Blue: Detail, Blue Coffee Cup

Blue: Color Saturation & Temperature

Greetings!  When last I wrote, I was talking all about yellow.  But, a bit of time has past and my latest adventure has been with the color blue.

Still Life Class.

To explain, I recently took a still life painting class with Karen O’Neil through The Art Students League’s e-telier™.  Each month Ms. O’Neil picks a color and area of focus for the class.  And, then, these two are folded into the voluntary class assignments.

Class Focus.

So, for the month of July, we focused on the color blue as well as the properties of color saturation and temperature.  Color saturation is about the relative intensity of color whereas temperature refers to how we perceive the color’s relative warmth or coolness.

Blue: Blue Coffee Cup

Color Saturation.

Before I continue, I would like to explain color saturation a bit more.  For example, when I squeeze some pure blue pigment (say ultramarine blue) out of the tube of paint and onto my palette, it is about as saturated as it gets.  The color is vivid and strong.  If I add other pigments to the blue, such orange (blue’s compliment), gray, white, or black, for example, the color blue become’s less saturated or pure.  Eventually, you can add enough of other pigments to change the paint mixture to a neutral gray or brown.

Color Temperature.

Next, a word about a color’s relative temperature. To start with, let us consider the primary colors of red, yellow and the blue we have been talking about. We say that red and yellow are warm colors while blue is a cool color.  It’s important to note that we are talking about how we perceive the colors.

So far good.  Then, we start mixing and matching these colors to create secondary colors (orange, green, violet), then tertiary, and so on!  And, each of these colors has a “temperature” relative to the colors around it.

Confusing?  Sometimes I find it confusing.  As such, if I have a hard time deciding on color temperature, I just ask myself, does the blue go toward violet?  Or, does it look like it leans toward green?  In that way, I can make a decision on what paints I need to mix into my pile of blue, for example.


Phew, studying color can be mind blowing. And, we have just scratched the surface.  Why do we care?  Because you can compose with all these exciting properties of color.  The more you see and know, the better painting decisions you can make.

Of more immediate concern, when I look at my still life, I can start understanding the elements by looking and deciding what kind of blues I see.  Then, I can mix blues (or any color) that help me paint the still life as I perceive  it.

Mixing And Painting.

So, back to the blues.  Hmmm, it’s almost like I forgot what I was going to say.  Oh, yes, then, a good way to get a feel for all this relative color saturation and temperature is to, well, paint!  That is, see what all these blues can do on paint on paper (or canvas).  Therefore, I set up a blue still life, started looking at the different blues in front of me, and then, dove in!

To learn how to mix the different hues, I limited myself to two blue pigment: ultramarine blue and cerulean blue.  Plus, they are the only two blues Ms. O’Neil had on her pallet.  So, I wanted to try her method.  And, this study of a blue coffee cup is the result.


To summarize, there is a lot more to using color in painting than meets the eye.  And, I found that it can be a good learning exercise to focus on one color for awhile.  In that way, you learn to see and understand the relative differences in saturation and temperature.

PS.  I enjoyed Ms. O’Neil’s still life class.  She’s an excellent instructor and I recommend the class for those who might be interested.

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