What’s the temperature of your pallet and other interesting questions?

As a self-taught artist I get frustrated with some of the terms that other artists and teachers bandy about. I had understood some terms like:

Hue:                      Where the colour is on the colour wheel (see below) red, green blue etc.

Saturation:         How rich or vivid the colour is e.g. bright orange versus a weak orange.

Tint:                      Any colour plus white.

Shade:                  Any colour plus black.

Tone:                    Any two or more colours with reduced saturation.

Complementary colours: Colours on the opposite sides of the colour wheel e.g. red and green

One term I found some difficulty in understanding was that of “colour temperature”. Everyone talked about it as though it were obvious what they meant; but is it?

I had got to grips with the idea that traditionally warm colours are said to via towards orange and reds and cool colours towards blues and greens.

Then I discovered that all colours can be warm or cool depending on how much of the red or blues they are made up of. As an example, you can see in this schematic that there is a yellow green and a blue green and a blue violet and a red violet.

Warm or cold?

To speed up my mixing abilities I decided to try and understand whether my own premixed oil paints were warm or cold. You’d have thought that it was an easy thing to do (I used the internet as a research tool) but not a bit of it!

I own a variety of manufactured paints and have listed most of them below indicating whether they are warm or cool as well as whether they are transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. I discovered that Ivory black, Portland Grey Medium and Titanium White are normally considered to be neutral i.e. neither warm nor cool. See below where the colours are listed as warm or cool:

 

 

Colour My Make of Oil Paint Cold or Warm Opaque Transparent or Semi-transparent
Alizarin Crimson W&N C T
Attica Green Rublev C T
French Ultramarine W&N C T
Mars Brown Old Holland C O
Mauve Blue Shade W&N C ST
Phthalo Turquoise W&N C T
Phthalocyanine Green M Graham C T
Quinacridone Magenta W&N C T
Raw Sienna W&N C T
Raw Umber W&N C ST
Rose Dore Old Holland C T
Terre Verte W&N C T
Ultramarine Violet Michael Harding C T
Veridian W&N C T
Windsor Blue (green shade) W&N C T
Windsor Lemon W&N C ST
Yellow Ochre Cranfield C ST
Bright Red W&N W T
Burnt Sienna W&N W T
Burnt Umber W&N W T
Cadmium Green Pale W&N W O
Cadmium Orange W&N W O
Cadmium Red W&N W O
Cadmium Yellow M Graham W O
Cerulean Blue W&N W ST
Cobalt Tourquoise W&N W O
Indian Red W&N W O
Oxide of Chromium W&N W O
Sap Green W&N W T
Titanium Buff Gamblin W T
Windsor Red Deep W&N W ST
Ivory black W&N O
Portland Grey Medium Gamblin O
Titanium white W&N O

 

 

Opaque, semi-transparent or transparent?

I used to think that the warm/cool dynamic was all that I needed to understand. Then I realised that opaque colours had a dramatic tinting effect e.g. Titanium White (so I needed to use them sparingly) whereas transparent colours had only subtle effects (like Sap Green). To help you I have rearranged my table so that the list is now organised by opaque, semi-opaque and transparent:

 

 

Colour My Make of Oil Paint Cold or Warm Opaque Transparent or Semi-transparent
Mars Brown Old Holland C O
Cadmium Green Pale W&N W O
Cadmium Orange W&N W O
Cadmium Red W&N W O
Cobalt Turquoise W&N W O
Indian Red W&N W O
Oxide of Chromium W&N W O
Portland Grey Medium Gamblin O
Cadmium Yellow M Graham W O
Ivory black W&N O
Titanium white W&N O
Mauve Blue Shade W&N C ST
Raw Umber W&N C ST
Windsor Lemon W&N C ST
Yellow Ochre Cranfield C ST
Cerulean Blue W&N W ST
Windsor Red Deep W&N W ST
Alizarin Crimson W&N C T
Attica Green Rublev C T
French Ultramarine W&N C T
Phthalo Turquoise W&N C T
Phthalocyanine Green M Graham C T
Quinacridone Magenta W&N C T
Raw Sienna W&N C T
Rose Dore Old Holland C T
Terre Verte W&N C T
Ultramarine Violet Michael Harding C T
Veridian W&N C T
Windsor Blue (green shade) W&N C T
Bright Red W&N W T
Burnt Sienna W&N W T
Burnt Umber W&N W T
Sap Green W&N W T
Titanium Buff Gamblin W T

 

 

Some of this analysis was quite a surprise to me. More to the point I had to decide how to use what I had learnt! After a couple of glasses of wine and some frustrating sessions in the studio I decided that I needed to understand the following:

How can I make my colours darker?

At school I was taught to use black to darken colours, but the result was often dull and uninspiring. Instead I tried using raw umber and that worked quite well but still tended to deaden my colours. I now prefer to mix it with some ultramarine blue or sap green or alizarin crimson etc. I particularly like sap green, which is a translucent colour, as it is good at creating subtly darkened colours. You can of course still use some black!

How can I lighten my colours?

Again, at school I was taught to add titanium white to lighten my colours. I now realise that it cools my colour and lowers the saturation as well. Now I use a variety of yellows (I was inspired to do so by a recent exhibition of the Spanish artist Sorolla’s paintings in London). The Brixham Harbour Lighthouse that I recently painted has virtually no pure white as all the whites are tinted with blue (nearest the sky and sea) and yellow (in the middle of the lighthouse).

 

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How do I reduce the saturation of my colours?

Now this was something never mentioned at school. I have since learnt to add complimentary colours, or pre-mixed greys (bought or created by myself) or even some white or black. The key is to try and avoid making a muddy puddle on the pallet which I don’t always manage to do.

How do I mix amazing vivid colours?

To be honest there are some colours (despite what some artists will tell you) that you can’t mix but can only buy. If you mix your own vivid colours don’t “cross” blue and yellow boundaries on the colour wheel; try and stay on the same side of the wheel (e.g. reds versus blues) so that your colours are not compromised.

How do I mix browns and greys without creating mud?

There are so many ways to create browns – have a go yourself. Try mixing blues and oranges or a little of all the primary colours or cheat and buy some!

I mix greys from blacks and titanium white (there are different shades of black that I use but I like ivory black which is a cool, greenish black). Depending on the proportions of each you can pre-mix shades of grey in numerous variations that you can then use for underpaintings or to tone down other colours.

In conclusion

In researching colour I have learnt so much but find that the hardest bit is to summarise it so that other people can short cut their way to knowledge. In the end I realise that practice makes perfect and you will just have to try and mix colours for yourself until you feel confident that you know what you are doing. Good luck.

Please do write and tell me your favourite colour receipts.

 

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