Color Mixing – What is meant by Color Temperature?

by Neadeen Masters on November 10, 2012

When we think about “color temperature” relative to painting, color mixing, color theory and our paint palette, we first need to understand that color Temperature is an actual attribute of color. When we as artists describe color we think about its hue, intensity and value. We often forget that color temperature is as important as value when it comes to a successful painting.

First Impressions – Color Temperature

In the context of color theory and painting a picture, color temperature usually means the degree of overall warmth or coolness. Here’s a simple example…when you look at a painting and it has that golden  glow about it? That’s an overall warm temperature painting. Look at the two examples featured below. The palette that the artist used was predominantly made up of a selection of warmer color temperatures. Now think about the cool blue scene with the ducks…icy blues and blue greys. Our first impression might be one of ‘cool or cold’ relative to the other more yellowish painting.

Color Temperature - Color Mixing - Art Apprentice Online

Color Temperature – It’s all relative – Cool relative to warm!

Everything to do with color temperature in regards to mixing color and mixing paint is always relative. We measure the perceived temperature of color relative to something else or relative to the area around it.  Try not to judge a color saying that this IS a warm color, or this is a cool color. In a painting it all depends on where the color will sit and what it’s going to be next to.

“In reference to color temperature, the general perception is that warm means moderately warm or has predominant tones of Red or Yellow and that cool means moderately cold, lacks warmth or has tones of blue.” It is much more efficient to understand that the pigments on our palette already have a predetermined color temperature. This is usually written on the label of the color. If we choose to work with a limited palette of pure pigments this is something we can factor into the mixing equation. Pay attention to which of your paints are cool relative to warm. Take a look at your collection of red pigments, and try to determine which ones are cooler relative to the ones that seem warmer.

Generally speaking, color temperature is easier to understand if we judge it based on a comparison to another color. Color Temperature contrast between two colors makes ‘seeing’ the differences much easier to read.

Sign up for free our newsletter to recieve tips,

specials and keep inspired to paint!

Email Marketing You Can Trust

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

GabrieleHunter November 21, 2012 at 1:30 am

This is a wonderful article.  Thank you for posting it.


GabrieleHunter November 21, 2012 at 1:38 am

Great article


neadeenmasters November 21, 2012 at 1:44 am

I know this is a subject close to your heart Gaby! Glad you enjoyed it!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: