How to create form with colour and colour temperature

Color temperature along with tone, color, intensity and edges allow us to create the impression of reality in watercolor and all other painting mediums.

How to create form with colour and colour temperature?

Have you struggled trying to paint in watercolor? Have you wondered how to paint in oil color? Acrylic or pastel? The medium we use is not as crucial as the knowledge we have on how to create a good composition, how to use and mix color and create form using color temperature.
Let me help simplify some of these mysteries we hear so much about – but don’t understand the importance of:
Take a look at my watercolor study of how to paint an eye. Can you feel a presence, a glassy surface of a rounded shaped eye as it influences the surrounding tissue and sits naturally into the face? Can you see the undulating form of this part of the face? The gently blended washes of color give a soft transition that leads the eye over and down the rolling landscape of the face. Can you see the color mixes I have used and where I placed them to help me to create convincing form?
This study will hopefully lift your awareness of the impact color temperature and also complementary colors have on our work and everything we see. This is an opportunity for we artists to observe how colour temperature and how these changes within the range of temperatures can affect what we see in our natural world and capture in watercolor.

Let’s begin by understand how to paint an eye in watercolor or any other medium

Can you see how round the eyeball appears? What else do you notice? The paper is of course two dimensional – flat – and yet with the use of color temperature, I am able to bring an impression of substance and rolling form.
How did I do that?

Where to begin:
Begin by looking at the lightest areas. The highlight in the eye is of course the whitest area – so this is the coolest spot of all. White is our coolest color on the color wheel. Cool white will almost always come forward in a painting.

Now let’s look at the shadow on the eyeball – I want you to think about what you see.

Look at the eyeball – directly below the eyelid. The shadow is blue/grey. Blue is less cool than white. You will notice that introducing this cool – but not as cool as white – shadow – has allowed me to suggest the roundness of form of the eye. The highlight and lightest color is in the centre of course. The cast shadow from the eyelid is along the edge just below the eyelid. We have a color temperature shift. From coolest – to cool. It is not a big shift – but just enough to describe the form is rounded. Not flat. Without that shadow the eyeball would not pull back into the socket. The eyeball would look flat in the central and upper areas.
Compare that cool blue/grey shadow we have just discussed to the color in the “white of the eye” at the base of the eyeball. What colors do you see there? Yes – you will see greys that are tinged with a little red/orange.
Give some thought to this. We have our coolest colors in the central areas. We have a coolish blue/grey cast shadow at the top and now we discover we have a warmer red/orange tinge near the lower edge of the eye.
Can you see how the eye has cool color on one side and warm on the other?
We have opposites working here. Blue – which is cool – and red/orange which is warm.
This is the point I wish to make. It is these opposites or near opposites that allow we artists to create convincing form.
If we had cool highlight area in the middle, similarly cool colors at the top and lower edges of the eye – this would result in giving the impression of a flat surface.
However what we have is a rounded form because we have used warm against cool color temperature to help us describe the form of the eye.

There is another phenomenon working here too: Complementary color

The upper area under the lid is blue/grey and the lower area is red/orange. Blue and orange are opposites on the colour wheel. That means they are complementary colors. If we want to create the impression of rounded form – we can easily do that by allowing one side of the form – to be established using cool color and the other side to be established using warm color. Generally we find the colors we use are complementary or near-complementary colours.

The complementary colors are these:

Red  –  Green
Blue  –  Orange
Yellow  –  Purple

You can see how warm and cool colors juxtaposed close to each other throughout this watercolor eye study – help us to create a seamless rolling of form:
Look at the cool light just below the eyebrow. This sits forward. Notice the area juxtaposed in the inner area of the eye – by the nose – and also on the eyelid. You can see these areas are warmer as well as darker. This tells the viewer these areas are in shadow and therefore must be on a different focal plane than that of the highlight below the eyebrow.
We have the cool of the highlight below the eyebrow and the warm of the areas in shadow that lead up to the ridge of the nose. We also have the warm of the eye lid that is also in shadow. This is what we need to look for. Then we need to learn how to paint seamlessly – without demarcation lines that would interrupt the rolling of form.

Let’s take a final look at the last areas of this eye study:
The area above the eye is not as affected by the light as that area below the eyebrow. The area above the eye needs to sit back just a little on the forehead – but not as far back as the areas on the side of the nose – and the eye lid.
You can see how I have used varying amounts of warm/cool, light/dark, intense/pale colors to achieve the impression this is a three dimensional face. It is not flat. It is rounded.
Look at the lower lid. You can see how the upper area that is affected by similar light to that of the top highlight area below the eyebrow. This rim is light and cool-ish.
As this area rolls under – you can see it then rolls into a little shadow so the color is a little more intense as well as warmer. This is another example of how the roundness of the eyeball affects the outer skin form. We describe that form with roundness in mind and so we simply use warm and cool to help us establish the impression of roundness once again.

You can see how we can create an undulating form by simply using color temperature to give us the impression of form, substance and a three dimensional reality.

Experiment. Even if you can’t determine these color temperature shift in your painting subject – you will find if you use color temperature to help you describe form, you will create a much more three dimensional reality in your paintings. Remember: Warm against cool and cool against warm will create beautiful undulating form that gives the impression your subject is not only rounded – but it is coming to life!
I have added a black and white tonal drawing of the same eye to show you how tone also gives you form. I think you will appreciate that color temperature is the ‘icing on the cake’!
Have fun!

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