View Full Version : The Spotlight - March 2017 - Color Temperature, Part III

02-28-2017, 07:49 PM
Welcome artists!

Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!

The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.

Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.

Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.

And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.

The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!

Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.

This month’s Spotlight is on…Color Temperature, Part III !

For the past two months we have been discussing color temperature here in the Spotlight. Our discussion so far has dealt mainly with defining color temperature as warm or cool based on the color’s position on the color wheel. Red, orange and yellow are generally considered to be the warm colors and green, blue and violet are considered to be the cool colors. Each individual may have a slightly different perception – and that’s perfectly reasonable since we are dealing with individual perception when dealing with warm and cool!

In our first installment, we discussed using either almost all warm or cool colors in analogous color schemes, and also how you can use the contrast between warm and cool colors to create bold, dynamic works. Here’s a link, in case you missed it:


In our second installment last month, we discussed various ways to mix warm and cool colors throughout the painting as we found that - in some cases – artists were placing both warm and cool colors in the same areas! Here’s a link to Part II:


This month, we will continue our discussion as we discuss a different aspect of color temperature. Rather than discuss warm and cool colors, we will discuss the more subtle warmer and cooler variations within a single hue itself. So, while green, for example, may be defined as a cool color, some greens are warmer or cooler than others. We’ll discuss under what circumstances this may be important, as – once again – we put the Spotlight on…Color Temperature, Part III.

The color of the light

The idea that a color can be both warmer and cooler is certainly a more confusing concept than just dividing the color wheel into warm and cool colors, but, alas, both ideas are useful when it comes to using color in our paintings. In my opinion, the concept of having both warmer and cooler greens, for example – or yellows and reds – is directly tied into using the color of the light in our paintings. I think it is most important in landscape painting, although it can be used with all types of subjects.

Its importance in landscapes is most easily demonstrated. Let’s imagine a nice sunny day with a blue sky. The main light source is the sun, which can vary from slightly yellow to a deeper yellow, orange or even red at sunrise or sunset. When that yellow light shines on various objects, the yellow combines with the “local” color of the object and the resulting color becomes more yellow. Since there are a lot of greens in landscapes, green may be the single most important color when it comes to using warmer and cooler color temperature variations.

[Local color is the color of an object under neutral white or gray light]

Let’s take a look at a couple photos:


On the left is the grassy field in the sunshine. The influence of the yellow light of the sun makes the color of the grass warmer than the photo on the right, where clouds have covered the sun. While there is no blue sky in the photo on the right, there was some blue sky between the clouds influencing the color as well. When the sun is blocked by the clouds, the influence of the blue light from the sky becomes noticeable, so the grass on the right is more blue-green than the grass on the left which is more yellow-green. In photos, this difference may be more subtle than in real life. And when painting, we can exaggerate these differences as well.

Here’s another example of how the color of the light changes the colors of things.


The photo on the left was taken when the flowers were in shadow. On the right, in sunshine. Notice how the yellow light from the sun makes the colors more yellow/orange – in other words, warmer.

Many landscape painters are familiar with the idea that shadows may be cooler and contain blue. It is primarily the blue light from the sky that makes this so. When the yellow sunlight is blocked by an object, the less powerful blue light from the sky has a chance to influence the local color in shadow, thus making many shadow colors cooler with the addition of some blue. (Of course, there may be additional colors reflecting into the shadows as well, so it is always best to observe what is actually occurring.)

As we can see in the above examples, the comparison between warmer and cooler greens may be the easiest one to see and the most common one that painters have to deal with. Let’s see if we can come up with a guideline for creating warmer and cooler variations of other colors. Let’s take a look at the color wheel:


This is a pretty basic color wheel. In reality of course, each color gradually merges from one color to the next. If, as we discussed in the previous Spotlights, red, orange and yellow are the warm colors, then we could designate orange as the warmest color as it falls right in the middle of that range. If we go either clockwise or counter-clockwise from orange, we still have colors that are still very warm. On the other side, we can designate blue as the coolest color, since it falls in the middle of the range of the cool colors; green, blue and violet.

