A Marvelous Murder: Crow Painting & Color Theory

Over the years, I stopped using ink lines as much as I used to; black lines really weigh down an image and kill the vibrancy of colors, and color is very important in creating that feeling of bewilderment I feel when I spot a beauty in real life that I want to share with you through art. So, I’m forever searching for new ways to use all my favourite mediums and techniques that don’t conflict with each other and maximize such effects.

inktober cyborgs ink drawings ripe grapes robot hand
5″x5″ ink drawing on hand-torn bristol paper, part of the Inktober Cyborgs book made for Inktober 2019. A robot hand handling ripe grapes.
Art prints available.

When I did Inktober this past year, one of my last, rushed drawings inspired a new set of colors. I wondered why they are so appealing together, as well realized I can mix ink together for custom colors in line work. You may notice in some of my previous art that I use complementary or analogous colors sometimes to outline a shape instead of black. That’s only with watercolor, since I used to not have the confidence to do linework with ink or acrylic – there is no way to remove either once you mess up.

My friend suggested I paint a particular photo of ravens sitting on a log. I absolutely loved the poses! They are all in a neat row, facing profile, each with a different curious expression. Corvids are one of my favorite birds. They are highly intelligent and have demonstrated the capacity to remember faces, planning and problem solving in their imagination, and some have excellent language mimicry. Also, I kind of identify with their intimidating gothic appearance and general association to supernatural bad omens. Did you know a group of crows is called a murder?

The Warm & Cool Color Scheme:
Color Theory

This is a great opportunity to try out this color scheme. After completing the painting and thinking about it, I think the reason it works is because of saturation contrast and a relationship between warm & cool. This is a bit advanced for me…I usually stick to one method of combining colors, so it is exciting to use two or three methods of color theory.

I decided to try use black to purposely mute colors, but limited it only to things that were black. These isolating colors in groups also created distinct shapes, and left a lot of room for detail without the image feeling busy. One challenge I’m working on is different ways to paint grass and plants without cluttering the image, and I feel like this worked particularly well. The downside of this technique is it unfortunately takes forever…

Cool, Muted Colors

  • Slate blue
  • Dark violet
  • Brick red and brown
  • Black Lavender

Warm, Vibrant Colors

  • Lime green
  • Dark grass green
  • Orange
  • Red added green for shadows


The Painting – A Murder of Crows with Lupins

Murder of Crows with Lupin,crow watercolor painting by Karolina Szablewska
15″x19.5″ watercolor and ink on academia mixed media paper, 2020. Original artwork available for sale.

What would I improve in this painting?

Although I’m pretty happy with the result, I feel like I made the blues too saturated. They should have been a lot more muted, like I wanted them to be. The whole painting feels fairly saturated overall. I may have changed the placement of some of the plants. I would also like to find a pigment, different medium, or method to apply certain colors in the painting so I don’t have to apply 3, 4, 5 layers.

One of the reasons this color scheme works so well is also because the human eye is most attuned to seeing contrast between black and yellow. In future paintings, I’m going to experiment with different color sets (this one feels a little like a cheat code because of that). I plan to make more paintings with this color scheme of other dark colored animals – wolves, snakes, other black birds, eagles, etc.

Thank you for the great response and compliments on this painting on social media! It reaffirms I’m going in a good direction here.

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Crow art prints are available.

Watercolor painting original is available.

crow art prints, raven watercolor painting by Karolina Szablewska

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