View Full Version : half the color wheel

Deborah Secor
11-25-2003, 10:43 PM
Help! Will you do an experiment for me? Drag out your old color wheel and decide where you would divide it in half by warm and cool. In other words, if you had to draw a straight line across it dividing the warm from the cool colors, where would it lie?

I tried to figure out how to do this as a poll but I can't seem to do it...don't know how to describe the line's position succinctly enough. So just tell me here.


Craig Houghton
11-26-2003, 12:25 AM
I've mulled this question over many times. When laying out my pastel pallete I had to think about it explicitly whereas before I kinda left the division points sorta fuzzy. More recently, when playing around with my newest oil palette, I finally spent a good deal of time on this.

lemon yellow to red violet, the warms

violet to yellow green, the cools

Here's the thing though, the precise spot of division is really only important for things like layout, so long as we all know a warm red means a red with some yellow and a cool green means a green with blue in it.

Also, for a very interesting read on this subject, visit handprint. They show, conclusively in my opinion, that the real difference (beyond communication -- and that's no small matter, and that's the reason i love the warm/cool dichotomy) is that the 'warm' color effect is due to 'warm' colors generally have higher chroma and a lighter value. It really blew me away to see this in action, and it's true.

Here's the link to that portion of handprint: here (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color3.html#warmcool)

He writes:"warm" color effects depend on lightness and chroma" "cool" colors can easily appear "advancing" or "arousing" or "cheerful" if they are lighter and/or more intense than the "warm" colors around them

and there's a nifty color swatch pic showing this http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/IMG/warmeff.gif

Notice how all the cools are popping forward here. It's pretty neat.

So, as for the splitting point, I split between lemon yellow and yellow green, red violet and violet. This is reflected in the way I lay out my palettes:


and for oils



11-26-2003, 01:15 AM
Hmmm....Craig has a scientific approach, but if I had to cut it EXACTLY in half it would be red-violet to green for cools and red to yellow green for warms. One off from Craig. My reasoning being that yellow is a warm color and blue a cool color...so a yellow green falls warm and red violet has a touch of blue in it so is cool. Green to me is actually no man's land though...not really cool, not really warm. There seems to me an obvious difference when I look at the darkest tones of the wheel when divided this way.

11-26-2003, 04:46 AM
Why do you want to do this?

I can see no useful reason.

Apart from anything else, if "blue", for instance, falls into the "cool" side, that is still pretty meaningless, because there are "warm" blues, and "cool" blues. Same applies to red, and yellow incidentally. A lot depends on how you construct your colour wheel and how many divisions it has. An acid lemon yellow, moving towards green, is much coolER than a warm orangey yellow, moving towards orange. A blue-red is much cooler than an orange red.



Have a look at this - exactly the same colour is in the centre of each rectangle. If you do not believe me, print it off, cut out the centres and put them side by side. It proves conclusively that the temperature of colours will change according to what is surrounding them.


The cool square "warms" the central section; the warm square "cools" the central section.

All this colour theory is OK ... but when you start to paint, everything may well change.

Deborah Secor
11-26-2003, 12:20 PM
Wow, Craig, thanks for the thoughts, illustrations and drawing a line for me! The link has some very interesting stuff.

Dyin, your slight shift from Craig's line is an interesting one. Deciding warm and cool is so personal.

Hey, Jackie, you're so right that everything depends on its context, but my question is one of those esoteric exercises that helps me think about things. In fact, it's possible that naming the line you see dividing the wheel directly into warm and cool halves will HELP someone see that in context everything changes... So where do you put the line personally?

Here's a color wheel to make thinking easier.


Anyone else have an opinion? Help me out here!!!

11-26-2003, 02:17 PM
For me, it doesn't split equally in half, so cannot "help you", sorry!!


Marc Sabatella
11-26-2003, 02:26 PM
I have the same answer twice.

My gut answer, looking at the wheel, would be everything from 12:00 to 4:00 on your picture - that is, yellow, yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, and red.

