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How To Use Colour Temperature In Your Painting.

Here is the first thing to understand about temperature:


When you’re painting, there are no such things as “warm” and “cool” colours. There

are only “warm-er” and “cool-er” choices. It’s a relative thing.


A colour is only cool-er or warm-er compared to another colour. If you’re setting up your composition and deciding on a dominant temperature for your piece then the big picture will hold true. Red, yellow and orange are warm colours and the blue, green and purple are cool colours, but THEN each colour’s temperature becomes relative to the colour next to it.


Once we understand this principle then we can work towards cleaner colour mixes. “Muddy” or “chalky” are terms we use for colours that are either too cool or too warm compared to their surrounding colours. When your colour temperature is off things get confusing and your read on the painting gets dirty looking.


A Side-Note: A colour might also look muddy if it’s the wrong value. Always get your value to read correctly first. If your colour is still murky-looking when your value is right, you’re now in the wrong temperature zone. But of course, this information is useless unless you know how to fix a mixture that’s too warm or too cool... this was my hardest lesson to get a grip on.


Two Ways You Can Make A Colour Warmer Or Cooler:


1: By Moving Around the Colour Wheel Like a Clock.


First, however, here are two important things to know:


• The red-orange-yellow side of the colour wheel is considered “warmer” than the green-blue-violet side, which is considered “cooler.”


• Most consider either orange or yellow-orange the very warmest colour. Blue-green is furthest away from this therefore is considered the coolest colour (However, there’s an exception that

I’ll mention in a bit...)


Now, imagine you’re travelling around this colour wheel like the big hand of a clock. The closer you move toward the cooler side, the cooler the colour will become. The closer you move toward the warmer side, the warmer the colour will become.


Here are two examples:


Let’s say you’re standing on that very warmest colour – a bright orange-yellow. You take one step counterclockwise toward yellow - Lemon yellow which is heading towards the green side. Now, you’re standing on a yellow that’s tinted with a hint of green. This yellow-green is cooler than the yellow-orange because you’ve moved closer to the cooler side of the colour wheel. By adding a tad of this colour you have now cooled your original colour.


This time, start out on violet. Take one step counterclockwise toward the blue. Now, you’re standing on blue-violet, which is cooler than violet because it’s closer to blue and because you’ve moved further away from the warmer side of the colour wheel.


2: The SECOND way you can make a colour warmer or cooler is by adding white.


Earlier, I said blue-green is considered the coolest colour, but I mentioned there’s an exception... pure white. Adding white will cool any other colour... even blue! True dat! BUT, be careful about adding too much white - it will not only cool the colour but can alter your value. Be careful, adding too much white and you get a chalky-looking colour. If you need more than a touch of white to cool your colour you may need to mix in a cooler neighbour colour as stated above.


Adjusting your colour temperature is kinda like tuning an old AM radio. You’re looking for the sweet spot where the sound is just right. A little to the left, a little to the right...


One last thing to say about colour temperature. If you want to add a bit of zip to your painting try adding a touch of different colour either warmer or cooler in the same value within the same space.


Tip: Keep one temperature dominant and use the other in no more than 30% of the painting. If you use more, you risk losing the dominant feel of the work.


Here are some funky paintings using this principle.



Oil painting of a bunny in the grass.

Josh Claire uses two purples of the same value in the area of the shadow whites to make the colours pop. Violet and magenta. One is to the blue side and one is to the red side but they are still in the same value space.



Oil painting of a boat docking.

The hull of this Mark Bodges boat is primarily 'grey boat barnacle green’ but there is some violet in there in the same value family playing around inside that shape.



Oil painting of a street in the evening.

The temperature composition on the Brian Mark Taylor work is 70% cool, and 30% warm; however, within this setup are LOTS of other colours within colours but in the same value.



Oil painting of a big ship docked on the side of a street.

The bow of this David Curtis boat is mostly a grey blue but if look inside we see not only turquoise but some violet as well all in the same value.



Oil painting of six people holding a long sail.

‘Sail Menders’ - Joaquin Sorolla

In this large work, we see multiple colours in the sails. In the left side lit area, there is primarily a light blue violet with a little bit of green in the same value. On the shadow side, it is the opposite. Mostly green with 30% blue-violet.


Oil painting of a fisherman tying a rope down.

In this last piece from Emile Gruppe, look at how warm the fisherman is compared to the shack in the back. He cools that colour down to get a recession. Look also at the shack and see how he has warmed the colour from the purplish shadows to a lighter warmer lit side with the addition of red.


I hope you found this Cool beans.

Your friend in art,

Doug.

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Jeeino JB
Jeeino JB
Jul 10

As graphics designer I can say that those rule also applies in graphics design and if you wanna show your art on a larger canvas then try SweetNight Sleep promo code and get custom bedsheet and pillow cases at discount.

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Excellent post! It is something that I will most certainly implement into my creative process.

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Jul 09

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Good one Doug. Great info!

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