Colour usage. Colour use in art.

Colour usage in art.

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I recently researched colour usage in order to make my main website more attractive and appealing to my visitors. Having stumbled upon several articles and studies about colour and the effects they have on our moods I decided to write this post. For example, when decorating our homes we choose colours according to the mood we want to create within each room. Using perhaps light colours to create the feeling of serenity and space and darker colours to create a sense of being snug and cosy, as light colours open spaces up and darker colours close them in.

This got me thinking about how colours are used in the creation of art and whether or not specific colours are strategically used during the portrayal of a subject as that is what is expected of the artist. Or, then again, perhaps they are used as that is what the artist perceives the viewer’s expectation to be as the artist is subconsciously trying to project a message to the viewer. Their way of informing us of their inner feelings and emotions during the creation of the piece if you like. Or perhaps it is just simply that certain colours represent certain things,  the sky is blue, the grass is green and so on.  We all see things the same way as everyone else, so the artist just gives us what we expect to see.

Throughout history, art has been created using a plethora of colour.  It portrays a multitude of scenarios circumstances and subjects.
However are we as the viewer missing what the piece is really about, and what the artist really wants us to experience.
Are there hidden messages put there and expressed through colour to invoke thoughts, feelings and emotions, and until we really start to examine the piece and take note of the use of colour as a pose to the subject matter itself we will never really get?

Colours can affect and influence our moods.

For example in Giorgione’s,  sleeping Venus , if the artist had used darker colours and set his subject against a thunderous sky with the trees thrashing in the wind and the hills and houses shrouded in darkness would we still see his Venus as a beautiful young woman resting peacefully on a hill and have that  feeling of calm, peace and serenity when we viewed it, or would we see his venus as a dangerous threat that is to be avoided at all cost.

Colour thought process.

I thought about this for a while then began to think that perhaps an artists choice and use of colour is, in fact, a deliberate way of influencing how we see the work and a way of influencing our mood as we view it.

There’s the old saying when you lose your temper that you see Red, suggesting that the colour red is an angry aggressive colour. To annoy an already agitated person is considered to be waving a red flag at a bull. So if  a lot of red and red based colours are used does it mean that the artist was venting some kind of anger or frustration through their work, red is also associated with passion, energy and excitement, getting the adrenaline flowing and slightly raising the heartbeat causing us to react faster Or is red used as a subtle form of  provocation?


White is a colour associated with cleanliness and purity. The traditional bride was always wed in a beautiful white wedding dress. Her bridal gown, a sign of her innocence and purity. The innocent untouched ripe fruit for her groom. So if white is used could this mean that at the point of its creation the artist was feeling cleansed and pure of heart.

At the other end of the red spectrum is Pink.
Pink is a mixture of both red and white, it is a feminine colour, a colour associated with love and romance. Soft pink lips springs to mind. It is a calming colour that makes us mellow and relaxed. It drains us of our aggression and lets down our guard. Does this then mean that by using greater amounts of pink in their work the artist was perhaps feeling mellow and was so relaxed that they wished us all to know, or maybe even they were expressing their own true feelings of love?


Yellow is the colour of sunshine, it stimulates and invigorates. It is associated with Joy and happiness stimulating the mind causing us to want to get up and go. It’s a colour that attracts the eye and grabs our attention. Its associated with honour and loyalty but it too has a dark side as its also associated with cowardice and fear as in the saying “to be yellow”. Could the use of yellow mean that the artist was feeling excessively happy and joyous when they were creating the piece and so wished to convey their joy to us the admirer, or perhaps they were feeling threatened and were fearful for their own well being or maybe they had committed an act of cowardice and were simply expressing their shame through their work.


Green is another favoured colour. It is the colour of the grass, leaves on the trees, new growth and plants in the ground. Greens are colour’s that take us outside and are associated with the environment around us. Greens are seen as being calming, soothing, invigorating colours. They are associated with safety but they also have a dark side as they too are associated with greed and jealousy and are referenced in the saying “the green-eyed monster” or to be “green with envy“.
If an artist used greens within their work could they be expressing their feelings of being at one with nature? A creature of the outdoors with the desire to be free. Maybe could it be that they were harbouring feelings of envy and jealousy toward another? Perhaps a rival artist or someone of higher status or standing than themselves.


A combination of both yellow and green produces the colour blue.
When we are down and feeling sad we are said to be feeling blue, suggesting that the colour blue is a sombre colour. However, this is only true when associated with darker blues as light blues are favoured by many for their calming, soothing effect. There is nothing more calming or relaxing than lying in a green field staring up at a clear blue sky. The yellow sun beating down on you, warming every inch of your outstretched body.

Hospitals and dental practices use light blues within their decor to create a feeling of calm and serenity in order to relax those within, pre sedating their conscious mind so as to ease any anxieties that a patient may have.
Blues are also said to be performance enhancing. Blues release chemicals into the body causing athletes who train in blue environments to train harder. It is also associated with royalty as those of noble status are said to have blue blood.

So if dark blues are used within their work could this be because they are feeling down or dejected. Somehow needing to leave a message in the work to let others know how they felt. If they choose to use lighter blues are they doing so as a result of them feeling calm and at peace at the time of putting colour to the canvas. Perhaps in using lighter blues, they are in fact stimulating their own minds and enhancing their own creativity thus aiding in the production of another great work.


Orange is a combination of the colours red and yellow. Red being a passionate and aggressive colour while yellow is a warm fun, happy and invigorating colour. Orange is a warm colour representing heat, fire and the sun. It is an appetite stimulant. Think of a bowl of fresh ripe oranges on a hot day. Imagine taking one, then carefully peeling it before biting into its succulent flesh releasing the juice and enabling you to quench your thirst.

Orange is a colour representative of warm tropical landscapes. It increases the flow of oxygen to the brain causing our receptors to fire more quickly stimulating mental activity and helping us to be more creative. It’s a stimulating colour causing enthusiasm, determination and fascination within us. When orange is used in their work are they trying to get us to see beyond what is in front of us.

Orange like blue is said to be a performance-enhancing colour. So like with blue that is calming, is the artist using orange to stimulate us and get us to see more than what is actually there, giving them an edge by stimulating our brain activity thus enhancing our mental thought process making us more enthusiastic about the piece. Could it be that when the artist produced the piece he was on a high? Perhaps feeling invigorated and filled with a desire to create something that would show all how they felt?


Purple is a combination of both blue and red.
Again we have a passionate fiery colour mixing with a more soothing calming colour. Purple like blue is again a colour that has a strong association with royalty. It is symbolic of luxury and ambition. It’s representative of dignity, power, wealth and extravagance. A colour used in much mythological and fantasy works and representative of mystery, wisdom and magic. It’s a colour that’s also associated with independence and creativity. So could this mean that if the artist chose a subject containing purples they were trying to express their individualism and creative ability?


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