Introduction: Painting a Reduced-Color Indigo/Violet Landscape

About: My name is Kayli and I am a self-taught artist! I enjoy coming up with my own styles and techniques that give some uniqueness to my work.

Painting can be a fun yet challenging activity. How can you get the proportions right? How do you get the perfect color when mixing paints? How can you create a successful contrast? In this Instructable, I am going to answer these questions in details. Hopefully by the end of this tutorial, you will be able to create an original, aesthetically-pleasing piece of art that you can use as a foundation to work your way up to more complex pieces.

For this project, I created pop art where you reduce the colors to create a simpler yet artistic and unique piece of art. This painting does not require any blending or requirements to make it look 100% realistic... it's just like a color-by-number that you create yourself!

I am going to separate this project into steps. The first three steps will be on how to create your reference photo on a computer, choosing the level of difficulty and arrangement of colors. For this project, I used indigos and violets! The next four steps will be about drawing the photo you have chosen, and the last two steps will finally be painting your piece of art! Use this tutorial as a walk-through of how to create a colorful painting and as a place to find helpful tips and tricks!

I hope that you enjoy the painting journey I will be taking you on as I create my own reduced-color pop art indigo and violet painting!


  • Canvas board (one that would fit your reference photo)
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes (I just used 2 sizes – 1 large flat brush & 1 small flat brush)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil & eraser
  • Reference photo
  • Computer
  • Painting palette knife (for mixing)
  • Palette

Step 1: Choose Your Reference Photo

This step was actually difficult for me because I found so many potential candidates for my painting! For this first step, look through your photo library, create an album, and drag all of the photos that catch your eye into that album. Especially look for photos that would be fun to paint and that have the correct difficulty level for your project. A photo with more detailed and textured elements will be more difficult while photos with smoother and more simplistic elements will be easier.

When looking for a reference photo, it’s important to keep in mind contrast. If you look at my photo, there are both very dark colors and very light colors. In my opinion, contrast is what drives the aesthetics of a painting because it smoothly and fluidly leads your eyes around the entirety of the painting.

Make sure to chose several photos! (I found around 80 photos, which explains why this was so difficult for me! I do not recommend THAT many, haha!) When you put photos through the programs in the next couple steps, your photos may look much different that what you expected them to look like. This could be either bad or good, but just make sure you have many options!

My first reasoning for the photo I chose was that this photo is actually reversible! When I took this photo (in Colorado if you were curious), the water was so still that it imitated the sky and mountains almost perfectly. So, you can flip this photo upside down and it will look like a different photo! Another reason I chose this photo was because of the lighting contrast and amount of colors. You can see that this photo has some yellows, blues, and indigos, and different spectrums of colors translate very nicely when they go through the editor. I also chose this photo because I loved how everything smoothly melded together. The sky shows a very intriguing gradient and the mountains separate that in the middle.

Once you have several options for a reference photo, you can continue to the next step!

Step 2: Reduce the Colors of Your Photo

This next step involves reducing the colors in your photo. Head over to the website “” or another photo editing app or website with a reduced color effect. On the upper bar, chose the tab “Show All,” scroll a little bit down, and find the effect that says “Reduce Colors.” This effect has a tomato as its photo. Click on that and click “Choose File” to insert a photo. I found it easy to create an album on my desktop so I could import a file quickly and directly from there.

Have fun experimenting with different photos! Also make sure to experiment with the “Color Count” feature. You can chose to include up to 20 colors in your photos (make sure to click “Apply” to apply the color count to your photos). Different amounts of colors look better for different photos. For my project, I chose 20 colors because you could see more details in the sky. This step is also where you are selecting the difficulty level for your project. You can choose less colors and work your way up to 20, or if you want a more detailed and challenging piece of art you can choose more colors. Take note that you will be drawing the contour lines of all these colors.

To save your photos, what I did is I just created another folder on my desktop and dragged the final products to that album.

This step is where contrast is super important. For some of my photos I chose, I noticed that the ones without much contrast between light and dark colors don’t look like much at all because you cannot see any shadows or objects that stand out.

Again, it’s important to find several photos that look good with reduced colors because you will be putting those photos through yet another program in the next step.

Why would I want to reduce colors on my project?

