About colour

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Last week my editor complained (not for the first time I must admit) but this time it wasn’t about my dreadful writing or spelling [Whilst you’re at it, don’t forget punctuation and grammar – Ed]. It was about content. Basically, he is fed up with reading about record keeping so to keep him happy I am writing about something different and hopefully he will learn something, too.

If you have been following me for a while you will know that I love colour. Generally, I prefer bright colours but not always. I really enjoy using colours together which make each other ‘sing’ and earth tones with a hint of something very different give the surprise that I enjoy most.

I thought I would touch on the psychology of colour, and I mean touch as it is such a huge subject but with decorating my new home in mind and being aware that so many people are suffering with their mental health in these Covid times, having a little understanding of what colour can do for us will hopefully be helpful to someone.

Why is colour so important to us? What effects can it have on our lives, our moods and how we think? Some colours have rather subjective meaning, it is a case of individual perception, but others have a universal meaning as do their associated affects. For instance, red along with the other colours in the warm spectrum of orange and yellow range in feeling from warmth and comfort to anger, danger, and hostility. Colours in the cool spectrum – blue, green, and purple – are referred to as calm colours but can also illicit feelings of sadness or indifference.

Let’s start with black and white and quickly cover the “is it a colour?” debate. Black isn’t a primary, secondary, or even tertiary colour, i.e. one made by mixing equal amounts of a primary and a secondary colour together. On the colour wheel, these sit between the primary and secondary colours they are mixed from [Source https://www.bbc.co.uk › bitesize › guides › revision]. So, as it does not appear on the colour wheel black is not considered a colour. It is, instead, considered to be all colours as it is the absorption of all colours.

On the positive side, black is associated with sophistication and elegance. Black has also been long associated with power, being worn by priests and lawyers. On the negative side, black has always been associated with evil and death. Emotionally, it can evoke feelings of sadness and fear but also aggression and anger.

In the West, black is associated with many negatives, and crops up in many stock phrases: black mark, black mood, black sheep of the family etc. etc. However, in China white, not black, is associated with death. The Chinese associate black with power, mystery, calm, and with water. When used sparingly, black has a grounding effect on your environment. Most of my artworks are framed in black which has the effect of highlighting and isolating the work contained within, thus separating and enhancing it.

Like black, white is not considered a colour. Whereas black is the absence of visible light, white contains all wavelengths of visible light. In physics, colour is determined by its specific wavelength and as black and white do not have these they are determined not to be actual colours.

Here in the West, we associate white with purity and cleanliness. Our brides wear white wedding dresses to symbolise purity, though this is only since 1840 as, prior to Queen Victoria setting a new trend, wedding dresses were traditionally blue. Babies have white christening gowns, and first communion clothing is normally white, too. However, in the East, white is linked with death and sadness; it is used in funerals and mourning rites. White is also associated with coldness and can make a room appear empty, unfriendly, sterile, or bland, although designers will often paint a room white to make it appear larger and more spacious.

On the positive side white is linked with purity, cleanliness, simplicity, and freshness symbolising new beginnings, a blank slate, or a fresh start. On the negative side white is linked with coldness, isolation, blandness, starkness, and boredom.

I tend not to have favourite colours simply because I like all colours, but I do like some a little more than others and red is one I love to wear, use in my home and also in my artworks. Red is one of the most visible colours in the spectrum due to its long wavelength.

It is attention grabbing; hence it’s use in warning and road traffic signs. Often red is associated with negativity as a danger emotion being the colour of fire, our blood and with poisonous animals. However, recent studies show that men are more likely to be attracted to women wearing red as it is considered to be sexy, exciting and alluring.

Some studies have shown that wearing red, being exposed to others wearing red or just by having red in your surroundings can affect the heart rate, enhance metabolic rates, increase one’s blood pressure and increase respiration rate. These physiological changes can naturally cause a spike in your energy levels. Restaurants will often use red in their décor, as the increases in your metabolic rate also increase appetite!

Red is associated with anger, possibly because when angry people will often become red in the face and neck. It is also the colour of success and many athletes will wear red as some statistics have shown that you are more likely to win at sport if you are wearing red, possibly because it is seen as a dominant colour and by default is more powerful. It is also linked with passion, love, desire, and sexual awareness. In Chinese culture, red is seen as a lucky colour and is traditionally worn by brides on their wedding day as a symbol of good luck, happiness, and prosperity.

Blue is often recorded in surveys as being peoples’ favourite colour particularly amongst men. It is viewed as non-threatening, traditional, conservative, calm, reliable and stable. However, it can also be seen as sad, lonely, and miserable. Research has shown that blue rooms, particularly offices, increase productivity, reduce the pulse rate and one’s body temperature.

Along with its calming qualities, blue is also a symbol of sincerity, inspiration and associated with spirituality. There is another side to it, though. The softer shades of blue are associated with summer skies and warm seas on holiday, but deeper blues bring with them intensity, stormy, moody waters as well as deep feelings of strength and energy. Whilst some people find blue a sad and sombre colour, associated with blue moods and depressions many others associate it with peacefulness and calm.

