After the feedback from Monday I've been working on trying to put together an image that describes what I want in terms of colour and layering in my level. This is very static, but it served my purpose well enough.
So I did this first but I wasn't entirely pleased with it.
Receiving some feedback from Jolyon, we established that the vertical trees-thing I was trying to adopt from illustrators like Bauer is just not going to work very well. The character is also not sticking out enough against the backdrop.
He also told me to have a look at some concepts by Eran Hilleli for a side-scrolling game named Lady of the Sword, where depth is handled quite cleverly.
I grayscaled the concepts so that I'd have a better idea of what's going on without being tricked by hues.
The foreground elements have the highest amount of contrast, with elements having less and less contrast the further away they are. Backround elements further away are simply block colours only a few values lower than the sky colour. It's a neat way of achieving atmospheric perspective.
The middle ground where the player walks seems to be brighter than the fore- and background elements immediately close to it as well, especially where there are platforming elements. It's obviously important for the player to quickly know where to jump to.
Breaking this down really helped me get a grip on what was wrong with my own values. Here's the image completely desaturated. There's not a lot of variety in the foreground- and player path areas.
Especially the foreground is just looking really flat here.
I did a second pass, upping the contrast in the foreground grass layer and the path while desaturating all the tree layers. That's just a lot more depth already.
Looking at this and being pretty pleased with it, I've laid down some guidelines for me to continue into further concepting.
This is working a lot better in terms of depth. It doesn't address the composition-issues with the trees.
Even with just some really quick, flat colours overlayed, it works a lot better than my first pass.
One fun observation: When I designed the character I consciously tried to avoid gendering it because I wanted the player to sort of be able to identify regardless of gender. A thing I've noticed is that men talking about the character tend to refer to it as he, and girls tend to refer to it as she. It's not true 100% of the time but it happens often enough. I think that's really neat.
Other than thaaat I've been working a bit on the character's diffuse. To be honest I feel like the past two days have been a bit unproductive and I'm not at my ideal level of activity. Boo hiss.