Color Basics – Understanding Temperature

Establish Mood and Subtle Spacial Relationships With Color Temperature

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Understanding Color Characteristics – Temperature

Depending on the books you’ve read or instructors you’ve had, they may or may not have included temperature as one of the characteristics of color.  Whether it is or isn’t, it is something that can be consciously changed or manipulated for effect in your paintings.

On one level, it is pretty easy to understand.  We are all familiar with those colors that are considered warm – yellows, oranges and reds – and those that are cool – greens, blues, and violets.  intense.

Complementary colors and complementary relationships are a simple example of warm and cool contrasts. When juxtaposed, complementary colors create visual sensations that seem to create movement, energy and excitement.

But, It’s Relative

Being familiar with those warm and cool colors is helpful when your painting includes a wide range of color. In those instances when you have chosen to use a more limited palette, especially an analogous palette, it is necessary to recognize that perception of color temperature changes with based on other colors in the painting.  

 Cool or Warm

At right is part of a color wheel. The color at the top is Permanent Alizarin Crimson which is a cool red – red with some blue in it. This particular slice of the color wheel includes some of  other colors considered to be in the cool range.  In this group of color, Permanent Alizarin Crimson is the warmest looking color.

 At left is another portion of the color wheel. This one includes a group of warm colors – oranges and reds.  Permanent Alizarin Crimson is again located at the top of this section of the wheel.  In this group of colors it appears to be the coolest of the colors.

 Uses In Painting

 Placing a contrasting temperature note in your painting is an effective way to draw the eye, subtly separate edges, and help the viewer move through the painting. It is also an effective way of introducing a bit of variety in an overall warm or cool passage.

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