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Warm/Cool Color Relationships

Thes Hunter

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I think it is time we had a repository of knowledge on just what is all this 'warm/cool' stuff people keep talking about. I am about to dump all the knowledge I have on the subject, into this thread. I am sure my understanding is not complete. So I invite anyone who has knowledge on warm/cool relationships to also deposit their knowledge here, for the edification of the masses. ::):



I shall begin....

It was a long long long time ago, in a art school far far far away.....

Ok, ok, I will drop the theatrics. =]


But during my school days, we had a series of assignments which I called "Artist Boot Camp". Partially because I always ended up needing to paint until the first light of dawn to finish these projects. (Which I can assure you had nothing to do with my constant gaming addictions. :poke: )


One of these projects was to paint a still life (on a 2D canvas of course) to have the depth of a 3D picture, but in black and white. Now here is the kicker, we were not allowed to use black. The whole point of this little torture was to get us using complimentary colors, and the warm cool relationships to set up a sense of space. There were also other lessons here, like when to use a crisp line/fuzzy line, which do not translate as well from the world of oil painting to miniature painting. However the idea of using warm/cool relationships to give more depth, or 'pop' translates quite well.


First off, let's define the general warm and cool colors.

Warms: Red, Orange, Yellow

Cool: Green, Blue, Purple.


However, even within a single color, it can be warmer or cooler. Let's take blue for example. A Royal Blue is cooler than say a Turquoise. I would even say that Turquoise is quite warm.


While a Crimson is a cooler version of the usually warm Red.


Warm/Cool color relationships are most noticable when the colors in the relationship are close to the same value (i.e. how light or dark the color is). One of the tips on checking a value of a color is to squint your eyes, that way you are only perceiving the actual amount of light that is being reflected, and are not being tricked by the hue. Because colors lllliiiieeeee! Beware of the colors!

(I am sure this has to do with the overlapping light frequency senstivities of our cones cells, vs the rod cells, and that you need to lower the amount of light coming to your eyes so that only the rods can respond, but there I go again, getting all science-y, so I will stop being side tracked.)


Now how do you pick warm cool compliments. Well, I must admit, I am very instinctual in my color choices. However here is how I go about it for base coat colors. I grab a bunch of colors out of my paint box, and I put them next to each other and see if they look neat together. I then lay them down onto my wet palette. Even if the colors may be a little ways away from each other on the model, I want to see what they look like next to each other. The two (or maybe even 3) colors together have to be more than the sum of there parts. They have to 'sizzle'. They have to hit me over the head and say "Hey we look neat!".

An example of this using GW paints (because that is what I have and I am used to) is the combination of Kommando Khaki and Hawk Turquoise (web colors are only a rough approximate).


For me to choose the base colors it sometimes takes me a lot of experimentation on my palette before I even lay down colors on the mini. I even go to the extent of mixing colors for my base colors but I understand that could be going a bit too far for the average painter. ::):


Now that is just how I go about using warm/cool relationships in my base color scheme. I am sure complementary colors are covered elsewhere in this forum. However, beginning to recognize that 'sizzle' that happens when colors are working really well together will help you when it comes to highlighting and shading.


PaintbyNumbers posted a very interesting article about warm/cool relationships and shadows in regards to warm and cool light sources:



But this article is pretty out there for most painters. Since most painters will be painting a figure as if lit by the warm yellow sun. For this you generally want a cooler color mixed into your shadows. For pure colors (for the 'cartoony' style, or for richly colored fabrics and the like), I tend to mix blues into my purples and greens, and purple into my blues for shadows. However, their are always cases for mixing a dark green into my blue, but that is normally because I am looking for more of a color unification through out the model, or there is some red nearby that I am wanting to work with as a compliment.


