View Full Version : Color by Temperature

07-03-2005, 01:38 PM
I just read an absolutely incredible thread titled Color by Value in the pastel library. I learned so much, but am still wondering a few things. I understand color by value...but do not quite grasp how to tell the temperature of a color, meaning whether it is warm or cool.

1. Does the value of a color have anything to do with its temp?

2. If I'm attempting a landscape painting, how do I tell the temp of a color out of a pile of blues or greens? :confused:

Any help would be greatly appreciated!! :)

07-03-2005, 02:45 PM
I'll try to at least give you my take on this, but there are others who are much more knowledgeable and I'm sure they'll check in soon, too. From what I understand of it, value and temperature are two different things. Value is lightness and darkness of a color, whereas temperature is that color's RELATIVE warmth or coolness. That means relative to other colors it's teamed up with. It IS possible to call one red a "cool" red and another a "warm" red, but all that can go by the wayside it the same colors are up against other colors that are RELATIVELY cooler or warmer....gosh, does that make sense? In other words...a "warm blue" is still going to seem "cooler" than a "cool red" because of their relative placement on the color wheel...blue is the cold side, red is the warm side, etc. So the variables of a color's temperature are a lot more dicey than just finding its value.

At the same time, however, if you have a landscape (for instance) with maybe a blue lake against receding blue hills and blue sky...THEN your rule of temperature perspective comes into play....those warmer blues will look closer and the cooler ones will recede into the distance more...if you don't pay attention to temperature in this kind of situation, you can wind up with an odd look that doesn't quite scan as true. Oh, and while you're figuring all THIS out you must be using the rules of value too, of course...i.e. objects in the distance usually appear lighter and more greyed.

OK, now that I've totally warped your brain with that pseudo explanation, let's wait to hear from the pros, k? LOL :o

07-03-2005, 05:13 PM
:eek: Whoa!!! No wonder I don't understand this...it's impossible!!! heeheehee

Sooz, actually, I like and understand your explanation about a warm blue being cooler than a cool red. That makes sense. Also that red is the "warm side" and blue is the "cool side". But, what does that make yellow?

The blue lake, blue hills, blue sky senario is exactly why I asked, so thank you so much for posting! :) Still pretty much confused, though... lol

07-03-2005, 05:37 PM

I don't know much about this, but let's see if my explanation is ok.
Of course that colour temperature has to do with physics (I guess). Through some kind of device one can measure colour temperature (hope I'm right).
Once I red that blind people can try to guess a colour by touching it.
Now changing not the subject but the approach, I guess that the temperature of the colour can also be recognized by the effect that has on our mind. For instance, to me a violet blue can seem warmer than a very pale yellow. I don't know which one will emane/irradiate ( ?) a higher physical temperature, but the violet blue will give me a warmer feeling.
Did I make myself clear ? Are you getting cold or hot looking for the answer ?

This is Josť from Lisbon. Over and Out :-)

07-03-2005, 05:56 PM
Oh, lord! Not physics too!!! :D As to the yellow...well, there's your relativity thing again. Some yellows have more toward green than they do orange...those would be considered cool. Those that leaned more toward orange would be considered "warm". BUT, you have to remember it's influenced by the other colors around it, as well. Hey, I never said it was easy! sighhhhhhh :rolleyes:

07-04-2005, 09:21 AM
yes, All colour temperature is relative to what is alongside that colour. Look at this for instance, there is the same colour in the centre:


BUT there are times when it is helpful to know what IS basically, a cool blue and what IS a warm blue, so that if you want to create, for instance, a predominantly cool pic, you dont end up using warm colour choices.

OK so let's look at a colour wheel, and try to simplify things for you.

Red, yellow and blue are the main PRIMARY COLOURS.

Now - reds that are said to be warmer than other reds are the reds that move towards orange and yellow (in other words, they actually contain a bit of the other primary, yellow). These are often the cadmiums, the pillar-box reds, fire-engine reds. When they move towards purple and blue, and therfore contain a tiny bit of blue, they are cooler. These are more crimson, maroon, cerise.

Blues that move toward red and contain a tiny touch of red in them (red is essentially warmer than blue) like Ultramrine, are warmer than those which move toward green - Cerulean - and have a tiny touch of yellow in them, to make them cooler and greener.

Yellows that move towards orange (and contain a tiny touch of red) are warmer than yellows that move towards green/blue (those sharp acid greeny-yellows). The colour wheel above doesn't show the inbetween yellows, so you will have to imagine them.

