Elliott Powell’s Art of Coloring
Elliott Powell is a freelance digital intermediate colorist based in New York. As a teenager, he started creating skateboarding videos that would ultimately inspire his career path as a colorist. He then attended Chapman University in Orange County to study film production with an emphasis in film direction at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
Little did he know, however, that he would end up as a colorist. He never chose the art of coloring; the art of coloring chose him. Once he discovered his talent during college, he never stopped doing it. He explored color in different media forms including feature films, commercials, and music videos.
“[During college] I didn’t want to be a colorist. I wanted to be a filmmaker and I had this idea that to be a filmmaker, I needed to know everything. I needed to know how to edit, direct, and film,” Powell said. “So, I learned how to color and once I got to college, I noticed no one else knew how to do it.”
Discovering this talent at an early point in his career led Powell to gain interest in honing the craft of coloring. While in college, Powell met colorist Tashi Trieu, whose latest coloring work was for the movie Avatar. Powell took his class and perfected his coloring skills by learning how to color different forms of media with the correct technique. Over time, Trieu became Powell’s mentor and friend.
Powell’s Love for Color
By perfecting his art of coloring, Powell dove much deeper into his craft throughout his career. He started noticing how much he loved doing his craft and that he never tired of it. He could spend hours and hours experimenting with color.
“I really loved it and continued doing it to the point where I realized that I could live off of this. What draws me the most to it is that it’s both creative and technical,” Powell said. “This stimulates my mind a lot. It’s simply about doing beautiful things and making things prettier. I love that and I love visual images.”
Adding beauty to the world through colors is one of Powell’s main motivations. To achieve that beauty, he understands that art is using his creativity to combine different ideas. He then merges his creativity with whatever references and inspirations he has or that are given to him by his clients to create something new.
But the creation aspect is just one element of his work. To perfect the art of coloring, he has to experiment with colors, which aren’t simple colors for him. They have a deeper meaning for him when he is coloring media forms.
“Generally, what I’m thinking about is how the image makes me feel and how I can change the colors so that it feels right. Colors are a way to transmit an emotion,” Powell said. “It’s difficult to know how color communicates feelings, but you just go experimenting and trying things. Once you do that, you find [what feelings it communicates.]”
In order for Powell to achieve that in his work, he has to sit down with his clients and have a conversation to understand what they’re looking for. For each project, he has to serve the director or producer’s vision and collaborate with them. Once they define the goals of the piece, he’s often given the freedom to do whatever he wants with the colors, because they trust his skills and art. Then, the experimentation phase starts for Powell, and he begins coloring by defining subtleties that are at first unapparent.
“The things that make a good image are the subtle ones. The smallest one. Like textures on feet or something like that,” Powell said. “They’re not things that many people can describe. I’d like to think that when people see my work and like it a lot, but can’t pinpoint why it’s because of the subtle things.”
The Influence of Color in Music Videos
Those subtleties are present in one of the works he did for Alicia Keys’s visualizers. Specifically, for the “Plentiful” visualizer, the saturated colors from her dazzling jewelry and crown are clearly visible. The details of the texture of her jewels, hair, and skin stand out. At first sight, the piece looks simple, but it has a quite complex process behind it to achieve its cinematic aesthetic. Yet, for Powell, it was quite an easy feat of artwork.
“That was the first time I was working with a guy named Dan. It was a very easy process. He said he wanted [the piece] to feel cool and I began experimenting a bit,” Powell said. “This was the perfect project to experiment with some ideas I had. I started with that first frame to get a general look and I wanted the high lights to look a bit green so that they differentiated themselves from the wall behind her, which was purple.”
Another example of his pieces where color simply jumps out of the screen is Rauw Alejandro’s music video for “Museo.” The color in this video is unforgettable. In this piece, there are no subtleties, in stark contrast to the Alicia Keys visuals. The whole video plays with a very vibrant color palette, utilizing different tones of pink, purple, blue, yellow, and white. The colors are the main character in the video—along with Rauw Alejandro, of course.
When Rauw Alejandro’s team reached out to Powell, he was given four references for the look they wanted him to achieve. One of the references was Daniel de Vue, who is one of Powell’s favorite colorists. For Powell, de Vue’s work is beautiful—with that reference, he had a very clear idea of the aesthetic Alejandro’s team was looking for.
Another reference was U.S. realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper. Some of his paintings were mentioned to Powell as inspiration for “Museo." Given that context, Powell rapidly understood the assignment and was very happy that it was already very similar to his own creative vision.
“It’s one of my favorite color grids of all time. I already knew, more or less, how to do it because it’s the type of thing that I really love to do,” Powell said. “I always wanted to do something like that. It was a very fast process. I spent 45 minutes experimenting and sent them some stills I made. They liked it and then I did the rest of the video. It was very easy because it was filmed very well, which always makes my job easier.”
That’s why it’s one of the pieces that he’s most proud of. Playing with colors was allowed throughout the process, enhancing his work. He set the goal of making the video feel as if it contained a wide array of different colors. To achieve that, Powell created his usual aesthetic, with very saturated—but not brilliant—colors. They’re dense and intense. It works well because it immediately draws the viewer in. He accomplished the visual feeling of a museum that the song uses as a concept for its title—and viewers can’t possibly look away.
“I loved that the video felt like a painting. There’s a scene that’s on a wall like a painting. I just wanted the video to feel like a painting. That’s why I wanted so much color, variety, and complexity because it looks like a painting. The video has that complexity and I was trying to evoke the same [complexity of a painting].”
The complexity behind Rauw Alejandro’s “Museo” video is a clear example of the art of coloring that Powell has crafted over the past five years of his career. He feels very fortunate to have a career where he understands the power that color has to convey particular feelings to the audience, and to add beauty to life by working on pieces where he transports viewers to another world.
“The art of coloring is using color to augment a feeling and communicate it in the best way possible in a visual manner,” Powell said. “For me it’s about creating for the sake of it. To only have fun, create beautiful things, and bring more beauty to the world.”
To learn more about Powell’s art of coloring, follow him on Instagram at @colorbyelliott.
©ArtRKL™️ LLC 2021-2023. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. ArtRKL™️ and its underscore design indicate trademarks of ArtRKL™️ LLC and its subsidiaries.