Sunday, 1 July 2018

What is Warm Blue and Should I Wear it?

I am endlessly fascinated with colour.  It is my favourite obsession and it supports my other  favourite obsessions, painting, personal colour analysis and gardening.  Colour expresses so much and I even use that when I retreat from colour.  When I am overwhelmed and I want soft, gentle feeling neutral colours, that is still very much an emotional response to colour.  The tendency to describe colour with the terms warm or cool is a complicated matter that relates to our perceptions and associations with the natural world, since of course colour doesn't have an actual temperature.  When we were in primary school we were probably taught that the blue-purple-green side of the colour wheel was the cool side and the re-orange-yellow side was the warm side.  The placement of pink seems to be generally on the warm side though that is debatable as pink is red with white added and white cools a colour.

Black, white or blue added to a colour takes it into a range that humans generally see as cool, while yellow, orange and usually red take a colour into a warmer range.  Interestingly, red can be neutral if it has equal amounts of yellow and blue added to it, otherwise yellow warms it by taking it in the orange direction and blue cools it by taking it into a more wine or cranberry kind of red.

Cooling down orange is only achieved slightly, by adding white or black and so orange is not a good colour for people who are purely cool in their own colouring or who are neutral but leaning very cool.  Yellow can be made to look cooler by the addition of blue so that it cools down the yellow but doesn't become green.  If you can imagine the yellow you are looking at tipping over into green then you are probably looking at a cool yellow.  Blue is made warmer by the addition of yellow and yet, maybe it isn't.

Many people perceive red as a warm colour and so the addition of red to a colour is also described as warming it up.  In the art world there is much debate over which is the warm blue, a violet-blue or a green-blue.  Again, warmth and coolness is a perception and not a fact.  In art it matters mainly because cool colours are said to receded and warm to advance, which is also a perception thing and not a fact but perception is what art is all about.  If you want something to look as though it is further away in a two dimensional rendering you must employ some visual tricks, one of which is to use colours the human eye preceives as receding.  In this case it is usually agreed that the yellowed blues recede and the blues with red added advance and thus people argue that yellowed blues (teal, aqua, turquoise, cyan, cerulean) are cool.  In the world of personal colour analysis those blues are referred to as warm.

Purple is also interesting in this regard because we generally consider the purples that lean red to be warm and the purples that lean blue to be cool as we perceive red to be warmer than blue.  I was puzzled then about how the purely warm seasons in colour analysis (True Autumn and True Spring) were usually assigned a very pure purple and even some bluish purples.  I also know from my own experience with purple that I am more flattered by a true purple than by a red-violet.

Here is why:  In this case it is a matter of complementary colours.  Someone who is a purely warm season has yellow/gold/orange predominantly in their skin undertone and the colours opposite those on the colour wheel are blue and purple.

For a True Spring the undertone is yellow, whose opposite is true purple but a bright blue (with yellow added but not enough to make green) is also a good colour because skin with a yellow undertone can also read as a bit orange.

For a True Autumn the undertone is gold which is yellow but browned/darkened and the complementary colour reflects that so bright blue is not in the True Autumn palette and the purple is slightly muted just as the golden complexion is.

It seems to be the case that this use of complementary colours doesn't work as well for those with cool skin tones and I wonder if that is because it's flattering to enhance yellow or golden tones but not quite desirable to enhance blue ones.  Enhancing the pink in a cool complexion is better.  A cool yellow works for some types of cool-toned people but it's so difficult to find the right yellow it's rare that a purely cool person will wear yellow effectively.  Cool skin also has pink undertones and the opposite on the colour wheel for pink is green (because the opposite of red is green)  Cool greens look great on people with cool undertones and enhancing any pink in the complexion tends to be seen as a sign of health.

According to those who colour analyse people, neutral skin tones are most common, though they still lean slightly warm or cool so an understanding of how this concept of warmth or coolness applies to colours is helpful for everyone.  In the 12 tones systems (all based on SciART)   there are eight neutral categories and four 'true' categories. Even if you don't like or understand the SciART system or any colour analysis system it can be helpful just to understand how colours we wear relate to the undertones of our skin.  If yellow is a difficult colour for you and orange practically impossible, you likely have a lot of coolness to your skintone and could be a Winter type.  If blue is difficult though not impossible you may be an Autumn type.  If yellow is one of your best colours you may be a Spring type and if you can wear any sort of blue easily you may be a Summer type.

Purple and Teal often work for everyone as they tend to have equal mixes of warm and cool colours.  

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