Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Cool" vs "Cold"

Temperature is a challenging concept for some students to grasp.  Initially, or instinctively, warm is red or yellow or orange and cool is blue or green or purple. When you are painting the shadow side of a lemon, or the distant yellow hillside; this simplistic interpretation of warm and cool handcuffs you.  The rest of the time, a lack of understanding of cool vs. cold limits your results and leaves your painting with a lack of sophistication and subtlety as the planes shift.

Take a look at this landscape by Edgar Payne.  I saw it recently on FB posted by Brian Neher in his series of photos "Painters of the Past".  The painting took my breath away.  It is the epitome of "Cool vs. Cold".  The landscape recedes beautifully; yet the range in temperature is very narrow.  The entire painting could be considered warm; with a wonderful variety of "cooled warms".  He cooled the distant hillside showing the atmospheric perspective; and the yellow on the near trees where they are in light and touched by sky is cooler than the yellow inside the same trees.  Wow!  The overall result is a shimmering, hot long view.  Look at the detail  above from the painting.  In the larger painting it reads as the cool distance, but without the closer warms; this is a lovely, warm landscape in its own right.   There are no "cold" cools; just cool warms.  By the way, I love this type of puzzle.

One of the problems I pose my  hard-working students is to paint a still-life composed of all yellow, or all red, or all blue elements. (See the yellow example to the right.) The exercise forces each student into exploring the cools and warms within one color family.  False notes; or unsophisticated notes jump out. We  have a conversation about the color wheel.  When you begin with yellow - cool is everywhere you go.  Sort of freeing, don't you think?



  1. I love the language. That explains temperature better than ever. Great post! Thank you!

  2. You seem like a great teacher, Jody. I LOVE that Payne painting as well.

  3. Your lessons are so....dare I ;)