What's your one BEST tip for stunning color temperature contrasts?

Some of you have the gift of color and apparently easy use of temperature. I understand the basic rules of thumb about shadows, warm vs cool, but would love to hear some easy “secrets” to getting this right. Specific color combos would be helpful! What’s your one best tip? Thanks!!

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PS Even if you don’t feel that you have stunning contrasts or gifted use of them–please feel free to share whatever tips you have found to deal with these subtle contrasts. Thx :smile:

This is kind of hard to answer as a general question. Maybe you could post a link to a painting you admire, and maybe we could analyze that.

“Variation” floral painting by Connie McLennan
Good idea, I’ll try to link three examples here. If this link works, it’s a rose painting called “Variation” by you, Connie McLennan. :slight_smile: If this shows up, I’ll post two more. Thanks!

Animal paintings in Rita Kirkman’s DPW gallery

More examples, I especially like the recent donkey, “Don Kelightly.”

And a final example, “The Young Maple” at http://www.dailypaintworks.com/artists/bob-kimball-2436/artwork

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Thanks for the compliment, Ann–I’m sure you could find many better examples.

I don’t know that there are any short, easy secrets I could sum up in a single favorite tip. As far as “magic” colors: in addition to the basics, two I added aawhile back are Quinacridone Red and Chromium Green (oils). Both are strong and less prone to becoming muddy when mixed. Another painter I know is a big fan of Gamblin’s Transparent Orange (again, oil.) I don’t like it much for opaque painting (might as well use the stronger Cadmiums), but for tinting and glazing (which I generally try to avoid), it can be magical for warming things up.

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Thanks for posting those links, Connie. I especially liked Hatfield’s essay about the artistic soul–and the “readable” version of it as well. It was good to hear permission to approach what’s on the canvas as much as what’s seen in nature. I think that’s the fun part and that’s where the art happens. Many good ideas throughout–and I’m starting to think that saturated color is another thing I’m seeking, maybe more so than temperature shifts. TY again

The way to keep color saturation high is to avoid adding too much medium and/or white.

Also, if you want colors that don’t easily get muddy, use a CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) based palette, as in this video:


I love working with two opposite colors, pick one color as the focal point use less of it say 20 to 30 percent of the painting, and have it purest in color at the focal point. The rest of the painting (70 to 80 %) is variations of the other color, using a lot of neutral values of the dominate color. It is also a great way to learn the most you can about the two colors you pick. Hope this tip helps a bit. Violet and yellow is probably my favorite combination.

I have noticed in myself and people I teach, that a very simple problem occurs with cleaning out your brush when making value shifts. You have to really clean the paint out of your brush when making value changes. It’s a habit now for me. Sometimes I see people wiping their just cleaned brush on a paint caked paper towel. They are just putting paint back on the brush they just cleaned in OMS. Then they try to paint with it and it seeps the too dark or too light color/value back into the mixture. It’s subtle but important. Also, if you don’t get the brush clean enough between value changes, the bristles look clean but the dark value seeps down from the ferule of the brush. That will darken down a very light mixture subtly but just enough to bring it down in value.


I think an easy “secret” is painting plein air on sunny day either in the morning or the afternoon. Around midday the sun stands on its highest point and one does not get much colorful shadows I find, also the reflections are too strong for my taste.