Hot and cold, dark and light

Temperature in painting

I find painting and portraiture with temperature (just warm and cold, light and dark) rather than a full palette of colours very rewarding. Earlier this week our model took on an emergency sculpting project and so did not turn up.  While frustrating at the time, it facilitated my interest in painting with just tones and temperature, setting aside the actual colours.   I had half a day to play, and did the oil sketch on the bottom right of a plater cast.

For me the approach has most of the drama you get from black and white painting.  But there is an added dimension of excitement, the tension and vibration between the warm and cool colours, its a bit like looking at a tree in autumn after the leaves turn, against a clear cool blue sky.  A shimmering drama.  In these paintings I have used blue (ultramarine) and brown (burnt sienna) as the warm and cool colours.  Mixed they make deep darks that can be shaded to either side of the warm/cool dimension.  An alternative palette is yellow ochre, black and white.  This is only slightly more restricted than the classical ancient palette of the greeks and Romans that also included an earth red

Temperature management and composition is central in any kind of painting and particularly in portraiture.  Too many portraits are painted with ‘skin tones’ that are just warm ochre and pinks, leading to dull and uninteresting pictures.  More exciting portraits have painting schemes that set warm and cold tones against each other, Lucian Freud being the most obvious and immediate example.  The contrast, vibration, musicality and form set them apart from the run of the mill.

HeatherlyPatrick Earle