So, when it comes to a neutral green, it becomes warmer as it moves towards orange on the color wheel, and it becomes cooler as it moves towards blue on the color wheel. This same idea can thus be used with yellow, red and violet colors as well. As red moves towards orange on the color wheel (red-orange colors) it becomes warmer, as red moves towards blue on the wheel and becomes more of a red-violet, it becomes cooler. Thus, as a general guideline that may help deciding on what color to use or what color to mix, colors become warmer as they move closer to orange on the color wheel and colors become cooler as the move towards blue.

Now, using this as a guideline, you can see that I ignored blue and orange when it comes to having warmer and cooler variations. This may go against what you may read in some other books, where the artist and/or author define both a warmer and cooler version of orange and blue, but in my opinion, you can really ignore orange and blue when it comes to warmer and cooler variations. All oranges are warm – and all colors get cooler as you move away in either direction from orange on the color wheel. And all blues are cool - and the colors get warmer as you move in either direction away from blue on the wheel. But as I said earlier, individual perceptions will vary!

As mentioned, probably the most basic actual use of this concept of warmer and cooler versions of a color comes into play when take into account the color of the light! The light influences the colors – and it is primarily the color of the light that will make us choose between warmer and cooler variations of a certain color.


Here we see the same scene with three different light conditions; afternoon sunlight (upper left), at sunset (upper right) and overcast (lower). I think it is fairly obvious that the color of the light is influencing all the colors in the scene, but I created a few color swatches to illustrate. On the left are color swatches from the car. Since the car is white, the color of the light is more readily apparent than when an object has a local color (other than white). Notice that in the bottom swatch, the color is very neutral since an overcast sky (the light source) has little or no color, but the car color becomes warmer as the light source becomes warmer (more orange). A similar effect can be seen on the swatches of the building on the right.

Another photo:


Here we have an orange tree and a road in the foreground. The road is gray – a very neutral color – but notice that the gray road in the sunshine is warmer; it has a touch of yellow or orange in it. There is a good chance that if one was to paint the scene on the left exactly as it is – but paint the road as it appears in the photo on the right – it would look wrong. The cooler gray road may look “out of place” as it will not fit in with the warmer colors in the left photo.

Here’s an extreme example of how the wrong color temperature can look “out of place”. Let’s go back to our car and townhouse scene. What would happen if we took the car as it appears under the warm sunset light and placed it in the photo taken on the cloudy day with more neutral light?


Ugh! Look at that ugly orange car!! It is the wrong color temperature!

In most cases, of course, we can choose colors fairly accurately without necessarily thinking about whether it is a warmer or cooler version of a particular hue. But often our observations are confused – or not as accurate as we would like – because our brains often get in the way and override what our eyes are telling us. In the sunset scene, for example, our brains might tell us, “Oh, look, a white car,” and we might paint it pure white – and lose the color harmony due to the fact that it is actually a very warm white! And those evergreen trees in the background – our brains may say “trees are green,” and may make us choose a color that is too cool. In these types of cases, the wrong color temperature may still look OK, but the correct color temperature will ensure greater color harmony in your painting and will capture the color of the light!

Atmospheric perspective

Variations in temperature of a particular color also comes into play when using atmospheric perspective in our paintings – usually landscapes. As distances increase, objects begin to take on more of the color of the atmosphere. In most cases, this means that as the distance increases, objects become more blue – or cooler. Here’s an example that I have used before that demonstrates how the greens in this landscape (yes, greens again!) become cooler with distance.


The swatches show the color of the greens at various distances – both in light and shadow. Notice those light swatches – the closest greens (swatch, far right) are a yellow-green. With distance, that yellow aspect begins to drop out and the greens move towards being more blue. Also, in the case of atmospheric perspective, the colors also become less and less intense (more neutralized or more gray) as the distance increases.