I tend to mix purples into my reds, and color dark reds into my oranges. And Dark Oranges/Orange browns to shade my yellows. However, yellow is a funny color. You can shade with a greener color if you want to use a cool color to 'push back' the shadow, you have to be very careful. Normally you will have to go with a grey or brown that only has a tinge of green, otherwise you risk making a spring green. And in my experience Spring green does nothing but 'springs' right out at you. Which is why I tend to use spring green in a lot of my green highlights.


Now please keep in mind that when I say, Reds, or Blues, or even Purples, I can be speaking of Browns, and Greys and all other sorts of neutral colors. And this might be the hardest part for a beginner, is puzzling out all the component colors in any one color that you see. It is also why I believe they make us do all those sadistic color mixing assignments in art school. But one thing to do when you are not sure is try putting other colors next to the color in question. Like I said before colors lie. They shift and change on you in different lights, and even depending on what other colors are next to them. For example a Blue Grey next to a true Blue is going to look more grey than blue. But when that same Blue Grey is next to a warmer grey you will really start seeing the blue. So if you aren't sure what component colors are in a color start putting other of your paints next to it and observe how the color shifts. If a brown looks more 'brown' when put next to a pure red, I bet ya there is some red in that brown.


Other ways to make shadows recede is by mixing in the colors compliment. Red vs Green, Yellow vs Purple, Orange vs Blue, for those of you who needed a quick color theory refresher. However, I feel using complimentary colors is a topic


Yesterday Anne gave a good beginning description on how to use warm and cool in shadows.


Ok, I think my brain is shutting down. If I think of more stuff, I will make sure I write it down here.


And if you have questions, comments, think I got something wrong, have more to add, write it down here. ::):

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Great basic primer on a very complex topic! ::):


One point to also make is that warm and cool only exist when comparing two or more colors to each other. A red by itself is neither warm nor cool; it is only when viewing that idealized red in relationship to the other colors on the wheel that it becomes one of the group of "warm" colors. In stating that a color is warm or cool, you're always comparing said color to something else--even if it's the idealized version of that color in your head. Saying that a green is warm, you are inevitably comparing it somewhere in your mind to the green crayon or color-wheel green in order to attempt to describe it to others.


Another point to make is that true spectrum hues--colors which are the idealized versions of red, yellow, and blue--are generally unavailable in paint. Instead you are stuck with the closest thing that chemistry is able to provide. Betty Edwards in her color book says that of these three, only true spectrum yellow is available. Our reds and blues are all flawed, limited because they are created from fallible organic materials. "But," you say, "it's true red and true blue on my color wheel!" Sure...but those colors are created by printers', inks, not painters' pigments. Which are an entirely different animal. So trying to mix your red with your blue and getting a slightly muddy purple is common and a result of the fact that red pigments can shift toward either orange or violet and and blue pigments toward green or red (violet). You can get around this by developing a more discerning eye when you view colors. Mixing that orangish yellow with your orangish red is indeed going to give you a more vivid orange! Mixing the cool red with the red-shift blue is going to give you a better (though still not perfect!) purple. ::):


Also, to recap from the other thread, warmer colors will attract the viewer's eye over cooler ones. This can create problems if the warmest colors in your piece are in your background or base (and yes I know of someone who did this, and the first thing viewers noticed and what got the bulk of their visual attention was the backdrop)! Also, a muted color (one which has black, white, or its complement added to it) will look cooler to the eye than a more vivid color. Which may have been said above, but I can't remember! :lol:


--Anne ::):

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Small tidbit that I can add from my long ago art school days.


Warm light = cool shadows, warm highlights

Cool light = warm shadows, cool highlights


So someone outside on a sunny day would have cooler colors in their skin shadows, on a cloudy day (the light seems cooler on those days) they would have warmer colors in their shadows. Same for being indoors with different types of lighting. This can help keep a mini from getting to disjointed, if you keep all the shadows warm or cold.


The skin on my Shurat in the WIP uses this a bit, as the color I was using for highlights is a cool off white, the shadow color was a warmer greyed out purple.

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