A Color Temperature Practical

Judith Reeve, A Palette of Three Primaries and the Neutral.

I have been teaching a drapery study class in my studio this fall. Besides instructing my students on the fundamentals of drapery- design, proper construction, characterization, and dynamic rhythm- I wanted to explore color temperature modeling since my students were painting. To effectively allow the color temperature on the drape to be evident, I used a white cotton drape. I also manipulated or exaggerated the color by adding red fabric below the arrangement to add a vivid red reflected light. This reflected light is more intense closer to the bottom of the drape. The red reflected light then loses intensity progressively toward the top, infiltrated by a yellow tone of reflected light.

Judith Reeve, Photo of the Drapery in my studio.

What is not evident from the photo is the warm, yellowish direct light from my lamp. This warmed the general light side but allowed for a blasted, cooler highlight. There is also a cool blue form shadow edge meeting the halftones on the light side. The cast shadows are also cool, tending toward a green-grey. This color relates to the tone of the wall.

My purpose for this arrangement was to allow each primary, red, yellow, and blue an evident area within the drape. This created structure for my students to explore how a white ( i.e.-neutral) drape is affected by color temperature variations that reflect a change in the plane and the directional source of the light.

I next created a simplified palette design that would establish certain limitations. The primaries used are:

  • Red- cadmium red vermilion (Old Holland)
  • Yellow- a mix of raw sienna deep (Old Holland) + cadmium yellow (W&N). This mix contains more raw sienna than cadmium yellow.
  • Blue- Indanthrene blue (W&N) + Ivory black (Old Holland). One could substitute Ultramarine blue for Indanthrene blue, as some of my students did. This mix contains more black than blue.

You will notice that these primaries are not balanced through intensity. I have created a hierarchy of intensity where red is the most intense, followed by yellow, then blue. Remember that the drape is primarily neutral. So I had my students create a neutral mix from these three primaries that they then set on the palette to use during the painting process (this is the mix to the top, far left on the palette). Sometimes white was added to this neutral (N + W) to create a lighter value that was then added to the lighter tones. The additional yellow mix (to the right under the blue) contained a little more cadmium yellow and was used in some of the brighter areas on the light side to pump the color up, as one was apt to add more white to the mixtures to increase the values.

The method: The goal is to produce a painting of a white drape that perceptively shifts in color temperature to achieve the modeling of the forms not just through black/white value changes but also color temperature changes. Color temperature modeling consists in varying the color temperature to “turn the forms.” That means alternating the temperature warm, cool, warm, cool, etc. Secondly, the students will use the neutral to subtly harmonize these colors, adding the neutral to lower the value and shift the color temperature. Some of this neutral is mixed into most of the colors, and a harmonious unity is created in the painting through this shared neutral color.

An example: I begin with the higher values and cooler highlight areas using the lightest version of the yellow + white. As I move to the warm general light area (yellow), I will add more of the neutral as the halftones move toward the form shadow edge. This will effectively cool and lower the value of those halftones while simultaneously maintaining a coherent relationship with the generally warm light area. The shadow edge will be cool and bluer, with more of the neutral added to darken the value. Then, the reflected lights will be lighter and warmer, varying from a yellow/orange tone to an intense red tone. Again, the neutral is added to each of these tones unifying the shadow area. Lastly, the cast shadows on the drape are darker/cooler toward the green, again, with more of the neutral added. The demo of mixes on the palette demonstrates only some of the possibilities for shifting the color temperature inherent in this method.

Some of my students working on drapery.

This lesson allowed me to share some of Robert Henri’s techniques from the early 1920s. Henri went through a period of experimenting with a series of neutrals derived from the primaries in order to control the values while simultaneously he sought to model the forms through color temperature. Henri found these studies very successful, opening him up to a new understanding of color technique in his work.

Form can be modeled in black and white, but there are infinitely greater possibilities in modeling through the warmth and coolness of color.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, p. 62.

