In art there are numerous elements with which one can help convey an idea, a feeling, a message. The mixing of those ingredients can make or break that message. Color is one of the most important.
It is a fascinating and almost never-ending subject. This time I want to focus on the psychology of color.
There are certain associations that come with each color. Some are biological (some colors make our hearts race while some calms us down), while others are cultural and depend more on where in the world we were raised and our cultural traditions.
Each color has positive and negative connotations, depending on the context and its relation with other elements.
You can use all this information to your advantage and make your pieces say what you intend.
In this first part we’ll tackle warm colors. Warm colors give, by definition, the feeling of warmth. They stand out and objects in this color may appear bigger and closer. Let’s take a look at each one.
Red is the color of blood. It has the longest wavelength in the visible light spectrum. It elevates our blood pressure and increases our heart and respiration rates. It also enhances our metabolism, which is why many restaurants and food companies use it for their logos and interiors. Its emotional associations may be seen as contradictory, but it’s easier to see it as the color of passion. Good and bad.
It’s the color of love, passion and desire. It instantly grabs attention (that’s why most crucial signs are red: stop, danger, etc.) and people wearing do too. It’s associated with courage, strength, warmth and excitement.
It’s the color of war. It’s associated with power, aggression and dominance. So you can use it to depict any of these concepts.
Orange is a fun color. A vitamin color. It’s my personal favorite and I wonder why not so many people love it as much as I do. It’s a very bright color and it stands out, that’s why there are vests and suits for people that need to be seen and found quickly.
It’s an energetic color. It promotes rejuvenation, optimism and positivity. It’s associated with healthy food, warmth, security, abundance and fun. It’s encouraging and motivating, so it can be used for trying times. It’s also the color of communication. It can be used in living rooms and places where people have conversations. It increases brain activity by allowing more oxygen to reach the brain.
It’s linked to autumn and its dying leaves, when it’s not so bright or saturated. Too much orange can be associated with frivolity.
Yellow is the color of the sun. This is no small thing. Anything that relates to the sun can be said with yellow. It’s a bright morning color. Energetic, it can increase metabolism. It’s also the color of fire (well, isn’t the sun a big ball of fire, after all?) And this can be used both for positive and negative things, depending on the context and the message. It’s a complex color. Its overwhelming intensity can be too harsh and turn negative for some people.
Yellow will lift your spirits and boost your self-esteem. It gives confidence and optimism. Positive and happy. Cheerfulness, vitality and brightness are its greatest qualities. It can be used to draw attention but also to convey a sense of happiness. It’s the color of summer, when sun bathes everything with it’s light.
It can be harsh and become irritating. It can make you angry if surrounded by too much of it. It can be related to decay, dying leaves and book pages turning old might make the association with aging and death. The wrong tone or context may give fear, unease, and be associated with bad memories.
Being a lighter version of red, you might be surprised to learn that pink soothes rather than stimulates. But psychologically speaking, it’s a powerful color. It represents femininity and nurturing.
It is a calming color, so it can be used in bedrooms and places where relax is needed. It’s associated with kindness, softness and compassion. It’s also the color of romance. Joyful, hot pink is vivacious. It’s the color of spring, when flowers bloom and bring to life many different shades of pink.
It can be read as childish by some. Some shades can be associated with shallowness and frivolity. It can become aggravating if it’s too saturated.
Next time, we’ll take a look at cool colors and decode their characteristics. Stay tuned!
Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina.