Let me see if I can be of some assistance.
The big thing that seems to be lacking here is transitioning- you’re changing the values, but not really doing much with changing up the hue or saturation as you make things lighter or darker, which tends to deaden the colors you put down. Without even getting into the pertinent facts of the scene (ie: the color, the type, the intensity, the diffuseness of the light hitting the object, etc.), just more or less arbitrarily forcing a temperature (which I’m defining here as a shift in hue within a range of a single color, ie: a cyan blue vs a purplish blue, or a yellowish orange vs a reddish orange) and/or saturation shift by adjusting the hue up or down from the base color with your lights and darks is enough to punch up your palette.
Let me show you what I mean, explaining it in convenient Photoshop terms (and some handy dandy quickly painted blue balls)- by adjusting the hue and the saturation as you go, you can get much more vibrant coloration without a ton of effort.
Adjusting the hue is probably going to get you more immediate impact in terms of punching something up in the short term, but it’s worth exploring what you can get from saturation transitions as well.
(Slight aside: For example, I did some studies awhile back where I used a single color and just adjusted the saturation and value to see how much I could wring out of a color. Using the fact that against a saturated color, a desaturated version of that color will appear as that color’s compliment, it’s possible to make a grey sky and sea appear blue, or a grey tree and field appear green:
Which may seem like a stupid art parlor trick, but it actually does come in more handy than you’d think- not a terrible exercise to try if you’re trying to expand your bag of color tricks. A lot of people make the mistake of making things consistently grayed out or consistently very saturated, and end up with flat or visually chaotic results.)
Now, I took a quick pass at applying the hue transition idea to one of your dudes here, putting more cyan into the highlights and more purple into the shadows on the blue parts, and putting more red into the darker midtones of the beige underbelly. (As well as knocking down the emphasis on those pesky details in order to reinforce the broader cylindrical form of the body, but I’m trying to limit myself to talking mostly about color here. Also chucked in a rim light because it’s a hella cheap way to get some impact.) I also picked an area where I wanted that contrast to be highest, near the head, rather than applying the colors equally everywhere- this is to drive the viewer’s attention more easily to the most important bits. The result is it starts looking a bit more alive and solid already, even if the rendering here is pretty rough.
Via Kevin O’Neill once again.
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