One more thing. You may be worrying about choosing the exact correct warmer or cooler color – but rarely is it necessary to be exact. When we paint, it is all about the relationships between the colors in our painting. When deciding on a color based on its temperature, we usually compare it to similar, but slightly different colors. So, often times it is how the colors compare with one another which determines how warm or cool it looks. That's one reason the slightly orange car looks so wrong in our neutral light scene - it is so much warmer than the also white snow. if they are both white, and both in the sun, then they should be a similar temperature! In a landscape, any green that is more yellow than another green will seem warmer. So, comparing the colors – both in our scene – and on our palettes or pastel boxes – will help us choose those warmer and cooler variations that we are looking for.

Ok, that’s a lot to digest about color temperature. It may be a new idea that you haven’t really thought about. Some aspects – as those discussed in our first two Spotlights – may be easier to understand and implement. The idea of comparing a particular basic color and deciding which variations are warmer and cooler is a bit more complex. Now, as I have said in other Spotlights, the ideas and concepts we discuss in the Spotlight are available to use, but aren’t rules or requirements. They are important – and perhaps required – if one is looking for realistic or impressionistic color as it appears under different lighting and atmospheric conditions. But, as we may explore on future Spotlights, using realistic color is only one strategy when using color. Throughout history, artists have painted objects and scenes using local color with little or no regard for the color of the light. Other artists use “expressionistic” color – using color that may not be either the local or realistic color to evoke emotion.

But if you are trying for realistic color as it appears under specific lighting and atmospheric conditions – then color temperature is important!

OK, I am really emphasizing that point! Why? From personal experience (and personal stupidity!)

When I started my art journey many years ago, I read, as perhaps many of you have read in various art how-to books, that “if the value is correct, then you can use any color.” I’m sure I read this principle on more than one occasion and it apparently made a deep impression on me. No explanation was given regarding various color strategies, just the statement, “if the value is correct, then you can use any color.”

So, as the years went by, and I read many more how-to books on painting, whenever an artist mentioned color temperature and its importance – I ignored it! Don’t they know, I would say to myself, that if the value is correct, then you can use any color!

And it took me over 20 years to realize my mistake! And why, for those 20 years, my landscapes never looked right! It was because I wasn’t taking color temperature into account – and I was trying to create paintings that had realistic or impressionistic color!

Not that I am blaming those artists and those how-to books who made the “value" statement. For their type of painting, they were giving what may very well be good advice! Many artists today still use that advice. But that’s why I always stress that what you read in books, on the internet (yes, even here on the Spotlight), or what you see on DVDs, are not necessarily rules. There are lots of strategies and ideas. In time – and with experience – you will develop your own ideas, strategies, principles and “rules” for your style of painting.

OK, I’m getting off my soapbox now!

To conclude, here are a couple quotes from artists with far more experienced than I have.

From Emile Gruppe, and his book Gruppe on Color:

The fact that objects outdoors are either warm or cool was a great discovery for me. For it's the contrast between warm and cool color that makes you feel the light in a picture. If both the highlights and shadows are warm, as they are when you use earth colors everywhere, then there's nothing to tell you how warm the sunlight is. The cool color gives you a gauge.

And from Sergei Bongart, noted Art teacher:

Warm light, cool shadow. Just like the light has a color (as it effects the lit object), shadow has a color also. If the light is warm, the shadow light will be cool. If the light is cool, the shadow is warm. In theory, the shadow is a perfect complement to the light color (yellow light yields purple shadow). However, since any given object exists in an environment with other objects in it, and those objects, as we said, are bouncing light and color into the shadows, the shadow is generally catching several other colors besides the complimentary shadow color. The best we can say, then, is that if the lights tend to be on the warm side, the shadows will tend to be cool (and the other way around).

OK. One word on the last quote. It probably is familiar to you – warm light, cool shadow…and vice versa. I think this saying may be one reason why the idea of color temperature is confusing to many. When the terms warm and cool are used, it makes me think of the first definition of warm and cool that we discussed in the previous Spotlights – namely, warm colors are yellow, orange, and red; and cool colors are green, blue and violet. But as we are discussing this month, colors are also warmer and cooler compared to one another. So, whenever you hear “warm light, cool shadow,” it does not mean the color in light must be yellow, orange or red and the shadow blue, green or violet. It is more clear when we say, “warm light, cooler shadows,” and “cool light, warmer shadows. Hopefully, I have used the terms warmer and cooler whenever I have been discussing the comparison of colors of similar hue.

