10 color keys I love, and why

Look dev / lighting artist Luis “MainBrain Art” Varón shares 10 images with an amazing color key and explains what makes them successful…

Luis' ArtStation


I love looking at Illustrations from artists; I call color keys any image that has a strong lighting purpose in it, to be able to see a story through the lighting of the image. This inspires me to try new lighting approaches in my scenes as a lighting artist. I have a ton of images from many artists that I follow, so choosing 10 was quite the challenge. These are my thoughts for each image, I hope you like the way I break down these to show why I love each one.

Grump Fish by Sam Yang

When you see this image you can tell what it is about. The composition and the lighting drives you to the grumpy fish; the balance of purples, reds, and yellows are beautiful. The image has a strong top magenta color, and it’s balanced with some stronger yellows below, besides the darks on the right-part of the image that helps to focus more on the fish.

fish woman pop art 2d illustration digital art

The Queen’s Gambit by Hyuna lee

In this image, I love how the light guides you to the character. The big warm bloom in the background guides your eyes to the character, and her look to the chessboard. Those warm colors get balanced with some greens and blues; you can see how the white and black chess pieces get those cooler colors.

the queen's gambit fanart 2d digital art illustration

Void vs Violet by Erik Smith

This one is from the Color Script from “The Incredibles 2.” I love this one because it’s a scene where you have on one side the Hero with her power glowing, the shot is brighter, the light is stronger on her – it’s the hero! And on the other side, you have the villain, it’s the same environment, but it’s darker, with more contrast. Those darks give the villain more mysterious vibes. You don’t need full detail in the environment or characters to know what is happening, or who the characters are.

the incredible disney rough draft illustration

Trolley by Chelsea Blecha

In this one, I just love how the warm light hits the character. The trolley is so warm that you can tell that she is going to enter, the warm light is inviting the character to get in. The opposite happens on the outside, the atmosphere is cold, desaturated, without life. It’s a very nice piece.

warm lighting female character train 2d illustration art

Gjeds Bargain by Andrew Porter

This one treats the reds as a warning, you can tell that something bad is happening there, and besides this, the artist balances those reds with some greenish, blueish cold colors, and even those colors help the image to give out dangerous vibes. The composition helps to locate the character, and on top of this, the casting spell gives the character some rim lights to help separate him from the background.

warmer colours reds cityscape 2d illustration digital art

Lunchtime Together by Iris Muddy

Talking about reds, in this, the reds are giving a warm scene. The food, the characters, the red tea is lovely. You can tell they are enjoying the meal, and the artist balances those reds with blues. You can see what the story is and the whole picture because of the composition, the light and shapes guide you to the grandma, then to the kid eating, then the food, and lastly the kid on the floor.

lunchtime meal eating red tea digital art 2d

Serenity by Joan Wirolingoo

Blues… oh how I love the blue color, this image is one of my favorites, look how many blue tones are in there, and it doesn’t look oversaturated. The artist gives the character a red tone, that way it breaks the blue tones perfectly. Besides this, the fish are pointing to the character so it helps more to the character to get noticed.

woman fish tank blues colour scheme digital art

Teleporter Chick by Misha Oplev

This is one of the color scripts from the Valorant Cinematic. So much action is happening in a single frame, I love this shot. The first light that gets to the eye is the knocked guy from the left, then the girl in the door followed by the character at the bar counter, and lastly the shady guys on the right. Again reds against blues, and some rim light to the character to separate from the background. Composition and lighting to tell a story in a single image.

teleporter female character design fantasy sci-fi art

Master’s Garden by Raymond Zibach

“Kung Fu Panda!” Well, this shot is so nice, you can see the cold colors in the environment, the big statue in the center and the contrast on it, look how majestic the statue looks, and the warm lights from the floor helps to give that kind of vibe. On top of that, the warm light guides our eyes to the character and the action that is happening.

kung fu panda blues night colour scheme 2d

Alibaba by Thibaud Pourplanche

I love this one so much, it has everything; a good composition, and the color wheel is so good, the big yellow lights on the ceiling helps to center the image, and from there you can see the big guy, the fish, the little guy, and the one in the background. The reds on the right and cold color on the left of the image. And lastly, the quality of the image is so good, the expressions of the characters helps a lot to tell the action of the shot.

composition colour wheel fish alligator chef 2d

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