Color in Oils #3: Analogous

The focus of this exercise is to demonstrate color temperature and how it works using an analogous harmony. We will be looking at contrast of temperature and value in two separate exercises.

Analogous colors border each other on the color wheel. An analogous harmony has no more than 4 colors (more than 4 would be discordant). An analogous harmony can include one primary color only (red, yellow or blue) and the colors on either side of it. The colors you choose will depend on your key color and which temperature direction you want to go in which is based on what you are observing (real or imagined) and/or how you feel, or want to feel, about what you are observing (mood).

Here are some examples of analogous harmonies modulated with white.

In the grid below are considered “cool” colors. Here see: Yellow-green, green, blue-green and blue (primary). These colors are in relation to each other. You might not think of the first color as yellow-green but, in relation to the other choices, it is the yellowest of the greens seen here. Tube colors: permanent green light, viridian , phthalo turquoise, cyan blue. You can use whatever tube colors you have, as long as they relate to each other similarly.


In the grid below are considered “warm” colors. In this analogous combination yellow is the primary and orange (because we are looking at a tangerine) is the key color.  Yellow (cadmium yellow light), yellow-orange (cadmium yellow-orange), orange (cad yellow+cad yellow-orange), red-orange (cad orange +cad red light)


We are observing a tangerine in natural and artificial light. The grid above is based on my observation of the fruit in a studio setting. I choose orange as my key color and yellow as the primary for the analogous harmony. (by the way, this grid is by no means perfect and really is just to serve as an illustration of a concept that demonstrates a gradient difference in temperature, value and saturation of each color when mixed with white…some of my colors could be graded more accurately-try to be as accurate as possible! Grid concepts courtesy of Johannes Itten. )

To make things simple and focus only on color temperature we make a color study with as little value shift as possible. This still life has a light source, so value contrast is indicated, but let us see if we can find the relative temperature of the shadow, background, foreground, and subject first before we show value shift.

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Observing the grid with orange as key. Locate a vertical row showing the 4 different  hues at the same value. They may not be all in the same row because of the value of the color to begin with (intrinsic value). Once you’ve located 4 colors of the same value on your grid, use just those to complete the temperature study.


Now, make a second painting showing both temperature and value shift. Below is a beginning study.


Notice how the tangerine looks different in different light environments. My example is shown in a room lit with natural (cool) light with a spotlight (warm) shining on it.

Below see just the natural light without spotlight. Notice the temperature shift between the background (cool) and the ground plane (warm) and the tangerine  (red-orange) with closer roundness (warmer orange) and cast shadow (warmer when compared to cool background).


Below, same tangerine at 11:oo a.m. outside. Notice how cool the surroundings are compared to the tangerine?

These examples demonstrate that the colors of things change in relation to the quality and quantity of light they receive. We can all agree the tangerine is “orange” but interpretation and environmental conditions leave room for variations of orange: red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, etc.


Color temperature is always in relation to the color next to it or surrounding it. We can say red is warm, but in relation to red-orange, it is cooler. The closer to yellow red is, the warmer, the closer to blue, the cooler. Seeing is believing, make the grid according to the color wheel sequencing, looking at it, ask yourself which color do I see first (advancing/warmest), last (receding/cooler)?

Analogous harmonies can be up to 4 colors and they can be less than 4 as well. Here is an example of a modulated (white added to show value shifts) analogous with just three hues: Red-Orange, Red  and Red-Violet. Red-Violet is the key, red is the primary.

This example demonstrates the warm and cool aspects of red.



From top to bottom; Red-Orange, Red, Red-Violet.

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I’ve included two additional tools utilized in this painting aside from the usual brushes: palette knife and rubber “brush”. I use these tools to remove paint, soften or blur edges by scraping  and to score into paint (sgraffito) to make texture. I do not confine myself to just one technique or type of tool. I am doing whatever it takes to translate the quality of light. Technique develops with understanding of what it is that you are doing and what it is you want to say with your art.

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