Time to paint!

Here are the references!

A couple things to keep in mind when using photos for reference: 1). Photos are not as good as the human eye in trying to capture subtle differences in color – so don’t hesitate to exaggerate the subtle differences between a warmer and cooler version of a color. 2). Photos often “wash out” the color in the light because they overexpose the lightest areas. While this does often actually happen in real life – where the highlights or lightest sunlit areas seem to lose color or color intensity, it may not be a good strategy to do this in your painting. If your sunlit areas seem to be less effective than you want, it might be because they need more intense color than the photo shows.

All photos by me.






And I'll include both versions of the flowers shown earlier:



As always, feel free to crop and modify the references as much as you wish! And enjoy!


03-01-2017, 08:36 AM
Great photos and discussion.

However I'm confused by the paragraph (“warm light, cooler shadows,” and “cool light, warmer shadows).

Can you give us some pastel/painted examples (perhaps in your own work) where these concepts apply?

03-01-2017, 12:40 PM
Gave this a shot this morning. Very high key, limited color...blue, taupe, black, white and some dark green, pearl or pearled color. This is on white Pastel Premier paper. I think 600. 11 x 11 basically. My niece took the photo and sent it so me. She does lovely work. Please feel free to critique. I know the color is thin but I really wanted to do pearl with this scene I hope I applied the lesson. I forgot to say Pan Pastels.

Don, I hope it's ok that I tried to apply the lesson to other work.

03-01-2017, 04:08 PM
Great photos and discussion.

However I'm confused by the paragraph (“warm light, cooler shadows,” and “cool light, warmer shadows).

Can you give us some pastel/painted examples (perhaps in your own work) where these concepts apply?
The principle of "warmer light, cooler shadows" and vice versa, is one that gets repeated a lot when it comes to color. As I mentioned, it usually is said as: "warm light, cool shadows." Landscape painters use the principle. Portrait painters will often use the principle, too. One of the problems I was trying to point out was a semantic one. I have seen folks get confused with the phrase, "warm light, cool shadows," thinking that they need to use a cool color (green, blue, violet) as the shadow color, when the light is warm. My point was that the shadow color does not need to be a cool color - it only needs to be a color that is cooler than the same color when seen under the warm light.


Here is a detail from a painting by Emile Gruppe. The color of the building in the light is a very warm color lit by the warm light of the sun. The shadow color is merely a cooler shade of red/orange. it doesn't need to be painted with a cool color (green, blue or violet).

I, personally, find cooler light to be a trickier condition - one I never intentionally use! Many portrait painters who have their studios with north windows do, however. Many times with north light, the light source is the blue sky - which is obviously cool. Under cool light, the shadows would be warmer than the object in the light. Once again however, they only need to be warmer in comparison.


Chris Saper has written portrait books that concentrate heavily on using warm or cool light. This is the cover of her DVD. The skin tones in light are a cool gray - possibly still slightly warm (but much cooler than if a yellow indoor light or sunlight was shining on them). In this case, the shadows swatch is a warmer color - again, just in comparison to the skin tone in light.

I hope this helps explain.

I should note that the shadow colors may be influenced by other colors as well - usually reflected light from other sources. So, I personally don't like to call this principle a rule. But it is mentioned so often, I felt I had to address it in the Spotlight article.

I should also note again, that it is not a requirement at all to use these ideas of changing the color temperature between light and shadow areas. Many painters will paint both the light and shadow areas with the same hue - and just change the value. And that's perfectly OK. But you may find that a change in color temperature (whether small and subtle or bigger and more obvious) between light and shadow areas may be a good idea!


03-01-2017, 04:13 PM
Jay, yes, I never mind if folks use their own references. Your painting looks very cool - I mean color temperature wise (as well as, "Hey that's a cool painting!)


03-01-2017, 08:58 PM
Thanks Don. I was trying to paint the light, blue, fog. I think it need more work. After a few days.