Yellow is statistically recorded as being peoples least favourite colour and is the most visible colour on the spectrum. This intensity is used to quickly grab attention, just like red, is but is often seen as being abrasive, harsh and aggressive if overused. Used in small amounts it is very effective on traffic signs or for catching your attention inn advertising. It is, though, the most uncomfortable colour to read long term as the amount of reflected light causes eye fatigue. It is not advisable to use yellow as a background on paper or computer screens as it can quickly lead to eye strain and, in the most extreme cases, loss of vision.

Yellow can increase a person’s metabolic rate but also bring feelings of anger and frustration. So, whilst it is considered a cheerful, warm, sunshine colour, apparently people are more likely to lose their tempers in a room decorated in yellow and some studies have shown that babies cry in more yellow rooms.

Green has shorter wavelengths is therefore on the shorter side of the colour spectrum making this a colour which is considered to be cool and relaxing. It is generally associated with nature and represents tranquility, good luck, health, and money with the flipside being envy, jealousy and, in recent times, environmental awareness. It was also associated with female fertility. Some studies have shown that green can inspire creativity as well as helping us to think more positively and improving our relationships as it is thought to relieve stress and aid healing.

The particular shades of green found in nature have been found to put people at ease when in new places hence their use in public spaces. The benefits of walking in parks, woods and forests have been particularly recognised during the Covid-19 pandemic, where people who couldn’t or didn’t feel comfortable leaving their homes, were far more likely to suffer mental health problems than those people who went out for a daily walk.

For some people green is a relaxing colour but others find it to be motivating. It has also been found to influence memory as green carries a particularly positive emotional connection when it comes to remembering information. Being exposed to green has shown to increase feelings of hope. The flipside is that green is also associated with jealousy and envy as well as physical illness.

Coming from the earth, brown tends to feel solid, grounded, and earthy although some would say that it is boring and uninspiring colour.

Light browns such as beige, are often viewed as being boring, indeed my bio heading is “I don’t like boring beige”, which is a bit unfair really, as everything (and, arguably, every colour, too) has its place. Browns give us a sense of strength, security, reliability, and safety. There is a feeling of comfort and warmth which brown evokes but it can also be sophisticated. 

I have a particular love of all kinds of wood. From furniture to ornaments, floors to jewellery I enjoy the beauty nature provides through the different types of wood available. If you are looking for a colour which goes well with brown, pick blue. Not only do they sit well together but they sit in harmony because of their association with earth and water. Used in marketing brown relays a feeling of honesty and reliability and whilst not their top choice when asked which colour they like, most people will have brown furniture in their homes.

Orange is often described as being a happy, fun and vibrant colour. It is strong and energetic, like red and yellow, which makes it like them attention grabbing. However, orange is a controversial colour; people either love or hate it, although personally I think it is just how and where you use it that makes the difference. For instance, small amounts of orange in a blue painting will elevate your artwork, giving it more vibrancy and orange and blue are opposite each other on the colour spectrum. 

For some this colour is uplifting and enjoyable while for others it is too bright and overwhelming. In the USA people associate orange with crime as prison uniforms are often orange jumpsuits, whereas in the Netherlands orange is associated with royalty. William of Orange was the founding father of the Netherlands and the Dutch wear orange to signify their national pride.

Environmentally, orange is associated with autumn. For some that is positive for others sad and negative. Research shows that long wavelength colours such as orange, yellow, and red have a tendency to induce higher levels of arousal.

Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia wear orange robes which symbolise the simplicity of their lives, letting go of material possessions and a direct connection to their spirituality. Traditionally, their robes were made from scraps of cloth sewn together and then died in turmeric and saffron.

The association with Halloween brings a negative element to the colour through the use of pumpkins and cartoons depicting evil behaviour, although having lived in the American mid-west, where they really celebrate Halloween with enormous enthusiasm, the dark side is not evident in trick or treating like it can be in the UK.  

Purple, another colour I really enjoy using myself, is strongly associated with royalty. This is due to the Phoenician purple dye which was used in ancient times to colour clothes. This was extremely expensive and very rare hence only royalty and the very rich could afford to use it. The Phoenicians’ purple dye came from a species of sea snail which was so rare that it became worth its weight in gold. It took as many as 250,000 molluscs to produce one ounce of usable dye with the result being a vibrant and long-lasting shade of purple.

Purple represents spirituality and wisdom as, due to its rare nature, it became connected with the supernatural and the divine. However, different shades of purple have different meanings with light purples being seen as light-hearted and romantic and darker shades associated with frustration, sadness and, in parts of Europe, mourning and death. Whilst in the USA purple represents bravery hence the Purple Heart medal being one of the most recognised and respected military awards.

With purple, like blue, being a colour which does not occur very often in nature, it can appear to some as being exotic or just artificial.  Purple is one of the most difficult colours to distinguish as it has the strongest electromagnetic wavelength just a little up from gamma and X-rays. As a result, purple is often used in pursuit of visual illusions. Click on the link below for a fun illusion known as the lilac chaser illusion discovered by vision expert Michael Bach. https://michaelbach.de/ot/col-lilacChaser/index.html

So, whether you are decorating a room in your home, getting dressed up to go out or creating artwork, keep in mind the above information and I hope you will be able to put it to good practical use.

OK Ed, is that better? ( Yep)

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