November 26, 2017

Color as Temperature

Color as Temperature

Temperature is one of the color's many characteristics. It describes the warmness or coolness of a hue or color relative to another hue. In nature, fire and ice are incredibly contrasting polar opposites.

Color temperature was more than familiar to artists before the 19th century.

However, in 1813, English artist Charles Hayter published this diagram in his book, Introduction to Perspective, Practical Geometry, Drawing and Painting, New and Perfect Explanation of the Mixture of Colors.

Hayter's Warm/Cool Diagram

The Temperature in Pigments

The warm and cool color diagram raised questions that caused multiple editions to be published.

Is every hue or color on the color wheel either warm or cool? Are some hues excluded as neither warm nor cool?

A warm or cool characteristic can be assigned to any hue or color when it is in the context of a color wheel. All hues or colors within the visible spectrum of light are present. In this context, red & orange are always warmer colors compared to blue & green.

We can split the color wheel into the polar opposites of nature's 'Fire and Ice.' Fire is close to orange, and ice is close to blue. Note that with all hues present in the color wheel, hues gradually get warmer as they approach orange (fire). Hues gradually get cooler as they approach blue (ice).

Color temperature in pigments or paint is always relative to its surroundings.

The confusion in Hayter's diagram comes when we take the hue or color off of the wheel and put it into another context. Color temperature is always relative to its surroundings.

Pink is cooler compared to red.

For example, when the temperature in our environment goes down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it feels really cold to us. However, 32 degrees Fahrenheit feels relatively warm after being in an environment of 11 degrees Fahrenheit for a day or two.

Warm vs. Cool

Color temperature in pigments or paint works the same way. It appears relatively warmer or cooler to the hues or colors around it. This optical illusion is even more apparent within a single hue family or color.

Pink is a great example. It is generally a warm color used during Valentine's Day in cards or on candy boxes. However, when pink is next to red, it becomes a relatively cool color hue or color compared to red, as shown.

If we zoom in to a single hue family on the color wheel, blue gets cooler as it approaches green and warmer as it approaches red. It is in context. This is what a painter refers to when they say, "a warm blue or a cool blue."

Don't confuse color temperature with color bias or undertones. That's an entirely different topic that will be addressed in another blog.

Temperature in Light

One last thing to address is the temperature of the light. The French Impressionists were obsessed with it.

They could paint the same scene in the morning and afternoon with two entirely different color schemes based on lighting effects and the time of day.

Sunlight Temperature

Lighting is essential in the perception of color. It transforms the vital visual information we receive from the object and affects your paint color. When comparing colors, use consistent lighting as you observe to get the same results.

Temperature is one of the color's many characteristics. It describes the warmness or coolness of a hue or color relative to another hue. In nature, fire and ice are incredibly contrasting polar opposites.

October 8, 2017

Color as Value

Color as Value

'Value' describes the lightness or darkness relative to its surroundings. It is a color characteristic and also depicts volume. It creates the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional surface.

Students learning to draw are taught to master the color characteristic of value first in charcoal or graphite. Drawing in achromatic or 'no color' simplifies the complexity into grey, black and white without addressing hue, intensity, or temperature.

A 'tone' is a single color or hue mixed with grey. Tones represent various colors observed in life without addressing the other characteristics of color or moving on to chromatics.

  • Achromatic - Having No Color
  • Monochromatic - Having One Color
  • Chromatic - Having Multiple Colors

The Contrast Effect

Value is relative to its surroundings and can be deceiving. A single tone induces lightness or darkness upon other adjacent tones and is mutually affected in return.

The horizontal strip of gray below is the same tone across the background of values.

It creates an optical illusion called the 'Contrast Effect.' Even though the middle strip of grey is one single tone, it appears lighter on the dark side and darker on the light side.

The Contrast Effect

Shape & Form

Value also helps us visually determine one shape from another, regardless of its other hue, intensity, or temperature characteristics. The value defines shape & form. Underneath every great painting is a contrast of lights & darks. Without some contrast, objects blend together, making it harder for us to determine one shape from another.

Value contrast distinguishes one shape from another

For example, the painting on the left shows the original value relationships. Value contrast in the painting on the right has been dramatically reduced. Shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. It is harder to quickly comprehend what they are looking at.

“Color or hue gets the glory, but value does the work!” -- unknown

Natural Value

Hue affects the value of a single tone. Pigments straight out of the tube before mixed with other colors are at their highest intensity or chroma and have a pre-existing value. It is called a 'natural value,' apparent when placed next to different colors.

For example, yellow is generally on the lighter side compared to other hues on the color wheel. There are only a few colors that can be mixed to make it lighter.

Purple or Violet is generally on the dark side compared to other colors. As shown below, Orange, green, red, and blue are usually somewhere in the middle.

Every hue already has a natural value.

