As painters, we hear the phrase “warm and cool colors” all of the time. It is almost like a mantra in our world. I don’t like it, which is unusual. Why don’t I like the phrase? Because it and the conversations around it are confusing. I also believe that it is overused and not well understood, especially for those early in their painting journey.
The confusion around warm and cool colors starts with the phrase being used in two different painting arenas.
- We often refer to different hues on the color wheel as being warm and others being cool. As displayed below, it is relatively easy to identify the warm colors as: red, orange and yellow; the cool colors as: green, blue and purple. I like to call this the BIG PICTURE use of warm and cool colors. In painting, this use of warm and cool colors is applied in various ways, such as: creating depth, having a balanced palette of colors, directing a focal area in a painting, creating different moods, etc. In this arena, the concept is fairly clear on how to use it, though it does need study and practice.
- In the second painting arena where many artists use the phrase “warm and cool colors,” the confusion becomes significant. This is when we use the phrase while explaining which tubes of paint we used to mix a color. Teachers and other artists often refer to primary colors as being warm or cool when they say, “I used a cool-red or a warm-blue here on this flower, etc.” First of all, aren’t the phrases “cool-red” and “warm-blue” oxymorons? How can a red be cool or a blue be warm? Didn’t you just say above that red is a warm color and blue is a cool color? It’s head scratcher and it doesn’t make sense.
Replace Warm and Cool Colors with Color Bias:
What is color bias? What do I mean when I use it? [Read more…]