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Temperature is easy to measure when you're talking about the weather. Just look at a thermometer. The temperature of a color is not as easily quantifiable because there isn't really a way to measure its hotness. We determine the temperature of a color by how hot or cold the color looks. Even though we can't actually feel anything. It's based on what we know would feel warm or cool to the touch. The sun, fire, a steaming loaf of bread. Colors in the range of red, yellow, and orange, tend to read as warm or hot.
Snow, the night sky, a leafless tree. Colors in the range of white, blue, or gray, read as cool. Temperature can relate to the overall degree of heat, the quality of the light alone or to specific color in an image. Let's look at the temperature in this image. Not only does it seem lit by a warm sunlight, but the overall palette of the piece is very warm, providing a general sense of heat. By comparison this parish painting which is as warm light provides a greater variation with the contrasting complement in the shadow color.
It still feels warm but tells a different kind of color story from the first image. This photo depicts a very limited range of color, focused on the cool end of the spectrum, emphasizing the feeling of the cold content in the image in a very effective way. This (UNKNOWN) painting, though depicting a cool scene, contrasts the cool with warm elements and uses the temperature Of the slight warmth of the sun as a point of contrast on the large field of snow.
It still feels overall cool, but not to the degree of the photo. The warmth and saturation of the scarf, then the man's mittens, and, to a lesser degree, the boy's mittens, create a focal point for the cool piece. Temperature along with the value of the coats and hat and the amount of saturation in the hat and mittens gives us a point of contrast. The small amount of warm light against the cool shadows of the snow support the use of temperature to focus our attention.
The barn and carriage house in the background pull us to the receding space in the painting only after we focused on the hottest elements on the two figures. Temperature is not dependent on light in an image though as in these graphic images by Avicdona Guy/g. She often uses a palette of contrasting warm and cool color. Sometimes emphasizing the warmth against a focal point of blue, sometimes a field of cool color with a focus on warmth. Though she consistently uses a similar limited palette, she changes the balance of the temperature to get amazing range in her illustrations.
Using temperature either is the dominant voice for overall effect or as a point of focus is another fundamental way to control color in a piece. Although we can't measure the temperature of our imagery or the colors we use it's best to trust your own senses. Knowing when something looks hot or cold and using temperature as another elemental force to be reckoned with. Seems both cool and really hot.
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