Your colour choices can make or break a painting.
Understanding warm and cool colours can instantly give your paintings a sense of harmony.
In the above Titian painting ‘ Bacchus and Ariadne’ Titan has almost split the colour wheel in half in his composition. If you were to put a diagonal line straight through the painting, the cool tones of the blues, greens and purples would be dominant on the left and the warm tones of reds, oranges and yellows on the right.
If you squint your eyes at the picture, the general colour scheme is based on blue and orange, which are opposite each other in the colour wheel so are known as complementary colours…
Titian balances the scene by placing areas of these two complementary colours, blue and orange, throughout the composition, creating not just harmony but also vibrancy.
In this video below, I talk you through how Titian has used warm & cool complementary colours to move the viewer’s eye around the painting.
The more you look for warm and cool colours in paintings the more you will see them.
Warm and Cool
The key principles of balance when learning how to mix colours is between warm and cool colours. If you divide the solar spectrum roughly into half, you will have the reds, oranges, and yellows on one side and the purples, blues, and greens on the other. The former being roughly the warm and the latter the cool colours.
Less is more
When you start to learn how to paint in acrylics, it is best to start.
It is better to have 5 colours you use consistently and learn to understand their individual properties and behaviours rather than keep on hoping a new premixed exotically named colour will save the day!
One brush is better than ten.
By just limiting yourself with a few key colours Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Titanium White your paintings will have unity and balance.
This ultra-limited palette is very efficient and very effective.
You can follow a simple step-by-step jug painting using these colours.
Warm & cool colour simple Jug painting video tutorial – Part 1 (40 min total Lesson time)
Perfect if you’re still learning about colour and want to understand the principles of warm & cool colour in painting.
Benefits of an ultra-limited palette
In her book Classical Painting Atelier Juliet Aristides commented:
Pliny the Elder wrote in C.E.30 that the most renowned painters of ancient Greece often limited themselves to only four colours – even when more were available. Pliny said that work was better when resources were limited because ample resources tempt artists and patrons to value materials above genius.
By varying the intensity levels throughout the painting, e.g., a muted blue next to a brighter orange or a bright blue next to bright orange, it will control where the viewer looks in the painting. The trick is to be able to control your viewers gaze without them even realizing it.
Below are 7 benefits of learning how to paint using a limited palette.
- A greater balance in your painting
- Easy colour harmony
- Professional looking results, think Old masters.
- Quicker to paint
- Can translate to acrylics or oil paints
- Forces you to think about tone and composition
- Have to adapt to use warm and cool colours to achieve contrast rather than adding a brighter colour.
A limited palette is efficient. If you had three colours on your palette and used those colours consistently, you would get to know them very well.
The better you know your pigments, the better able you will be able to control your mixtures.