Furthermore, my understanding of the science behind color - based on a lot of reading I have been doing lately on handprint.com and elsewhere - yields pretty much the same answer. The main attribute of "warm" colors is that they reflect almost no short wavelengths of light, then there is some magic wavelength where suddenly they start reflecting a lot of light - and they also reflect a lot of light at *all wavelengths higher than this*. That is, yellow objects will reflect little violet, blue, or green, but they do reflect quite a bit of yellow, and also orange, red, and into the infrared. Orange is a similar story - little violet, blue, or green, little yellow until we reach the oranges, then lots of orange, red, and into the infrared.

Whereas violet, blue, and green objects don't behave this way at all - they reflect a narrower band of wavelengths well. A blue object reflects some violet, lots of blue, some green, and relatively little of any higher wavelengths.

So there really is a quantifiable difference between warm and cool colors. And if you try to construct a color that has the same basic attributes as warm colors - reflecting *all* wavelengths well above a certain threshold - but move that threshold toward the shorter wavelengths, what results is not a color that looks cooler than yellow, but rather, a color that looks *whiter* than yellow. That is, a color that reflects violet and blue poorly, but green, yellow, orange, and red well, will not look green so much as it looks light a lighter yellow. The only way to get it to look green is to have it *not* reflect so much red.

11-26-2003, 03:06 PM
I agree with Jackie here, I see 7 warms, and 5 cools.


Deborah Secor
11-26-2003, 03:29 PM
Wow, Marc, I'll have to spend some time digesting what you said here. I'm afraid as a painter I use physics but it has to be applied for me to understand it! I guess I understand practical, hands-on physics, but not the theoretical stuff as much.

Interesting that you say you see 7 warms and 5 cools, Mo...

Oh, but now I have to confess... I hope you'll forgive me. I should know better than to ask such questions of real artists! When I've proposed the same question to students or non-artists, they always happily divide away. Then I point out that two of the primary colors are warm, while one is cool, which means that technically 2/3 of the wheel is warm. It's one way to make people cautious about painting over-warm pieces.

The other little question I usually ask--in hopes it will teach people, not to hurt them--is to show that when you decide a color is warm or cool, (for anything other than the purposes of organizing your palette, as Craig mentioned) you've diminished the effectiveness of the color. If you decide yellow-green is warm, and then you need a cool green with yellow in it, you might decide yellow-green won't work...when it will!

So, if you have any other comments on this, have at it. Jackie was clearly soooo right in what she said--but I still find the discussion interesting!

And you can let me have it for being this way.
:o <sorry>

Kathryn Wilson
11-26-2003, 04:15 PM
Well, I'll take the flying leap here -

If I had to ABSOLUTELY divide it in half - I would go with the dark violot over to the yellow green - BUT

IMHO there are only 4 cool colors - the rest are warm - but I might be convinced that the yellow green is cool - I am on the fence with that one - :D

Thanks for an interesting discussion dee -

11-26-2003, 04:44 PM
Originally posted by dee_artist
. Then I point out that two of the primary colors are warm, while one is cool, which means that technically 2/3 of the wheel is warm.

Yes, if you use the red-yellow-blue primaries, but if you use the cyan-magenta-yellow?
I find the warm/cool color stuff interesting but perplexing at times. My usual approach tends to be: "Me want THAT color! Oops! That color bad! Me use THIS color now!" I have to admit that's not very effecient!:D

Kathryn Wilson
11-26-2003, 04:50 PM
LOL, Sundiver - that sounds like me too!! I look at my pastel box full of colors and pick them like I pick candy out of a chocolate box - hmmm - a little of this and a little of that. Nope, that doesn't work - well, we'll try this then. Oh, darn, now I have let the cat out of the bag - I am color wheel challenged.:rolleyes:

11-26-2003, 06:10 PM
In general, when painting I like to have a warm and cool of each color. It wasn't until I realized this that I was able to use complimentary colors usefully.

Mix the same shade of yellow with a warm blue and a cool blue and you end up with quite different greens or grays.

I think you would need to split each hue into two temperatures for you to have something useful to work with.