Reducing colors on photos is first of all a great way to work your way up as a skilled painter. I taught myself this trick, and I went from painting pictures with literally two colors (black and white) to not even having to reduce the colors and being able to paint realistic photos through methods of blending and shading. Second of all, I feel that reduced-color paintings give artwork a pop art look, where the further away you stand from the painting, the more it looks like a normal painting without any effect. Reducing the colors showcases the main colors and is almost like a DIY color-by-number!

Once you have some photos that you have reduced the colors to an adequate color count (and ones that you think look good with reduced colors), you may continue to the next step!

Step 3: Change the Colors of Your Photo

In this step, you will be choosing what color your paint will be! If you already like the colors in your reduced-color photo, you may skip this step. The photo I chose looked kind of colorless and boring, so I wanted to change the colors so it could become more vibrant.

This time, take your photos over to and click “Get Started.” Choose “Edit a Photo” and drag a photo that you have edited and saved from the previous website. In the “Edit” category, click on “Color.” You can now change the hue, saturation, and temperature of your photo! I actually had to put my photo through this program twice because I wanted to further increase the difference between the pinks, indigos, and violets in my photo.

Some photos may look good with different shades of one color, but having different colors creates a more aesthetically-pleasing color palette and a more beautiful contrast. I made sure that the darker colors were more purple and blue while the lighter colors were pinker. Keep playing around with colors, possibly putting your photo in the program a couple times, until you achieve the optimal color choices for your own taste.

Put all your previously edited photos through this website and find which one you like the most with certain colors! Keep in mind that these will be the colors that you will be mixing. I ended up with 6 final photos to choose from, so I opened them all up on my screen to compare them side-by-side to find the winner.

When you have finally chosen the photo you will be painting, it’s time to start drawing your contour lines!

Step 4: Begin Drawing

There are two options for the next step! One is the ruler technique where you bring up your reference photo to scale with your canvas and measure reference points on your computer and translate that onto your canvas. The other is the grid technique where you put a grid on your reference photo, draw that grid to the same scale on your canvas, and draw the contour lines from there for the purpose of being able to see smaller details in the grid squares. The grid technique is probably easier and takes less time, however I did the ruler technique because my brain just works better that way. Choose which method you would like to do, and I’ll explain both ways in the next two steps!

But first, make sure that your reference photo is the same exact size as your canvas board. My canvas board was 14x18”. I found the ratio of its size by dividing the width of 14 by the length of 18 (14/18 = 0.7778). I then determined whether my reference photo was too long or too wide for the canvas. It turned out it was too long, so I used the width measurement as a non-changing baseline. To take the measurements of your reference photo, double click on your photo (which should take you to Preview for Mac users), click and drag the coordinate square around your entire photo, and crop until your width to length ratio replicates your canvas board’s (for me that was 0.7778) by dividing the width by the length. I included a screenshot of my computer screen with the fixed proportions!

Step 5: Begin Drawing – Method #1 (Ruler)

The ruler technique does require some patience and time, however the challenge can help you grow as an artist! This is the technique I did, so I included some pictures in this step.

First, you need to zoom in on your reference picture on your computer to scale with your canvas board. This can be pretty touchy. Since your photo is already the same ratio of dimensions as your canvas, you only have to pay attention to the shortest side! Zoom in to a size you think is right and go from there. Your computer screen may be too small for your canvas size. My window was 15 centimeters, so since the width of my board was 35.56 centimeters, I had to do two window lengths then measure the last 5.56 cm. It took a couple tries, but I measured the first 15 cm, scrolled down on the image by looking at where that first 15 cm ended with a reference point, measured the second 15 centimeters, scrolled down, and measured 5.56 cm. You’ll have to carefully zoom in or out and keep measuring to get the correct measurement. Make sure to keep this window open during your drawing time – you don’t want to close out of the zoom! I included a photo that shows how zoomed-in my photo looks on my screen. The bigger the canvas, the more details you will be able to get in!

Once you’ve gotten your reference photo to scale, the rest is smooth sailing. So, here you are basically getting the x- and y-axis coordinates for different points. Find the first part you want to draw and measure with your ruler the vertical and horizontal measurements. Replicate that on your canvas board by drawing the lines you are copying over. It’s easiest to start in the upper left corner because your palm won’t smudge your work and it will give you a good starting point. You don’t have to measure every single element – I just measured major parts of the photo so that I stayed on track.