Henri may have initially explored this idea because Albert Munsell’s Color Notation, 1905, was gaining interest among artists in the teens and early twenties. Through my own experience, I have found that color temperature modeling adds incredible vitality to a painting. The eye is scintillated by the juxtaposition of the opposites keeping the surface of the canvas activated. It also creates a greater feeling of form even when the values are nearly identical.

Try this color temperature practical and let me know in the comments if you found it effective or if you have any additional insights through your practice. Enjoy painting!

Finding Effective Greens to use in Landscape Painting

Judith Reeve, “Hazy Morning, High Meadow,” 16 X 22, oil, 2022

For the last few months, I have been experimenting with a new series of greens on my landscape palette. There are innumerable greens in a multitude of variations in the landscape of the Catskills where I live. Each tree has its individual quality of green due to its species. One can visually pull out a specific tree on a forested hill by its value of green and the color intensity of that green. The ground plane also has an acidic yellow-green so evident in the Northeast. It is a challenge to set all these greens down on the canvas in a satisfying relationship that speaks of one’s emotions in that moment and the phenomena of experience before one’s eyes.

Paint has its limitations. Pigment can only give you a mere reflection of the color and variety of nature before you. It can only act as a correspondence to your visual experience, and the artist is never completely satisfied with this transference. The painting can only serve as a signifier, a place setting of that wholistic intimacy of that painting moment.

Still, the artist must study how to get the variety of colors necessary to translate nature. And for me, greens in the landscape are some of the most challenging colors to mix and then later feel satisfied with. I found from experience that those intense yellow greens, present everywhere on the East Coast in summer, are vexing upon post-completion of the image. So in June, I attempted to increase the range of my green mixes, seeking a variety in color temperature, and intensity. Here are some of my experiments.

Judith Reeve, “Landscape Greens with semi-neutrals,” oils, 2022

Above is a chart I created to assist with my landscape painting. If you look at the top line, I have created a series of greens moving from YG, G 1, G 2, G 3, to GB. I made the mixes by combining Indanthrene blue (W&N) + Yellow [Azo yellow lemon (Old Holland’s, Scheveingen yellow lemon) + some raw sienna] at full intensity. This Indanthrene blue is new for me, and I chose it this season because it appears as a more true blue than Ultramarine, and it is also more intense like Prussian blue. The samples of these colors appear on the top line, right.

In the right column, I have placed a series of colors descending from P, BP, B Hue to R. These colors are a little difficult to see as pure colors, but one can see the changes they create in the rows. Notice that the P, BP, B Hue, and R each contain some amount of red, the complement to the green. It is relatively easy to get high-intensity greens but extremely challenging to get greens that are semi-reduced in intensity but remain visually vital. If one just uses red to get these semi-neutrals, you end up with a minimal range of color temperature.

To understand this chart, I have taken each high-intensity green along the top line and mixed it with one of the colors in the right column. Each column of green displays the semi-neutralized mixes as that green descends toward its complement of red. For example, G 1 appears at full intensity on the top line; G 1 + P [Ultra. + PR 264 + Cad. R] on line 2; G 1 + BP [Ultra. + PR 264] line 3; G 1 + B Hue [P + G] line 4; G 1 + R [Mars red] line 5.

Through my practice, I found that the mixes generated below the G 2, G 3, and GB were excellent. The most valuable combinations for the summer landscape have been G 2 +P; G 2 + BP; G 3 + P; G 3 + BP; G 3 + R. The GB combination helped add variety to my darks, especially the GB + P and the GB + R. But now that the green in the trees is waning and fall has set upon the landscape, I am using more of the BP combinations, including the YG + BP and G 1 + BP (and G 1 + P). As the leaves turn to reds and golds, I find myself adding VR to many of my greens, creating another row of green mixes that is presently not on my chart.

What the chart has done for me is open my mind to new mixing triangulations. I had probably mixed many of these combinations before, but because I have made it conscious, my mixing has been more directed and accurate to my lived experience before nature. Plus, I am more satisfied post-painting with the harmony in my color arrangements.

If you love to experiment as I do, consider a Zoom session with me, and I can assist you with color mixing or another element of your painting practice. Use the contact page to get in touch. Enjoy painting!