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Exploring Warm and Cool Colours

March 14, 2010

cool and warm coloursWe touched on warm and cool colours a little bit when we talked about colour theory, but let’s go into more detail.

It’s really important to understand the difference between warm and cool colours and how you can use them. In general, the warm colours are reds, yellows, and oranges. These colours are bright and energetic, fiery and passionate. The cool colours include the blues, greens, and violets. These are calm and soothing, more mellow and relaxing.

The colours you use in your paintings will have a huge impact on the overall feeling of your work. At Lori¬†McNee’s blog, Fine Art Tips, she discusses how to use the hidden meaning of colour.

Although a red is always warmer than a blue, reds can be different temperatures in relation to each other. When looking at the temperatures of the same hue, it’s all relative. A cadmium red, for example is closer to orange and therefore warmer than an alizarin crimson, which is closer to blue. A cadmium yellow is a warm yellow, and a hansa yellow is a cool yellow.

This is good to keep in mind when mixing secondary colours. If you want to mix a pure orange, you will want to use two primaries that are already warm: cadmium red and cadmium yellow. If you want an orange that is less intense (more grayed) you might use a hansa yellow or an alizarin crimson. You will need to experiment with these combinations to find the colour that you’re looking for.

Warm and cool colours can also be used to depict depth. Cool colours have a tendency to recede on the picture plane; they fall back and appear farther away. Warm colours come forward and appear closer. Keep this in mind as you’re painting and see how you can achieve a greater illusion of depth.

Warm and Cool Colours in Action

Borbay is a New York location artist who, through his collaged paintings, effectively uses the properties of warm and cool colours. Take a look at the documentation of his painting process. You can see how he begins with a sketch, then covers the entire canvas in collaged elements. As he lays in the blues of the background, it appears to fall back. Then he starts working red and orange into the foreground and you can actually see the building jump forward. Don’t forget to peruse the rest of his work; blue and orange feature dominantly in most of his paintings!


From → Colour Theory

  1. Great post Miranda, and thank you for the shout. Flattering, and truly appreciated.

    • Thanks Borbay! It’s great t hear from you. I’ve always admired the way you use colour in your paintings. Blue and orange are my favorite combination, haha!

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