Before we get into what different emotions can be transmitted to a viewer/participant who is experiencing different colors, it is first important to understand that there is an entire field devoted to studying how color effects our emotions. By studying color psychology we can begin to understand the complex and mysterious world of Color Emotions.
Color Psychology is a relatively new branch of Psychology which deals with how color relates to human behavior and emotions. In the advertising world this is well known, and debated. Why are the golden arches of McDonalds yellow-orange? Why are prescription pills brightly colored? Why do we paint rooms green to calm people?
According to color psychologists these colors elicit certain responses in individuals that can effect their behavior as well as their mood. As a painter working with color one could use the common reactions to certain colors to one’s benefit, and employ similar methods to evoke similar moods in the viewers of our work. Blue tends to have a very calming effect, and in Glasgow blue lights were installed in traditionally violent neighborhoods, which then saw a reduction in the amount of assaults occurring in the area. In Japan blue lights were installed at metro stations where a lot of people had committed suicide. When it comes to red (a color associated with passion) we see the red light districts who are trying to create an atmosphere of sex and intensity. And nowhere is the effects of color psychology at play more than at theater and music performances where light operators dim and change colors to fit the mood of the play or song being performed.
It is apparent that the stage which was set up above was most likely prepared for a band that plays soothing and relaxing music. This doesn’t take special equipment to measure the physical attributes of color and how it effects us. For whatever reasons we as humans regard blues, dark reds, and violets as soothing or relaxing colors.
At this point you should have a basic understanding of what color psychology is and most likely you also understand what colors are commonly used to evoke certain feelings, behaviors, and moods. The same is true with painting. Let’s take a look at a few famous paintings by Paul Klee and see how he used color in different ways to generate different ideas.
In this painting Klee used childlike colors to further accentuate his ideas about his subject matter. It makes one think of the circus, cotton candy, or a box of crayons. The primitive drawing style furthers Klee’s concept which often was inspired by children’s art.
In this painting (also by Klee) we see simple blocks of color which are painted very loosely and minimalistically. But lets think about what the overall effect of using the colors that Klee chose to use. The deep browns and violets evoke a more serious tone to the work and produce a feeling of relaxation and contemplation. Very different than the colors Klee chose to use in his childlike portrait. A lot of this may seem like a no brainer. You may be thinking “of course Blue is calming, and red is enegetic! Why bother blathering on about it forever?” Well, the reason why it is important to discuss the pasychology of color is because often beginning painters will get caught up in just trying to represent a scene, or image, without taking into consideration the overall impact certain color decisions will have on the piece as a whole. A shadow can be blue, red, or green. So what you need to ask yourself is what shadow color will best help depict the subject matter, as well as the mood you are trying to create.
As stated previously there is not a set list of how everyone will respond to color. While personal experience and memory can be closely tied to certain colors; overall there is some agreement as to what emotions can be triggered by using certain colors. Below I have made a list of some of the most common associations that my past students have made with certain colors. While it is by no means an authoratative list on the topic, it is nonetheless obvious that many people make the same associations with certain colors.
Energy, Vitality, Hot, Machismo, Sex, Anger, Rage, Attention,
Warmth (sun), Cheery, Happy, Loud, Fun, Sickness,
Calming,Contemplation, Trustworthiness, Relaxing, Freezing, Sadness,
Ritualistic, Religious, Plush, Luxurious, Insanity, Strange,
Life, Energy, Relaxation, Soothing, Natural, Boring, Depression,
Warmth, Cozy, Fun, Young, Natural,
Beauty, Femininity, Love, Sex, Playful, Weak,
Natural, Secure, Dirty, Comfort, Raw, Thoughtful,
Purity, Clean, Holy, Simple, Cold, Elite,
Seriousness, Death, Depression, Anxiety, Fear, The Unknown, Intellectual, Modern,
Boring, Dull, Depression, Apathetic, Cold, Lifeless, Neutral, Listless,
Make two paintings describing two different moods which you want to evoke. Use Klee’s square painting as a guide as to how to layout the work. Use only squares of color (which should fill up a small canvas) and try to paint a mood, or atmosphere. If you wish you can choose a mood from the list below.