Watercolor lessons – Demystifying warm and cool colours

As a watercolor artist, it is important to recognize that all colors have a bias towards either ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ – as this will have a great influence on the process of mixing colors and ultimately on your final painting.

On a broad level, we can say blue is cool and red and yellow are warm – but within each of those groups there is also a spectrum from cool to warm. Alizarin crimson, for example, is considered cool and cadmium red is warm in the way that they relate to each other within the red group of colors. Mixing cool primary colors produces cool secondaries and likewise for warm colors – warm primaries produce warm secondary colors.

Take a look at an old masters portrait painting. If the reproduction is a good one, you will see one side of the face is often affected by warm shadows – and the other side is highlit by cool light. Warm and cool colors are a wonderful tool. They help us describe our subject as being round rather than flat.

If I paint a portrait I mix up any of the following colors for the shadow areas: Indian Yellow, Scarlet Red, sometimes Translucent Orange and a touch of Sap green. All warm hues. I use specific colors because they are transparent. This is a very important part of the success of clean watercolor painting. The colors I personally use are specific to Schmincke.

The highlit areas are all cooler hues such as: Aureolin Yellow, Alizarin Crimson and a very tiny touch of Thalo Blue. These are all cool colors. The white of the paper is very cool too.

I hope this little watercolour lesson gives you some suggestions and help in your understanding of warm and cool. Give yourself time to work with these – it is not something that comes instantly to anyone. There are other factors that also come into play but hopefully the information above will start you on your own wonderful journey of discovering all you can about watercolour painting.

Demystifying warm and cool colours - Water Color Art Lessons
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