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Colour Blog #4

Colour Psychology

Colour psychology is an important consideration in art and design, both for you and your audience. The psychology of colour involves the feelings evoked by particular colours (which we have already touched on with warm and cool colours) and with symbolism or meanings associated with particular colours.

The meaning or symbolism associated with various colours can be universal, cultural, or personal. Universal meaning is illustrated in combinations such as yellow and black, a universal symbol used as a warning, such as in police tape traffic signs and road markings. Cultural associations can mean that in one cultural context a colour can have a meaning that is different or even opposing to that in other cultures. For instance, in the west, we associate white with purity, innocence and spirituality, whereas, in some Asian cultures, it is the colour of mourning. As the name suggests, personal associations are aspects we associate with colours because of our own experience. For example, if you grew up spending happy hours making biscuits in your grandma's peach coloured kitchen, odds are you will have positive associations with that colour. Or if you spent hours watching the clock in a classroom with beige walls, you will probably have negative associations with that colour.

Beyond those associations, colour can influence our mood, and this aspect is often carefully considered in institutional spaces such as hospitals and detention centres and public spaces such as restaurants and retail spaces. Over the next few blogs, I will be considering particular colours and some of the associations we have with that colour. This time I am considering the colour Red.

Red is the only colour that has a physiological as well as pyschological impact on us. Large areas of red will increase our rate of breath and heart beat. Consequently, it is not a good colour to use in large amounts in a bedroom, as rest and relaxation in such an environment would be difficult. Red also stimulates our apetite, therefore it is used often in various forms in restaurants.

As a warm colour it is the most visually dominant, which means that whenever red is used, it will attract the eye more than any other colour. To test this, scan a room and note that your eye is first drawn to any patches of red. This is an important aspect in relation to composition of paintings, if you want to draw attention to particular areas of the canvas, or, alternatively, if you want to lead the eye around the canvas, you will need to repeat the colour red throughout the composition.

Red has a myriad of other associations such as 'danger' (e.g. fire engines and stop signs), blood, romance, passion and heat. Consider your use of red to utilise its qualities to heighten the appeal and interest of your work. In the illustration below, consider the use of red and the mood it creates, particularly in the context of the cold blue and grey.

Source: Martin, J, (2002), Drawing with Colour, London: Quantum Books.

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