Step 6: Begin Drawing – Method #2 (Grid)

For this technique, go to Click start, choose the photo you have chosen, and skip to “Grid.” Make the color of the grid something that contrasts with the majority of your colors and make the grid thin so it’s not covering up anything. I chose white and 1 pixel. Then, choose the size that you want your grid to be. The more boxes wide it is, the easier it will be to draw the contour lines. Feel free to challenge yourself! My grid is 10 boxes wide (I included a photo of it). You may want to grid according to your photo as well, like if there is a certain element that you want or do not want to separate. Download your final grid, and you are ready for drawing.

Now you will be drawing your grid! As you may see on your reference grid, there is one side of the photo that has complete squares and one side probably will have one row of partial squares. For me, the length had the complete squares. Take a ruler and measure the length of your canvas. I like to use centimeters because of the smaller increments. Since my grid is 10 boxes wide, I took my length of 45.72 cm and divided it by 10 to get 4.572 cm (I will just use my numbers as a reference, but make sure to use your own numbers). Put your ruler against the length of your canvas again and mark it at every 4.572 cm. I don’t pick my ruler up and keep measuring 4.572 cm; I like to add 4.572 to every previous measurement (so put a mark at 9.144, 13.716, and so on) so that the measurements are much more accurate and you will be left with perfect squares. Do the same measurement for the opposite length. Then, draw the straight grid lines connecting either side of the markings using the straight edge of your ruler. For the width, you will be measuring the same measurement of 4.572 cm, but make sure you draw the partial row of grid squares where it is on the reference grid. For me, the upper row had partial squares, so I began my 4.572 cm measurement at the bottom. Again, do the same thing at the opposite side of the board and connect the lines. Your grid should look exactly like your reference grid!

Once the grid has been drawn, you may begin drawing the contour lines of your photo! The purpose of the grid lines is to have small pictures within the bigger picture so that it’s much easier to get the proportions and details right. When drawing the details in each grid square, I recommend consecutively drawing squares that are right next to each other so that you can connect the contour lines. It’s important to be cognizant of what you are drawing so that all of the contour lines are continuous of one another.

Unless they will confuse you, you don’t have to erase the grid lines because the paint will cover them up!

Step 7: Drawing the Lines

Make sure you are drawing the contours of each and every color to save you time and confusion during the painting process. It’s better to get the hard part out of the way before you can have fun with painting!

It’s also okay to just draw without any measuring, however for me it’s hard with all the contours to get everything as perfect as I want to get it.

When you think you're finished, step back and look at the final product. Make sure everything is connecting as it should and compare your contour lines with your reference photo. Hopefully you can see your reference photo in your contour lines!

Your drawing is finally done! Now it’s time for the fun part!

Step 8: Begin Painting – Mixing Paints

I will separate the painting process into two steps for organization sakes. This step will be about mixing paints and the next step will be about the painting itself!

Note: I used acrylic paint because it looks matte and mixes nicely.

Sometimes you get lucky and have the exact paint you need for a color in your painting, but most of the times you need to create your own color! Keep in mind that for this project, it doesn’t matter as much as other projects to mix the exact same paint as you see on your reference photo. In fact, I changed a couple colors to more bluish or more reddish just because I liked them better.

Mixing paints can be kind of a struggle at first, but once you get the eye for it, it becomes pretty simple! The larger paint selection you have, the easier mixing is.

I will now give some tips about questions that may come up when mixing paints. A lot of these things came up when I was mixing, so hopefully they will help you out!

What are the basics of mixing? Where do I start?

I begin by looking at a certain color in my reference photo and thinking about the elements it has. I started with the mountains, so I will explain the mixing for that part of the painting. I keep a color spectrum in my head and I think to myself, “These mountains are mostly purple, but not perfectly purple. Are they more blue or more red?” since blue and red and the colors right next to purple in the spectrum. The mountains are more bluish-purple, so I put purple and a smaller amount of blue on my palette. I like to mix those two first before seeing if they need any other colors. In this case, purple and blue created the perfect color, however the color needed to be a bit darker. I added some black then mixed again. You can always add more of any color if the color starts leaning in a certain way. The 5th and 6th photos in my photo series for this step show this part of the painting.

How do I use white?

A lot of my colors were lighter and looked like they required white, however you want to use white as little as possible. White makes colors less vibrant and more pastel, so unless you want a more pastel palette, I suggest using lighter colors along with white. Using lighter colors instead of white keeps the integrity and vibrancy of the colors in your palette. I have a color called “light portrait pink” that I used a lot with the lighter colors – even with the blue believe it or not!

That being said, white is still probably one of the most useful paints as long as you don’t overuse it. It helps bring across the contrast of the painting and creates softer and, in some cases, brighter colors.

