05 November 2015

Exploring Color Temperature

I've been wanting to use more color temperature contrasts in my work, so today I'm exploring this tool in another portrait of my daughter, Amanda.  I'm following the "rule" of cool light/warm shadows here, but temperature contrasts can be used anywhere in a painting to add energy and interest.  Variety in temperature is as important as variety in edge, color, texture, or shape. 

I like Stapleton Kearn's and Dan Gerhartz's comments on temperature.  In Alla Prima, Richard Schmid says "mud" results from inappropriate temperature choices.  Bottom line: temperature matters.

Amanda Looking Back, 12x16", Oil on linen

I used a simple color scheme here, just burnt umber (warm), ultramarine blue (cool) and titanium white.  Burnt umber and ultramarine combine to make a nice chromatic black.  The ground for this painting is a thoroughly dried, mid-value burnt umber.

I blocked in the head with vine charcoal (upper left panel, below), my preferred way to start.  Once I was happy with the drawing, I gave it a light fixative spray.  

Next I worked up the half-tones (upper right).  This involved finding the plane changes separating the front and side of the face.  Most of the key temperature shifts occur in those half-tones, signalling the big plane changes that define facial shape and likeness. I worked up these areas with ultramarine blue, trying to change temperature without changing value.  Important point.  Capisce?  I also added the hair and body indications.

Working out from those cool halftones into the light, I added the large cool shapes to describe the lit side of the face, and started the features (lower left panel).  Finally (lower right) I finished the features, added highlights and warm dark accents, and adjusted the drawing some more.  I didn't want to overwork it, trying to "leave well enough alone".  My painting mantra.

Amanda Looking Back, detail

My inspiration for this study was Brandon Soloff's portrait of "David Peters".  I first saw this image a few years ago, and it has stayed with me.  At first glance, I thought it was chalk and charcoal on toned paper, but on closer inspection realized it was a sort of oil grisaille.  Look at all those temperature shifts!  Beautiful!  Nice drawing, too.


  1. The Amanda piece is beautiful. I always get frustrated that I can not see work like this in the real. It would knock my socks off. Great post. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your nice comment, Jim. I love looking at these simple studies, too. I'm always surprised by how much can be conveyed with 2 colors.

  2. What an inspiring blog-post! I really love that about you, Candace, how you share information. Your painting of your daughter is very beautiful. Your "work ethic" certainly shows in this result.

    1. Hey, Celeste. I'm happy to see you back posting. Thanks for the kind words. They are all appreciated, but I always feel I could be working harder, so I especially like that last line. Art is long and life is short. Thanks for visiting. Best.