Color Temperature

The first Color Temperature wheel diagram
from Charles Hayter
, in his Introduction to Perspective 1813 (sky blue is placed at top, because in Hayter's time it was defined as the "purest" or most fundamental color; note the 19th century contrast with cold rather than cool)

Warm colors are those that pop off the page.

Reds, oranges, and yellows usually create a sharp focus.

Cool colors (blues, most greens, most grays) recede in space


Leonardo da Vinci used this illusion to create the effect of atmospheric perspective in his famous Mona Lisa. In this painting, the woman’s figure is composed primarily of warm hues, while the landscape in the background is composed primarily of cooler blues and greens. This distinction in color temperature serves to place the figure in advance of the background.

monalisalrg.jpg (59534 bytes) Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa (1503–06)


 The 20th-century artist Hans Hofmann was also interested in color-generated spatial relationships, although he was mainly concerned with subverting this impression that cool colors recede and warm colors advance.

hofmann.jpg (88932 bytes) Hans Hofmann The Golden Wall (1961)

In The Golden Wall, Hofmann explored a sensation he called “push-pull.” By overlapping carefully chosen fields of color, the artist forced the colors to move forward and backward in unexpected ways, giving the unnerving feeling that the canvas pulsates in three dimensions. Contrary to expectation, the blue area in the upper-right corner of this work “pulls” forward, while the red-orange areas around it “push” backward.  

rothko06.jpg (12528 bytes) Early Sunday Morning1930.jpg (345585 bytes)

What colors are associated with a hot desert or hell?

Those are the warm colors of the spectrum...they suggest noise, anger, danger, and intensity.


What colors are associated with the shadows of a snowy landscape or the calm and serene sea?

These are the cool colors of the spectrum

Objects in direct sunlight are warm; objects in shadow are cool

Perceptually, cool colors tend to recede into the distance whereas warm colors appear to advance.

YelCube1.jpg (79477 bytes) YelCube2.jpg (74802 bytes)

The 2nd cube uses both value and temperature...the top has been lighten and the side has had blue added to it.

Primary colors never vary in their temperature (unless you add large amounts of their complementary hues to them). Red, yellow and orange, will remain warm colors. Blue will almost always remain cool.

Green is a mixture of yellow and cyan and can become warmer or cooler depending on the dominating component.

Colortemp copy.jpg (53372 bytes)

Purples also can appear to be either warm or cool, depending on the amounts of cyan or magenta you choose

Colortemp copy 2.jpg (53062 bytes)

Grays can also be manipulated to lean towards warm or cool colors

Colortemp.jpg (67018 bytes)


Light Bulbs



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