How do I use black?

I have always noticed that a small amount of black goes a long way! You may put in the amount of black that you think you need, but once you mix it in, all of a sudden your color is basically entirely black! So my tip is to use less than you think – you can always add more. Also, some colors that you mix may be darker than you think. For example, when I mixed just blue and purple, the resulting color was much darker than you would expect! So, I always try to mix black last.

Like white, black is a very important paint because of the contrasts it helps create, however you should resort to using actual colors first to keep their integrity. Black can make colors get lost and your color may not turn out how you want it. This is another reason why it’s important to use very small amounts of black!

How about using both black and white?

It’s easy to think that you should just add white if you accidentally add too much black. This is not true, however! Mixing black and white together creates grey, so this will just make your color more grey. So unless you want a more grey version of your color, you should instead just add more of the colors that you originally had.

How can I tell every single place a certain color is?

During this project I noticed something very weird. There were optical illusions of color! The surrounding colors of certain colors on my reference photo made those certain colors look different in different places – even if it was the same color! I did find a way to overcome this, however. Just take a screenshot of the original color and the color in question and compare the two side-by-side. For Mac users, press the keys “Command + Shift + 4,” then click and drag to make a box around your colors. For PC users, I believe the command is “Windows key + Shift + S” and you click and drag a square around your color. These screenshots don’t have to be big – you can screenshot the smallest of colors! These screenshots should go to your desktop, so just double click on those screenshots and compare them on top of one another to see if their colors match. This part is the beauty of this project – since the colors are reduced, it’s easy to use one color at a time by checking around the photo to see where that color recurs.

I added 3 photos at the end of my photo series for this step to elaborate on these screenshots.

This being said, it was easy to not notice some colors. I recommend starting with the darkest color and ending with the lightest so that your focus is always on one lightness of color.

I mixed too much paint! How can I avoid wasting paint?

When you are mixing paints, it’s easy to get carried away and mix much more paint than you will need because you’re trying to get the perfect color. This definitely happened to me! There are two ways around this. When you are mixing a color and you realize that you need more of another color, try putting a smaller amount of that mixed color onto a different part of your palette so you only have to mix a smaller amount of new color. If you keep adding colors to a mixture, you will have to add higher amounts of colors to change the color!

Another way to save on paint is to reuse previous mixtures. My painting was fortunately a theme of colors on one part of the color spectrum, so I could easily just add some purple, blue, red, white, etc. to any old color to make it into a whole new color! For example, if you look at the pinks in my reference photo, you can see that they are all basically just different shades of the same color. I did need to add some more red or more purple every now and then just so all the colors looked different, but this was a great way to not waste paint.

Acrylic paint starts to harden within some time, so make sure to cover up your paint palette when you’re not using it with either plastic wrap or a palette cover. Mixing around the paint every now and then doesn’t hurt either. Also, make sure your mixtures are more concentrated rather than spread out because larger surface areas of paints dry out more quickly. That being said, I’ve gotta say that it’s pretty satisfying to peel off dried-up acrylic paint from plastic.

To elaborate, the first 4 photos in my photo series for this step show this process. I needed a light pinkish-purple color for a lighter part in the sky. First, I took some old purple paint that I was done using and put it on a separate part of the palette. I wanted a lighter and more pink color, so I added light pink and white then mixed it to get what I wanted. Then, when I was done with that color, I saw that I needed an even lighter version of the pink I had. I simply added some white, mixed it, and began painting again!

When I mix my paints it looks perfect, however when I paint that mixture on my board, it doesn’t look like it should!

This happens to me a lot for some reason! I’m not sure why it happens – I theorize that the colors surrounding your new color may create an optical illusion that makes that color lighter or darker or more blue or red. But if this happens, you just have to go off of how the paint looks on your canvas instead of how the mixture looks on the palette. Add whatever colors you need – if it looks too dark on your painting, add lighter colors or white. If it looks too light on your painting, add darker colors or black. If it’s too red, add some more blue. It’s more of a trial and error thing when this kind of thing comes up! The good thing about acrylic paint is that you can easily cover up past mistakes.

Those are only a few things that may come up when you’re mixing paints. If you have any other questions, please feel free to let me know! In the next step, I will be talking about actually painting!

