• Shawn Dell Joyce artist

Color Temperature Creates a Mood!

Right after value, color temperature is a very important element of painting. Being able to discern color temperature in your subject, and capture it in your painting, is one of those defining things that separates a good artist from a beginner.


Color has a temperature. Not just the obvious; red/yellow/orange=warm, blue/green/violet=cool. Each color has both a warm and a cool version of itself right next to it on the color wheel.

For example, notice that Yellow has a warmer version to the right; yellow-orange, and a cooler version to the left; yellow-green.

Green has a warmer version to the right (yellow-green) and a cooler version to the left (blue-green).

Blue has a cooler version to the right (blue-green) and a warmer version to the left (blue violet)

and so on around the color wheel...

Now using warm and cool colors helps to set a mood. Here's a figure that is reduced to black and white values:


By simplifying the figure to basic values, we can then substitute warm/cool colors for the values. Here's a warm version of the same figure:


What feeling do you get from it? Does it make you think of summer heat? Sunny days at the beach? Happy, warm, feelings?

Here's the same figure done with cool colors:


Suddenly she seems very sad and lonely, like summer has ended and it's time to leave.

Color temperature evokes a mood. Think about how you feel when you see these paintings.

See how each one evokes a different mood? Try playing up the color temperature in your next painting to consciously evoke an emotion from your viewer.

As you walk through an exhibit, (or scroll through one online these days!) look at how important color temperature is to the content of the paintings.

If you have never been conscious of temperature before, notice how temperature changes from sunlight to shadows, and how curves and forms change when the quality of light changes. Like the warm sunshine on the sand, and cool shadows from the fence in this painting, or the cool curve of the woman's leg where part of it is warm, and part of it is cool...





Most artists will have a conscious balance of warm and cool colors in their paintings. A 50/50 balance of warm and cool creates a sense of harmony. Tip the scale in either direction and you begin to evoke a mood. Here's an example:


This painting is about 75% warm and evokes a feeling of summer heat, and a busy hot city.



This painting is about 80% cool and evokes a soothing feeling like a calm seaside night with a gentle breeze.



This nocturne is more lively with shots of warm color and warm darks which offset the blues. Its about 50/50.


This painting is full daylight but still is primarily cools! About 80% cool!


Try it yourself, play with color temperature in your own work and make sure to post the results. Would love to see what you do with it!

© 2020 by Shawn Dell Joyce.Shawndelljoyce@gmail.com