Monday, March 9, 2015

218: The Challenge of color temperature

Study for Venetian Doors, 48" x 36"
I was reading past comments on this blog and came across the following from fellow painter Tom Waters:

I was at a plein air event recently in the lush green mountains of Vermont and watched a very good painter paint a dominantly green landscape. He was using lots of colors and not trying to match the greens at all. The result was great and I talked to him after. He advised me to look at the color temperature. Representing the changing temperature was what he focused on, not the hue.

Is color temperature like other art principles–easy to grasp superficially but difficult to understand profoundly?
While ruminating on the possibility I saw some paintings by Albert Bierstadt and noted a color scheme in many of his paintings that resembled the Kelvin Temperature chart–a scheme that used oppositional oranges and blues.

Temperature wheel from
Color and Light by James Gurney
With renewed curiosity I reviewed the chapter Warm and Cool in the book Color and Light  by James Gurney (page 112). Gurney observed that the oranges (warmest colors) and blues (coolest colors) are opposite on the temperature spectrum. That might seem obvious but Gurney tellingly adds that "the greens and violets seem to have divided loyalties". Note that there are no greens or violets on the Kelvin Temperature scale. Such observations suggest there might be more to temperature than I previously thought and that my struggle with greens might reflect an incomplete notion of color temperature. Could I find a remedy by thinking of temperature as primarily an opposition between orange and blue?
Kelvin Temperature Chart

I'm gearing up to do a major acrylic painting–see rough above–and have resolved to more fully explore the interplay of warm and cool colors. The exploration is ongoing. Please add your observations below.

Brad Teare–March 2015


  1. Hi Brad:

    I enjoyed this post today. THanks for the info.

    The James Gurney book on color and light is a good one. I find that I take a more pragmatic approach, less scientific, but the information he presents is incredibly helpful. He's very skilled and knows what he's talking about.

    In my own works, temperature is one of those things I could do better with. I understand temperature. But at the same time, it needs to be installed in a painting to make a painting more effective. Just like with the choices we make with design, composition, values, brushwork, temperature is one of those things that needs to be thought about and applied with intent in a painting.

    The two areas I need to work on are temperature and brushwork. This post today reminds me that we sometimes operate using our best skills, rather than work on those skills that need improving.

    I need to really think on how I can use temperature more effectively.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Bob. I suspect that we all can review these basics from time to time. I love what you've been doing. It's obvious you are actively incorporating new concepts.

      The thing I like about Gurney's book is that even if you don't want to take that intense of an approach the info is very concise and you can still get to what you need.

    2. Thanks, Brad. Definitely been trying harder. It seems to be paying off in terms of the results. Trying to be much more deliberate and intentional in what I'm doing.

      THe Gurney book is one of the better books out there. Just love the knowledge it carries about color.

      Hope you are well. Now that Spring is springing, I hope we can feel more upbeat and positive and start living again! This winter was just brutal!

      Huzzah Spring!


    3. New paints just arrived so all is well! (Waited three weeks).


Thanks for your comments!


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