goes even wider here.

The green and red are in control, but not so much that the yellow wouldn’t have its say. Even the blue is dominant in the windows and further present along the whole image center. It gives the image energy and you can just feel the flowers urging to spread around the house (I might be reading too much into this).

One way to calm the colors down is by having one of the complementary pairs take over control.

“lil Hylia statue on my lunchbreak 🌞”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017

In this image, the second complementary axis is still there (orange–blue), but it exists in such a low amount that it provides just a spark of playfulness instead of a cry for attention.

This is the rectangle variation of the tetradic color scheme. It doesn’t need to be so insignificant though. Let’s look at an example, where the second axis covers more space.

“: *”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014

The main dominance here lies between blue on the edges of the image (top of the sky and window frames) and yellow in the center (comprising most of the sky).

A perpendicular complementary axis would go from green to red. Instead, what appears to be green in the image (flower pots and right side of window frames) is actually in the cyan range (not really green). Similarly, in place of reds we have pinks and oranges.

A rectangle again.

Just like we can cover four ends of the spectrum with tetradic colors, we can settle down to three, bringing us to triadic color schemes.

“messing around with a pallet! night o/”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Merrigo is literally serving us a study here, with a 5-color palette of primaries (yellow, red, two blues) and a pure grey that sits between them all.

Note that the grey appears quite warm since—in this combination—it’s closer to desaturated red and yellow than the vibrant blues.

A more subdued variation exists between triadic and complementary colors, called accented analogous.

“🍃” a.k.a. “work day wind down 👀”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

Here, the dominant range of analogous blues and greens gets balanced with a small, but striking amount of color from the opposite side (orange/yellow).

One more thing I want to mention regarding color schemes is that the change in hues can also correlate with change in values.

“stay cozy ✌”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014

From darkness in the blue range, we slowly make our way over reds in the midtones to the brightest yellow.

This is a very conscious technique known as hue shifting, another constant in tutorials on colors. It captures the interaction of multiple light sources, each with their own hue (color of the light itself a.k.a. its wavelength—or range of wavelengths—in the visible color spectrum). The most prominent example is daylight itself, where shadows appear dark and cool, and the bright sides are warm. This is because blue wavelengths bend through the atmosphere and tint the shadows, while warmer-color light particles hit objects in a direct line of sight. In other words, we have ambient blue sky light (radiating from all angles) and directional yellow sunlight.

“Last draw of the year. Have a good one ✌️”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Merrigo infuses some artistic freedom into this to produce interesting color combinations. From orange–green …

“also my business cards came in and they are just lovely!”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014

… to orange–purple, yellow–green, and pink–blue …

“odds ‘n ends from twitter. happy sunday! ❤”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

… all the way to little magical bubbles (green fireflies?) that produce analogous shades in vicinity of teal.

“Slowly chipping away at prints for AX! Thought I’d redo an old print of my favorite game & character: Small Creature Messes Up Big Time for the 3DS”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

As you can see, not everything Amanda does is draw sunsets. She’s also a regular at Anime Expo in Los Angeles (a.k.a. AX), preparing cute stickers, prints, and booklets of her works.

She’s just as good at drawing creatures and characters as she is with her landscapes.

“Fave weirdo dittos while I wait for tea 😬”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2017
“stuff from twit”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“⚔I loved DS3!!⚔ I’ll have this as a print at AX2016 at table F24 ((( : (more sword emojis)”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016

Besides an affection for Dark Souls, I also sense a mild fascination with pumpkins.

“My sister invited me over to check out her pumpkin patch and it was all the cute it could be 🎃”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“have a fun weekend! 👻”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

There’s always something different on Amanda’s Twitter, sometimes even her Tumblr. Give her a follow to see what catches her eyes next.

For me, I’ll always return to rest my eyes on her skies.

“☔”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“still really liking this palette! happy friday to you all!” a.k.a. “more twitter stuff from earlier! pppeace ☄”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2014
“| ´ `)ノ”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“Small post-vacation warm up.”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“Finishing up stuff for conventions, so I’d thought draw for me a bit. \o/ 🌙”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015
“have a good week! ✨ 😷”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2016
“🏰”, Amanda ‘Merrigo’, 2015

It’s the last post of the year, so I’ll make the outro short. Happy 2018, don’t drink too much, make all your dreams come true!
—Retro

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This article was brought to you by patrons including Reuben Thiessen, Qinapses, Magnus Adamsson, Jeff Chang, … (dot dot dot), CarbonBond, Robert ‘Pande’ Kapfenberger, and Lou Bagel. Thanks, patrons!

Retronator Magazine

Pixel Art, Gaming & Saturated Colors

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