Lots of good teaching here. Thank you

03-02-2017, 07:14 AM
Jay, love your picture, very atmospheric!
I don't have/use pan pastels but you make them very tempting!
P.S. I usually use my own references as I'm trying to apply Don's principals to my own work!

03-02-2017, 07:26 AM
Don, Thanks for the clarification..very helpful.
"I have seen folks get confused with the phrase, "warm light, cool shadows," thinking that they need to use a cool color (green, blue, violet) as the shadow color, when the light is warm."
Yes, that's me!
I read that as meaning complementary colour in the shadows which we see in the impressionists.
Another example is McKinley who uses purple as a shadow colour for greens.

"it only needs to be a color that is cooler than the same color when seen under the warm light."
Now I understand it...in your first example the shadow is a cooler version (umber)of the same warm orange.
In the portrait, the shadow is a warm sienna against the very cool flesh tone.

03-02-2017, 07:50 AM
Thanks Leslie. I do like pans. That painting was painted with two sponges. No little sticks at all except the birds. I like the feeling of painting I get when I can go over large surfaces. I sprayed the painting with a good spray so I can hit it again when I get time. I see some areas I'd like to charge. But then, I did fix already....hmmmm.. I used Lascaux spray. Did not darken it.

03-02-2017, 08:29 AM
I think I should add that there would be nothing wrong with using a cool color for the shadows. I think both I and the quote from Sergei Bongart mention that the shadow color is a combination of the local color plus the color from other light sources - such as secondary light (such as the blue sky on a sunny day) and other reflected light. So, in the Gruppe painting, the shadow on the building might be red (local color) plus blue. I wouldn't be surprised if that is exactly what Gruppe mixed to get the color he has. The artist certainly has the choice as to how much red and how much blue to add to the mix. if you look at the building that is more in the distance, you can see some touches of more obvious blue! So, as artists, we have the choice of being more subtle or to exaggerate more with our color choices!


Don, Thanks for the clarification..very helpful.
"I have seen folks get confused with the phrase, "warm light, cool shadows," thinking that they need to use a cool color (green, blue, violet) as the shadow color, when the light is warm."
Yes, that's me!
I read that as meaning complementary colour in the shadows which we see in the impressionists.
Another example is McKinley who uses purple as a shadow colour for greens.

"it only needs to be a color that is cooler than the same color when seen under the warm light."
Now I understand it...in your first example the shadow is a cooler version (umber)of the same warm orange.
In the portrait, the shadow is a warm sienna against the very cool flesh tone.

03-03-2017, 10:54 AM
Don, great lesson and examples! Love your photos, especially the irises and water landscape. I may have the time to do one of them especially after my medieval vacation week. Definitely looking forward to the iris!

Your point about cool light, warm shadows makes sense. It took me a long time to see it but once I did, I couldn't forget it. I've wound up absorbing that same "if you get the values right, color doesn't matter" mantra too. I took it mostly that in a painting I could get away with making everything more saturated, deciding to change literal colors of things by turning a spring scene to autumn or vice versa ... change colors in ways that made sense. But it can result in things that don't work too if you're not paying attention to temperature. The more I know, the more I can change what's there in plausible ways and still make it read true.

Jay, love your painting! While the pearlescent effect is lost, I found that it still gives a good feeling and the hue-values of the pearl Pans will work well with non-pearl Pans. I can just imagine how rich and water-heavy it looks in person, that's one of the subjects that lends itself to using the pearlescents. Gorgeous Pan Pastels painting.

03-03-2017, 12:10 PM
Thank you kindly, Robert. I appreciate it.

Medieval vacation?

03-06-2017, 02:27 AM
Thanks Don for the lesson, I really love colour and it took me a while to get my head around temperature but you explain it really well.
Jay I really like your painting, I wish I could se it in real life I'm sure the picture on my phone screen doesn't do it justice.
Here is my attempt at the iris in cool light, probably not the easiest picture to choose but I gave it a go,

03-06-2017, 06:38 PM
Dea, that is just beautiful! Your Iris is just gorgeous! I love the way you got sharp detail in places. I struggle with that.

Can you tell us what paper and pastels you used?

