Sunday, June 17, 2018

How to Apply the Warm-and-Cool Approach

Gary asks about the warm-and-cool approach: 

"I can not see if there is, or should be, a rationale for when a warm or cool tone is used. I believe that this approach brings life to a drawing but do not understand how to best apply it."

Jim asks: "I would also love a good explanation of the warm/cool approach. Obviously the value must be correct, but how does one decide to use a warm or cool color? Is it based on local color of the object? Is it based on light vs. shadow? Is it based on a combination of both? If so, which trumps the other when they conflict? That is, what color should be used to depict a cool shadow on a red ball? What elements are portrayed as gray (an even mix of warm and cool) within a picture? It's worth figuring out, because it's amazing how much "color" can be achieved with just Burnt Sienna (warm) and Ultramarine Blue (cool)."

Richard Parkes Bonington
Gary and Jim, The way I think of warm and cool is that I'm basically doing a value study, but just taking the first step toward color. The warm pigment might describe an area lit by a warm light source, or you might use the warm color to suggest a local color that is intrinsically warm, such as an orange building. If the warm-cool exercise is a preliminary study for a painting that you intend to paint later with full color, the study will give you an impression of what the final will feel like. The limitations of chroma and hue choices keeps you from straying too far away from making primarily value-oriented decisions. 

It's very similar to the way musical composers will figure things out on the piano and then build their orchestration. A composer might work out the melody, rhythm, and chord structure before deciding on the instrumentation.

A simple warm and cool palette such as ultramarine vs. raw sienna is also a worthy approach for finished works. Many painters of the past sought the muted harmonies of warm and cool to achieve a feeling of quietude, dignity, or austerity.


Susan Krzywicki said...

Also, the personality of the painter will come into play, no matter how much we work to paint what we see. Some gravitate to warmer tones, while other simply feel the cool. If we know which way we lean, that helps to sort it out.

Don Ketchek said...

It took me years to get some understanding of warm and cool until I realized (or finally learned) it was all about the color of the light source. I have found the easiest way to demonstrate warm vs. cool is to have someone look at - or take pics of - a grass field in sunshine and shadow, or a sunny day and a cloudy day. In the sun, the color of the sunlight (yellow) combines with the local color of the grass (green) to turn the grass into a yellow-green. On a cloudy day, it is likely the grass will be closest to it's local color since the light source (cloudy sky) may have have no or little color. The grass in shadow will likely be a touch more blue-green as it gets blue light from the blue sky.

I have also found that many folks become confused with the idea of warm light, cool shadows. I think the understanding is easier when one says - warm light, coolER shadows. In other words, if an object is lit by warm light, then the areas in shadow are not receiving that warm light, so the light that the shadow side is receiving is most likely COOLER - but not necessarily a cool color. Of course, one shouldn't resort to formulas, but should always try and understand what light sources (including reflected light) are striking the objects in out paintings. Is the light source warm, neutral or cool. The helps decide the color temperature.

That's the way I look at it anyway....

Unknown said...

I’d probably start with finding a pair of mixing complements that speak to you. Lamp black and yellow ochre can work and can be really nice for anything where you want to get leaves included in a lifelike color. I’m using Prussian blue and burnt sienna since I’m moving and I had absolutely no paint packed in the regular luggage. There’s several options with pthalo green and a blue toned red. A fun brain bending pairing is cerulean blue with a PR101 you like, because it flips the rules and the red is much stronger than the blue. I haven’t found a match I like for dioxane violet but I’m sure there’s options.

No matter what pair you use, there will be parts you can make easy decisions about what is “right” and parts that are hard. It won’t be exactly realistic. And that is ok.

Then instead of worrying about the right answer about how to abstract a blue toned shadow on a red ball, look at your somewhat grey scale picture, and decide figure out how to sharpen it up. Maybe a hint of another color works. Maybe you want a light or high key color to paint on lost highlights. Maybe you want to enhance your darks with a bit of pen and ink. And definitely ask yourself what should stay soft.

Judy P. said...

Love the question raised, but it is a tough thing, especially when you have warm reflected light into a cool shadow. The best general advice I've ever gotten on this is yes, if you see a warm hue in a cool shadow put it in, but make sure it's not warmer than anything in the light. My related question is how do you depict dark purple irises in warm light? Warming and lightening that rich color really wrecks the beauty of it, and it just doesn't seem convincing.

R. A. Davies said...

Another way to think of it is warm light usually means the sun is out which equals blue skies. Where the sun does not hit, the blue light from the blue sky hits the shadows. If the dark area is hidden from direct light from the sky, it is more warm. This is one end of the scale. As more and more clouds, spotty, thin, grey blankets, extremely dark stormy clouds come along, the amount of blue decreases. You should also look for reflected light (color). Ultimately the color palette does not matter. If you get the values right, you can create a coherent scene.

evanbowman said...

I think it's worth making the distinction between a warm/cool bias, and only using two colors. Warm/cool combos can be tough to pull off convincingly with only two pigments, especially if the colors you pick aren't mixing compliments. In the above image by Sargent, it looks like he used at least three--maybe Ultramarine, vandyke brown, and gamboge/chrome yellow.