Explore a neutral color palette in your art journal

Join me at the art table as we explore how to use a neutral color palette while painting a whimsical imaginary character in our art journals.

If you’ve seen my art, you know that I LOVE color — blues, pinks, oranges, bright greens — bring them on, please! But what you probably don’t know is that I absolutely love seeing artists who paint with a lot of white and with neutrals — there’s something so very striking about their art. I’ve never been able to successfully paint with a neutral color palette, though. Until last month, that is.

I came across the neutrally undone challenge on Instagram, hosted by Tina Hois Art and Nesko Valsky, and I immediately fell in love with the concept. They had two I AM prompts per week, which for me was an immediate YES. I’m a big fan of I AM statements — in fact, I have an e-course called Inner You, where we explore the power of our I AM statements, work with our inner healer, and create a gorgeous I AM portrait. The course has had some amazing feedback from students; you should totally check it out!

Anyway, coming back to the challenge — the hosts had also put together a neutral color palette and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could create art that I like using that palette. Plus it took the pressure off me to come up with a pleasing neutral palette — that’s a win, especially when you’re trying something new, something that is completely out of your comfort zone!

I knew that the challenge would challenge me (ha!), but what I didn’t anticipate was that I would fall in love with that neutral color palette. Their suggested palette was black, white, brown, burnt sienna, gray, raw umber, titanium white, and yellow oxide. I didn’t have a few of the colors, so I used what I had, which was raw sienna instead of burnt sienna, burnt umber instead of raw umber and yellow ochre instead of yellow oxide.

So — are you ready to give these neutrals a try? I hope you are, because I have not just one, but four, or maybe five, tutorials coming your way! By the end of this series, I’m pretty sure that if you don’t fall in love with neutrals, you won’t be intimidated by them, either.

Let’s get started!

Paint an imaginary whimsical character in your art journal

For today’s lesson, we’re going to paint a whimsical imaginary character, what I call a woodland sprite, in our art journals.

Here’s the video lesson; you’ll find a step-by-step demo + supply list below.

Loved this neutral color palette? Then you will enjoy these tutorials too!

Using a neutral color palette in your art journal: supply list

I used this Mixed media paper, but you could totally do this in your art journal too. This one is my favorite.

White gesso

Acrylic paints in your chosen neutral palette. I used the following:

Pebeo paints: Payne’s grey, Raw sienna, Titanium Buff, Yellow ochre

Camel paints: Black, Burnt umber

Baked Earth Derwent Intense pencil

Princeton Catalyst mini blade no. 01

Paintbrushes in different sizes

White paint pen (I used a white Sharpie)

Black pen (I used Schneider Xpress)


Note: All of these links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you’re an India-based artist, I highly recommend ArtLounge — I get most of my art supplies from them, going to Amazon only for the few brands that they do not stock. Use the coupon code SHINJINIM at checkout to get a sweet discount.

Paint a whimsical character with me: Step-by-step demo

Step-by-step imaginary character drawing

Step 1: Put down some of your neutral colors in the background. I’m using Payne’s Grey mixed with white, burnt umber, raw sienna mixed with white and some yellow ochre.

Step 2: Draw a whimsical imaginary character. I decided to draw a whimsical owl with humanoid features — particularly the eyes. You can see me build out the character in the series of 3 images above.

Step-by-step painting an imaginary character

Step 3: Start painting your whimsical imaginary character. I hope you’re experimenting with a neutral color palette with me, and not being naughty and reaching for your favorite colors! I used raw sienna in the owl’s crown area and its body.

Step 4: Add some shading in the body — I used titanium white.

Step 5: Add a bit of shading in the face. Since my pages are quite small, I’m keeping the shading rather minimal.

Step 6: Paint the owl’s wing. I used white mixed with raw sienna. It was too pale for me, so I added a little more raw sienna to warm it up.

Using a neutral colour palette in your art journal to paint a whimsical imaginary character

Step 7: Add some shading around the wing (between the wing and your imaginary character’s body).

Step 8: I edited the shape of my imaginary character by adding some burnt sienna to change the shape of the wing. I also rounded out the whimsical character’s body by adding some raw sienna.

Step 9: Let’s work on your imaginary character’s face now. I used a pen to draw out her eyes. I also used a Baked Earth inktense pencil mixed with white to smoothen out the owl’s face.

Step 10: Now we pop our whimsical imaginary character off the page. I did this by adding white gesso in the background. I alternated between a catalyst mini blade for some texture and a paintbrush to make the white smoother.

How to paint a whimsical imaginary character in your art journal using a neutral color palette

Step 11: I also added some asemic writing using a simple mechanical pencil. I pushed some of the pencil marks back with more paint.

Step 12: And now, to give our imaginary character even more, well, character! I decided to give her some delicate horns. Doesn’t she look gorgeous?

Step 13: Add some finishing details — I used a white sharpie to add some dots around the whimsical imaginary owl’s body. I also used a white gel pen to highlight her eyes.

Step 14: As a final step, add some black paint splatters on the background.

Step 15: If you want to add an I AM statement to your page, you can either write it or print out the words and stick them down. I decided to cut out the words from an old book, found a good spot for them, and glued it down.

Paint a whimsical imaginary character in your art journal using a neutral color palette. Whimsical painting. Fantasy art.

And viola! We have a gorgeous whimsical imaginary character in our art journals!

I hope you enjoyed this lesson! If you enjoyed painting this little owl-deer-humanoid imaginary character, maybe you’d like to try your hand at painting an abstracted owl too? If you’d like to explore a neutral color palette further, subscribe to my YouTube channel — I have a series of videos from this I AM journal coming out over the next few weeks. I’m sure you will learn something new with each session — I know I did!

If you give this a try, please tag me on Instagram at moderngypsy.in — I’d love to see what you create!

More art journaling inspiration

If you’re looking for more inspiration, take a look at all of my art tutorials or join me for the Inner You e-course to learn how to use I AM statements.

Want to up your art journal game? Then join me for Book of Days 2022, a collaborative e-course that will take you on a deep dive into mixed media art journaling. In this year-long course, we will focus on all the ways that working with journal art can enrich and enhance our lives. The course is suitable for everyone from beginners to advanced artists, and will help you to create and maintain a practice of meeting yourself on the page.

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I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?

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