Color Temperature

Warms and cools

Color mixing should only be categorized with the words ‘warm’ and ‘cool’. Never get hung up on a formula. As painters, we all have our go-to colors and hear about what other painters use, but let’s look at this more closely:

Every painter is using primary color mixes in some form, a few secondary colors or convenience color like orange, purple or turquoise and/ or earth tones. There’s always a red of some sort, a yellow and a blue involved, especially when it comes to grey mixes. In the end, all our palettes are remarkably similar, yet the outcome is very different from painter to painter!
What really matters is ‘how’ you use your pigments, of course. There is an enormous subtlety in color mixing that is hard to understand and put into action.

Color temperature, as seen in my painting above, achieves the illusion that the rock formations in the background are actually further away from us than the ones in the foreground left and right. So, not only value but, equally important, temperature. By just adding a bit more purple and blue, it starts receding more. We sometimes hear that we have to always soften the edges in the background. Notice how all edges on the far formations are actually hard, except where the low cloud hangs on the right!
Never be afraid to put a harder edge if that’s what the landscape dictates. If you get the right value and temperature, it will look perfect.

When setting up a painting palette, it makes sense to use the color wheel as a guide, that way the pigments are arranged in a chronological way. Start with the yellows into orange, red, purple, blues, turquoise and green. Earth colors separated and that’s it. You’re good to go.

Most backgrounds in watercolor paintings look pretty similar in all of us. What really sets us apart is the personal calligraphy and interpretation of subject matter. That is remarkably different from painter to painter!

It helps to paint as much as possible. Only through experimentation and endless trial and errors are we able to develop our own voice. Mimicking another artist’s painting style and color choice is only helpful if it helps us find our own and that takes time. It also helps to have a place where you can go and paint without having to start setting things up first, like on the kitchen table. It is a big advantage to step into a room to do just that one activity, no distractions. A peaceful place where creativity can happen. You still have to make it happen but creating the right circumstance is half the battle!

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6 thoughts on “Color Temperature

  1. lesliepaints

    I was glad to read this about the warm and cool, Frank. Just posted a color post, myself, and tried different color combinations to paint the same subject to point out we can paint anything in any numbers of combinations. Good post.

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