Thursday, February 2, 2012


Hot Afternoon, 9" x 12"

What does the temperature of a color do in your painting? It may be as simple as warm colors advance and cool colors recede, but perhaps there is more. What happens when you place a warm color over a cool one -- or vice versa? Does anything different happen if you place a hot color beneath or on top of a cool one?

Let’s begin with a definition of warm, cool and hot. There are three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Two of those colors – red and yellow – are warm, and only one – blue – is cool. Where you divide the color wheel into warm or cool is usually a personal decision, yet what artist has not used warm purple or cool orange? Nonetheless, basically two-thirds of the colors on the wheel are warm.
When we describe a hot color we usually refer to temperature only to a degree. More often the word “hot” means intense, and applies to more colors than just those in the red and yellow range. Usually, however, these intense colors are warm in nature. For instance, you might have a hot orange or red, but what do you picture when I say hot green or hot blue?

If you pictured a green with dashes of red beneath it or a blue with orange peeking through, you are thinking like an artist. When we put complements together, whether on top of one another or side by side, we are using temperature to affect color.

If you place a hot color beneath one of lesser intensity, say layering a bright yellow under a pale blue, you often achieve an optical mix that results in green. Doesn’t the same thing happen if you place a pale yellow beneath a pale blue? Yes, but to a much lesser degree. The result of that combination is usually described more as a slightly bluish green.

Much of the effect is dependent on how you choose to lay down your strokes. For instance, you might decide to put down a soft layer of yellow and then cover that with another soft layer of blue. The result blends on the paper into bluish green. If you put down a thick impasto stroke of yellow and cover it with choppy strokes of blue it results in broken color that suggests green. Think of the difference in layering the sky or the grasses -- soft, smooth layers of sky versus broken strokes of grass. If you use the side of your pastel to slightly blend layers you achieve a very different look using temperature than you do if you use the end of the pastel to put in lines. Both become green but to varying degrees.

Experiment with putting down different colors. What happens?

Try hot over cool.

Cool over hot.

Warm over hot.

Hot over warm.

Warm over cool.

Cool over warm.

Cool over cool.

Warm over warm.

Hot over hot.

Next, how about using a split-complement, the color to each side of the complement, beneath or on top? How does that affect things? That’s too many color experiments to count – I'll let you make that chart.

I challenge you to simply experiment with colors and see what happens when you try different combinations. The charts you make will help you remember what you discovered. Then apply what you learn to layering colors in your paintings.

Almost Spring, 12" x 18"


Thanks for your comment on Painting the Landscape in Pastels ~Deborah