Step 9: Begin Painting – Layering & Clean Lines

FINALLY you can begin painting! Your hard work will pay off! Once you have mixed your colors, painting is pretty easy – just color inside the lines like a color-by-number! There is some advice that I would like to give you however. Like the last step about mixing, I am going to format this step in a series of questions in case you would like to learn more about certain things than others.

How do I know which brushes to use?

There are so many brushes out there – round, mop, fan, angle, bright… you name it. I’m really not a big fan of using different brushes for different parts of my paintings; it’s just too much to think about when I want to be mindlessly painting in my own little world! So for this painting (and most of the paintings I do), I only used 2 flat brushes – one large one and one small one. The large brush is for bigger areas in the painting that would just take longer if you were to use a smaller brush (and larger brushes will help smooth out the paint). The small brush is for smaller details and dots that are more difficult for the large brush to cover.

However, for a lot of my other paintings I do like using round brushes with very small amounts of bristles. I use these for very detailed work that require precision and extremely small amounts of paint. I didn’t use this kind of brush here because there weren’t too many intricate details that required precision. This all really depends on what you are painting!

Do I need to layer paint?

You most likely will need to do a couple layers. Some paints are more thin and see-through than others for some reason. For this type of artwork, you don’t want anything to be patchy; you want everything to be on pretty thick. For the most part, I only needed two layers for each color. Make sure to not miss the edges of your colors – details can be easy to miss but these edges will not look as good if the paint isn’t on thick.

Also, sometimes under certain lighting or certain angles, your paint may look more thick than it actually is. This definitely happened to me – I would think I’m finished with a color until I look at that color at a different angle and realize it looks patchy. It’s easier to miss some spots with lighter paints since the canvas itself is white, so just be cognizant of this!

How do I make clean lines and avoid blending?

Before beginning a new color, make sure your previous color is dry. Acrylic paint dries pretty fast, so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. To make clean lines, make sure you are consistently painting exactly in the lines you draw. Have a careful hand and be patient with painting all these details because these clean lines add up to a successful product! Again, be sure these details are not patchy and add multiple layers of paint if needed. Always clean your brush off on a scrap piece of paper before starting a new color so colors do not blend.

Make sure the bristles of your paint brush are straight and not flaring out; if there’s a loose bristle it can get paint in places you don’t want it on and your project may look messy. If I get a loose bristle, I just use my fingers to press together the bristles. They will stay together if there is already some paint on your brush due to the drying properties of acrylic paint.

Since acrylic paint dries after a while, the paint in your brush will dry. The drying paint accumulates, then your brush becomes thicker than you would want it to be. This causes lines to not be as clean and details to be thicker than you want them to be. To overcome this, I use a scrap piece of paper to clean off my brush every now and then to take off the drying paint. If accumulation happens, I just take my fingers and pinch off the excess paint. Your fingers get very colorful pretty quickly, but it looks kind of cool!

What do I do with the edges of my canvas board?

It’s important to also paint the edges of your board so that your painting looks continuous and there aren’t messy white edges around the border (your painting will be seen at different angles). All I do when painting canvas edges is continue the same lines that I left off with. I added a couple photos in this series to further explain this (the first two photos). You’re basically just elongating and stretching out the ends of the contours. I don’t add to the painting (you don’t have to draw your contour lines on the edges) – I just stretch everything out.

How do I clean off my brush? Do I need water?

I only use water to clean off my brush when I’m done using it for a while to avoid paint drying on it and staining. When I’m in the middle of painting however, I never use water because it thins out paint and it tends to flare out and damage the bristles. So, to get the paint off my brush for the purpose of avoiding accumulation and getting ready for a new color, I use a scrap piece of paper to clear off the paint on my brush (that piece of paper ends up looking like a separate abstract painting after a while!). I also further use my fingers to pinch off paint. Fingers are more effective because they don’t mess up your bristles as much and they clear off more paint than the paper does. Acrylic paint washes off your skin very easily with just water!

Step 10: You're Finished!

I added this step just to show the progress pictures of my painting. This way you can see where I started and the colors I chose as I progressed. I started with darker colors and worked my way down for the purpose of reusing paints and keeping a steady mindset throughout my painting.

I hope I gave you some helpful tips and tricks in this Instructable! Even if you're working on a project that isn't like this one, I made sure to add in some advice for painting as a whole! If you have any questions or comments please let me know, and I hope you enjoyed my indigo and violet reduced-color painting Instructable!

Kayli :)

Colors of the Rainbow Contest

Eighth Prize in the
Colors of the Rainbow Contest