Color Theory Tutorial for portrait artists - lessons on using color for portrait art.

Color Tutorial

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exciting color swatches

Yes, it's more exciting color swatches. But they are here to illustrate the concept of "warm" and "cool" colors.

Most of us know that red is a "warm" color, and blue is a "cool" color. But it's also true that all colors in all color families can be either "warm" or cool.

Look at the swatches above - yellow, blue, red, green, purple, orange. And yet there are different kinds of yellows, blues, reds, etc. In the illustration above, the colors on the left (the yellow on the left, the blue on the left etc.) are cool, and the colors on the right (the red on the right, the blue on the right, etc.) are warm. You can see a dramatic difference between the two yellows, oranges, blues, and purples, right? And you can feel the warmth and coolness from them, too.

So, there's such a thing as a "cool yellow" a "cool red" and a "warm blue." A "cool red" might lean more towards a magenta red, while a "warm blue" might lean more towards a turquoise blue. So, yellow isn't just yellow, and blue isn't blue anymore. There's more to it. You'll have to be thinking of this whenever you paint or use colors. And you'll definitely have to think about it when you buy paints. All blue tubes of paint are not created equal.


cool color schemewarm color scheme

Can you tell which of the portraits above is "warm" and which is "cool"? It's very easy to see, isn't it? And, don't you think that each of these portraits has a different feel, exudes a different emotional response? That's the power of color.

In the portrait to the left, I had to find a "cool" flesh tone. And that's not so easy, because flesh tones are usually warmish - after all, peach is a warm color, right? But, I chose a "cool" flesh tone. More of a pale peachy burgundy. And the lips and shadow areas are a darker burgundy.

In the portrait to the right, it was quite easy to get a flesh tone. I did use a more subdued reddish brown in the shadow area, but it's still a warm brown.

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