Value Scale

Since value is relative, a 'value scale' or measuring device is used to help to determine the lightness or darkness of a single tone. The human eye can distinguish many values, but it is generally only necessary to represent 9 of those values in visual art.

Value Scale or Gradation with 11 tones

Mixing colors with white may dull the color intensity. However, don't confuse brightness with lightness. Intensity is the brightness or dullness of a tone. Value is the lightness or darkness of a tone relative to its surroundings.

September 29, 2017

Color as Intensity

Color as Intensity
'Intensity,' otherwise known as 'Chroma,' is a characteristic of color describing the brightness or dullness.

Brightness is the intensity or purity of a pigment or color. Don't confuse 'chroma' with 'saturation.' Saturation refers to the colors created by a computer monitor rather than pigments or paints.

Paint colors are at their most vigorous intensity when they are straight out of the tube.

In painting, this is referred to as 'mass tone or 'top tone.' Each color's mass tone may vary slightly from one paint manufacturer to another, depending on their proprietary recipe or the pigment concentration used.

Think uncontaminated color!

Straight out of the tube is the most intense a paint color will ever be before we dilute it with either a medium or mix it with another color.

Anything diluting the initial pigment concentration makes the color less intense.

Mass Tone


Are duller versions of any color by comparison. Intensity appears to be influenced by adjacent colors and may appear brighter in certain situations!

Color appears to intensify when their color complements are next to each other! Bright colors will also appear brighter when surrounded by neutrals. The impressionists used these color relationships to make their colors appear more vibrant! It creates an optical illusion called simultaneous contrast.

The Impressionists used a combination of intense colors combined with neutrals.

For example, if all of the colors in a painting are intense, nothing will appear that intense. This painting seems to be high chroma, but there are actually a lot of neutral colors used to surround the brighter colors, which create the illusion of bright color.

We create neutrals or "neutralize" a color by decreasing its intensity. There are several ways to do this. You can mix them with other colors or earth tones or use any following methods.

You can take any color and mix in or add white or black.

You can take any color and mix it in or add gray.

You can take any color and mix it in or add the color complement.

Chroma Scale

It is created with a gradation of two complementary hues from bright to dull to bright, with colors of full intensity at both ends of the scale and neutralized colors in between.

Chroma Scale created using color complements.

Creating a chroma scale will help you determine the intensity of your color mixtures using complements.

When creating the scale mixing colors with complements may darken your colors, making it hard to see how the complement affects the color. You may have to add some white to create the perfect chroma scale. However, don't confuse brightness with lightness; that's the following characteristic of color' value.'

May 28, 2017

Color as Hue

Color as Hue
'Hue' is one of the characteristics of color. It is the name of the color or 'hue family,' i.e., red, orange, yellow. For example, if the color of an apple is red, then the apple has a red 'hue.'

'Hue families' contain all variations of that particular 'hue' or color, but what are hue families, and where do they come from?

In 1666, due to an outbreak of the plague, the Cambridge university closed down temporarily, and one of its young and bright students, Sir Isaac Newton, was forced to spend that semester at his home in the country.

Newton's Publication
During this time, by accident, Newton discovered the visible spectrum of light from a prism in the window at the young age of 24. When the sun passed through it, he observed the beam of light separated into multiple colors, like a rainbow. He then studied this phenomenon carefully.

He later published his theories in "Opticks," which details the various phenomena. Newton called it the "inflection" of light and the 'color spectrum.'

Today we have a basic understanding that white light contains all of the colors of the rainbow, which is why we sometimes see a rainbow after it rains and the sun shines through a mist. Sunlight passes through droplets of rain that act as a prism and split the light into the visible spectrum of colors.

The spectrum appears to make smooth transitions from color to color, but Newton divided the resulting beam into seven distinct 'hue families.' He called out red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, or ROYGBIV.

Light Refraction

The eye, just like the ear, responds to wavelengths or forms of energy that travel through space & atmosphere. Sir Isaac Newton didn't realize it at the time, but he uncovered what we now know today as the Electromagnetic Spectrum; and it contains the visible spectrum of light, and each 'hue family' has a different wavelength. Most animals see some color, but red and green color blind. Some insects see ultraviolet wavelength, which we can't see.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Since light contains all of the 'hue families,' when it hits an object, the object absorbs all of the wavelengths except the unique hue that it reflects back to us. For example, an apple absorbs all of the hues and reflects the only red wavelength.

Newton's Color Wheels

Newton wrapped the color spectrum around a wheel and published the first color wheel in his publication "Opticks." Today physicists agree that there are only 6 distinct hue families based on their decreasing wavelengths. Indigo was something that Newton included to make the number of hue families equal seven. He chose the number seven, reflecting the Ancient Greek belief that seven is a mystical number. 

The Color Wheel

Hue is the characteristic of color and can be used interchangeably with the name of the color. The human eye can distinguish around ~ 7 million different hues or colors, i.e., there are 7 million different wavelengths that we can see within the visible spectrum.