Thank you for your kindness.

03-06-2017, 08:03 PM
Dea , a super job on a very difficult subject!

03-07-2017, 08:42 AM
Deanna, Very nice job on that cool iris! Very lovely!


03-07-2017, 09:45 AM
I'm just now catching up on March...thank you , Don, for that great lesson. It is a subject I have always been thoroughly confused about...not always being able to tell which is 'warm' and which is 'cool'. Can eyesight be deceptive? I mean can different people see temperature differently?

I really hope to digest this lesson and be able to participate this month.
Beautiful work so far...Still Trying, lovely work, as always...
Dee...Great job on the iris!

water girl
03-07-2017, 06:51 PM
Dea,I'm loving the red and violet. The rich colors speak to me.

03-07-2017, 09:59 PM
Thanks Leslie and Jay,
It is about 6x9 art spectrum pastels on re used. Ploughs paper

03-08-2017, 06:30 AM
Thanks Dea. AS pastels have some nice colors. Bright. I like them.

03-11-2017, 10:55 PM
Thanks everyone, that should have is colourfix paper but auto correct bad other ideas LOL

03-13-2017, 05:57 PM
Dea, that Iris is exquisite. I am not yet able to paint flowers, but I hope to someday...and yours will be an awesome example!


03-18-2017, 03:57 AM
Thanks Shallbe, flowers aren't as easy as they look are they :)
Here is a painting Ive been working on for awhile that I have used Dons colour lessons on. You can see the warm light and cool shadows in this one.
A3 size art spectrum pastels on pastelmat

03-18-2017, 05:07 AM
Absolutely Gorgeous!

water girl
03-18-2017, 02:41 PM
Unexpected and fabulous!:clap:

03-18-2017, 04:41 PM
Deanna, Very beautiful! Those blues in the shadow are subtle and very effective!


03-19-2017, 08:32 AM
Deanna! Just so lovely. That is a wonderful illustration of this Spotlight but so beautiful as well.

03-26-2017, 03:33 PM
Odd, I was sure I made a posting before but I must have clicked it off. I remember I liked Jays work and Deannas Iris and horse.... I still do :)

Finally got my samples done but I'm not sure I understood everything right. I find it hard to change, for example, a blue into something cold or warm. I usually do things without paying attention to the rules but it would also explain why a lot of my summer pictures wind up looking cold.

Both are done on Uart600, 6x9", underpainting NuPastel and alcohol, then Rembrandts.

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/26-Mar-2017/54042-220a72_6x9Mar17.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/26-Mar-2017/54042-221a72_6x9Mar17.jpg

water girl
03-26-2017, 06:40 PM
Cool on the left, warm on the right. I'd say you are on the right track to understanding temperature...paying attention or not.:lol: :lol: :lol:

03-26-2017, 07:18 PM
Fana, Very nice! One cool, one warm - beautifully done!


03-26-2017, 09:32 PM
Deanna, beautiful horse painting with cool shadows and warm light, very strong and true.

Fana, great examples! The warm scene looks like an overcast day, very muted but does read true.

03-28-2017, 11:22 AM
Thank you Fana

Lovely trees. Solid display for the lesson.

03-28-2017, 02:38 PM
Thank you Karen, Don, Robert, Jay. I am surprised to understand it right, hope I will remember it.

03-29-2017, 08:54 AM
Fana, well done you!
I also usually work intuitively so found this month a tricky one.

03-30-2017, 02:39 PM
Deannas two paintings are terrific!

I am not quite sure if mine really fits in, I did it for the landscape challenge.
It has a blue underpainting color in the shadows and a warm in the sunny parts.
I did not succeed totally, but it was a good experience.


C&C always welcome


water girl
03-30-2017, 06:17 PM
I have to admire your sky holes and grasses.

03-31-2017, 08:31 AM
Esther, I think your painting succeeded very well! There is a very strong sense of light and atmosphere in your painting - due in part from the wonderful mix of warm and cool! Nicely done!


03-31-2017, 10:03 AM
I agree, this has a very nice sense of late afternoon shadows and filtered light!