Greens, tho they are secondaries, also have specific warms and cools. Warmer greens contain touches of yellow; cooler greens contain touches of blue.

Does all this help?

Now how you USE colour temperature effectively in your pics is a whole 'nother story.................


07-04-2005, 10:08 AM
VERY good explanation, Jackie! Thanks!

07-04-2005, 01:46 PM
I still think I will just 'do it' like the nikki commercials and try not to think about all this, my brain just isn't up to it (at least, unlike nikki, I am the slave labor)!

07-04-2005, 03:23 PM
GREAT explanation, Jackie! I get it, I get it! I am not completely sure I will apply it properly all the time, but I GET it. Thank you so much for posting that explanation...I am printing it off as we speak. :)

You know...while I read your explanation...it occurred to me that I can apply it to what I know about my make-up. (hee hee) I look better in cool tones of make-up...for instance, I cannot wear orangy-red lipstick...I have to wear the red that's on the blue side....tawny and coral don't look good on me either, but raspberry does...interesting. (Just the ramblings of someone with NO formal art training!) :rolleyes:

Deborah Secor
07-04-2005, 03:52 PM
Temperature has a lot to do with aerial perspective in the landscape, so here's a bit of something I wrote about that:

Take time to notice the point at which, as you look out on the big vista, the light of the sky seems to overwhelm everything. Blue light has a short wavelength, which is scattered as it bounces off air molecules more quickly than are the longer wavelength colors red and yellow. This scattering makes the sky blue. As objects increase in distance, warm colored ones are not as rapidly overwhelmed by the blue of the atmosphere, although they eventually lose their strength, as they too are progressively filtered out. This is the reason businesses use red and yellow lettering on their signs, so that they may be spotted sooner and seen for a longer period of time, and why polite campers choose blue tents that visually blend into the landscape.

Remember that in the foreground plane you see all of the mixtures of red, yellow and blue, while in the middle distance the blue light of the many blocks of air (this refers to 1 mile square cubes of air) has begun to overwhelm yellow. This leaves all the combinations of red and blue colors until in the greatest distance all but blue is lacking, which is why we think of mountains as purple or blue rather than yellow.
At its most rudimentary you could reduce the landscape to three simple colors: yellow land, purple mountains and blue sky. Notice that these colors move progressively away toward blue on the spectrum. Painting a distant mountain yellow or the foreground plane purple sacrifices the sense of intervening air.

Value and temperature are two entirely separate issues, but they are utterly interlocked in a painting, because every color's temperature influences the overall sense of distance in a landscape. I usually rely on value first, then decide if the temperature needs to be tweaked.

Look at this painting by Brad Faegre of Canyon de Chelly:


Notice how he's used very similar colors on both of the distant canyon walls, but has used more of the warmer, slightly darker mauvey-rusts on the nearer one, and more of the paler lavenders on the farther one. He's controlled the temperature to give you a sense of slowly receding planes. Then look out at the mountain range far off. The color is still a lavender, but he's let the paler, bluer lavender take over.

That's the function of temperature... yet it's enslaved to values. If the mountain was too dark or the nearest cliff wall was too light it would destroy the sense of distance, almost no matter what temperature they were.

Hope that helps some...


07-04-2005, 05:31 PM
Yes, Deborah, that helps a lot! I have read on this forum (and seen in everyone's art work) that, in a landscape, with distance, things become cooler and appear "bluer". I did not know the science behind it, and I did not know the progression from foreground (blue, yellow, red) to mid ground (blue, red) to background (blue). That is so interesting.

I guess that is why green trees loose their green/yellow look in the mid and background and become more blue/green.

The art that you attached by Brad Faegre is an excellent example and helped me to see what you described in your post.

Thank you for sharing...I am printing that off, too!! :)

07-05-2005, 12:30 PM
Wow, what a great painting by Brad Faegre of Canyon de Chelly. These are the kind of paintings that make me vow never to attempt art again as I can't compete. :D

But this is a great thread as I struggle with this issue too. Like in my first life drawing class last week, where I was trying to do the background drapery behind the model, and the instructor told me my drapery was too "warm" and needed to be "cooler". They were a green, so I added some blue to them which was all I could think to do to make them cooler - but on the other hand it would never had occurred to me to make them cooler myself either!

Debbie C.