Warm and Cool and Colour Analysis

This may seem like an obvious question. In fact, it is the least obvious of them all, and very worth thinking about as the foundation for so many decisions in personal design.

The one and only correct answer when presented with a colour, or a face, and asked whether it’s warm, cool, or neutral, is: Compared to what?

Any colour can be made cooler (by adding blue) or warmer (by adding yellow). Even shades that are inherently cool, like blue, can be made warmer.

The primary colours behave a little oddly.

Red is easy. Add yellow or blue, and predictable things happen. You get an orange-red or a purple-red, respectively.

Yellow be made cooler by adding blue, and it turns greenish. A warm yellow is orangey.

Warm and Cool colours.

Blue…. If you warm it as you would another colour, by adding yellow, it turns blue-green. Green is on the cool half of the colour wheel, isn’t it? And yet, blue-green, or teal, often appear among the Warm Season palettes.

If you add red to blue, you get purple-blue. But red is warm, so why don’t we use this to warm up blue instead of yellow? And yet, we usually think of purple as a cooler colour.

It all seems contradictory. The answer is that among a group of otherwise warm colours, the green-blue feels like it belongs better.

And remember, to further confuse things, you can have warm and cool teals and purples.

Warm and Cool Blues.

Here’s a question : Can you make a cool colour cooler? You can only add so much blue to an already blue-based colour. The more blue you add, the darker the color gets. So the answer is yes, to a point, and depending on the darkness of the colour you begin with.

In the 4 Season Colour Analysis system, the warm colours belong to Autumn and Spring. The Cool colours belong to Winter and Summer.

4 Seasons of blue.

The Spring blue is clear, not dusty. It’s pretty light too, like all Spring’s colours.

Summer’s blue is dustier, but still light. I could have made that blue dustier – meaning grayer. So are all Summer’s colours light and grayed a little. They tend to be cool too.

Autumn’s blue got warm. And it got dark. And more soft than pure (we’ll talk about Soft and Clear in an upcoming post).

Winter’s blue is dark and cold and intense.




3 thoughts on “Warm and Cool and Colour Analysis”

  1. Thank you for talking about the weirdness of blue. I recently took the Sci/Art PCA class. It was fantastic. It was difficult when it came to discussing blue. It is easy to tell if one blue is warmer or cooler as compared to another blue. But when it comes to choosing which blues are warm and which are cool to place into a seasonal palette, is there a scientific method to determine warmness and coolness? I have tried to come up with a specific factor to define true or exactly ‘neutral” blue, to be able to determine warmness or coolness from there. I tried to come up with lines to divide up the color wheel, or percentage of red vs. blue or yellow vs. blue, or light frequencies, or even sectioning the 3-D Munsell color model. Nothing quite fits. How do you determine the true blue?

  2. Hi, Michelle,

    You are way ahead of me on “true blue”. You know what I do? Since I live much of my life inside my computer, I go to Wikipedia’s colour page here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colors and look up blue. IRL, I’m not sure of the answer to your question. Presumably, it has to do with the R/G/B ratios, but how a human eye would recognize that is beyond me.

    I’ve had a number of questions since I took the course too. It takes weeks, even months since I took it at Easter, to process it all and read your notes. Once you apply it to real people, a whole new pile of questions bubbles up. I’ve emailed my trainer, or Kathryn herself, many times. They’ve both been more than helpful in their responses. This is such a good company, ay?

    What I learned recently about blue, from Kathryn, is that relative to each other, red-blue is warm and green-blue is cool. BUT in composition with other colours this reverses. Fascinating, and a point I didn’t fully clarify when I took the course.

    Do ask Kathryn… and then post a follow-up and let us know the answer!

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