Thursday, September 9, 2021

Yellow: Warm or Cool?


9/6/21 Triadic study 1: cooler yellow

When I was studying many different primary triads (mostly at random and definitely not with the guidance of the CMYK principle) a while back, I felt that yellow usually played well with others. As long as the blue and red were in harmony, any chosen yellow probably wouldn’t ruin the song. Red and blue can be aggressive, while yellow is an easy-going player. My test sketches, though, were almost always mostly-red apples or tomatoes, so the influence of yellow was mostly on the red and rarely on blue.

Now that I’m making my triadic studies in the field, I’m learning different things. Now the influence of yellow on blue is all-important because trees and foliage usually play a key part in my compositions. And now that trees are turning, the yellow/red combo will become more important.

Prismacolor CMYK model

With all of that in mind, I started thinking more about yellow, especially its temperature. Using the Prismacolor CMYK model – Process Red (994), Canary Yellow (916), True Blue (903) – as a guide, I started out with Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle’s Yellow (010) because it looked closest to Prismacolor’s Canary. Fairly quickly, however, I switched to the cooler Lemon Yellow (240), which I preferred when mixed with the very warm, intense Phthalocyanine Blue (162), resulting in a cooler green. In the previous sketch that I made of the row of Japanese maples, though, I didn’t think the mix with red was warm enough.

I thought it would be both fun and informative to make an empirical study with only one variable: yellow. I went out looking for a scene in which I could put both green foliage and a turning maple in the same composition. I rarely sketch exactly the same scene twice, one right after the other, but in this case, I wanted to eliminate other variables.

In both sketches, the blue is Caran d’Ache Supracolor Gentian Blue (370), and the red is Museum Aquarelle Purplish Red (350). In the first sketch, the yellow is the one I have been using most lately, Museum Aquarelle Lemon (240). In the second sketch, the yellow is the warmer Museum Aquarelle Yellow (10).

Now that the trees are turning, I prefer the warmer yellow, although I still prefer the cooler one if the foliage is green. More experiments are needed, of course, and I’m happy to make them if September continues to be as beautiful as it has been.

I’m sure painters have written entire dissertations on this topic, and I could understand why: It’s endlessly fascinating. Although I still believe that yellow plays well with others, I think it has a lot more influence on the result than I was giving it credit for. Anyone else experimenting with triads and have thoughts on yellow?

9/6/21 Triadic study 2: warmer yellow


  1. I like the cooler yellow too. It seems a little more natural. Love watching how you check out the differences with the colors.

    1. It's fun to try out different combos and see how they interact!


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