Color Psychology, Color Meaning, and subliminal messages in art.

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Color Psychology, hidden color meaning and a few other things about color theory will be discussed on this page. 

Why?  To make a better painting of course!  Did you know the first criterior most people use when shopping for a painting is Color?

By knowing this information, you can steer your paintings in a direction that go beyond just the subject matter, and by including good color understanding into your work, make as powerful or as subtle a statement as you wish. 

Color is known to influence our state of well-being, how we feel, and how we enjoy life.  But you knew that!  Just think about how you feel when someone presents you with a colorful flower!

Once armed with this information you can use it in both describing your work (based on its color combination) and planning the message you want to express within your painting! 

When you are done here you can proceed to my Color Wheel, Color Schemes page to get a lesson on basic color theory as far as paint schemes is concerned.   

Then follow up with my Color Mixing Guide because mixing paint acts differently then optical color mixing that you see on your television or computer screen. 

So, back to a little meaning and psychology in color. 

Color psychology has been used for a long time in advertising. Don't believe me?  Did you know you can send a subliminal message in your work? 

Yep! Lets try this exercise. 

Imagine in your mind turquoise blue waters off of a Key West beach.  Those soft blue waves are gently kissing the beach with the sensuous lapping of the waters on the sand. While you are sitting there, you gaze up into the crystal clear blue skies above you and see a few puffs of clouds.  You wonder what …..

Did your blood pressure just go down a few points?  Did you feel relaxed?

The color blue has a calming effect to the mind as does most cool colors. They are known to lower the heart rate, and reduce appetite. Blue also represents dependability.  Ever wonder why police uniforms are mostly blue?

Greens and blues are used in most health care product advertising.  Greens are used to calm the nerves.  Greens work very well in offices and home study area, and your studio as well.

Now lets talk a bit about the color psychology of warm colors. 

Yellows tend to convey happiness, gaiety.  Red, orange and yellow cause hunger. A good depiction of a lemon can make a person’s mouth water! 

Why do our fast food restaurants push bright red/yellow signs? Golden Arches anyone?

Red instantly attracts your attention, and increases your heart rate.  This is instinctive due to the fact when we were being eaten by dinosaurs, seeing blood made us run like crazy!

Which reminds me, how fast do you gotta be to outrun the grizzly bear in the woods? 

Answer: I only got to be faster than the other guy.   (Sorry the pun, but we were talking about red blood).

Novice painters usually don’t think too deeply about the colors used within their work.  Their focus is trying to match colors of what they see from the subject matter.  (I talk in more detail of matching colors in the color mixing guide page).

That is all well and good, but thinking through how those colors will impact the viewer should always be a part of your color psychology formula in creating a successful piece.

More detailed explanation of color psychology

So below, you will find a more detailed explanation of color psychology, color meaning and color theory.

Color Psychology of Red

  • As mentioned above, red is the color of blood, fire.  It’s associated with war, danger, strength, power, excitement, vitality and ambition.  Other words are determination, passion, desire, and love.
  • Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure.
  • It is detected easily by the human eye, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red.
  • Red brings text and images to the foreground. It is used as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions.
  • Red is used to invoke erotic feelings (red lips).  Light red represents sexuality, passion, sensitivity, and love.
  • Pink signifies romance, love, and friendship. It also represents feminine qualities and passiveness.
  • Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice, and wrath.  Deep reds create an atmosphere of opulence and power.

Color Meaning of Brown

  • Brown denotes stability and masculine qualities. It is the color of earth, wood. It is associated with dependability, conservatism, reliability.  Think of the United Parcels Service vans that run around town. Do you think they were thinking along these lines when they chose this color for their fleet.

Color Psychology of Orange

  • Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.    A cheerful color. It denotes flamboyance and liveliness. Orange can be assertive, dynamic, and spontaneous and signifies youth and fearlessness. It stimulates the brain and mental activity.  A good choice for a class room!
  • It represents joy, enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.
  • Orange can give the sensation of heat. Though it is not as aggressive as red. 
  • Orange is associated with healthy food (oranges) and stimulates appetite.
  • Orange is very visibility to the human eye, so it can be used to highlight important elements of  your painting.


Color Meaning of Yellow

  • We associate yellow with sunshine and light. It creates a feeling of hope, happiness and wisdom. The color evokes an optimistic sense of well being. It represents spontaneity.  Light-yellow represents intellect, freshness and joy.
  • It however can also mean, (from seeing tree leaves in autumn dying), decay, sickness, jealousy old age and illness.  Yellow at times is cowardice.  “‘yellow-bellied-coward” derives from yellow’s association with both treason and weakness.  It also represents danger, caution.
  • Using too much yellow may have a disturbing effect; it is known to make babies cry!  Yet, it is considered a child’s color!

Color Psychology of Green

  • The color of harmony, balance and security. Green also has a calming effect and symbolizes hope, peace, gentleness and modesty. It is soothing, refined and civilized and said to have healing power.  Green is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety. Green suggests stability and endurance, hope and growth.  Pale greens are particularly restful.
  • Dark green is also commonly associated with money and is associated with ambition, greed, and jealousy.  It sometimes denotes lack of experience, thus, the ‘green-horn’ being a novice.  However, at times yellow-green is used to portray sickness, discord and jealousy.  Remember “green with envy”.  Olive green is the traditional color of peace.

Color Meaning of Blue

  • The color of the sea and sky. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.  Soft, soothing, compassionate and caring, blue is an introspective color. Blue is often a formal color which represents wisdom and steady character. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. But, the quiet character and poetic subtlety of blue can also be associated with melancholy, resignation and depression.  (Where we get, feeling blue, “the blues”, etc.).

Color Psychology of Purple

  • Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Purple is associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic.  Purple means regal and dignified.
  • Pale shades are restful and serene, but the darker shades make it difficult to focus. Lavenders signify refined things of life, creative, witty and civilized. Purples can be tiring on the eyes and cause a sense of frustration. Gloom and sad feelings can be portrayed by using purples.

Color Psychology of White

  • White means safety, purity, and cleanliness.   White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection.  White emanates youth, perfection and innocence.  White usually has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning, a fresh start.

Color Meaning of Gray

  • This color represents caution and compromise. Grays can give a sense of peace to the viewer.

Color Psychology of Black

  • Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.
  • It gives us a feeling of the unknown and negative connotations like, black-hole, blacklist, black-humor or black-death.  In most Western cultures, black is the symbol of grief. (Eastern cultures view white in this way)
  • However, black can be dignified and showy with sophistication.  Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color. 
  • Black gives the feeling of perspective and depth, but a black background diminishes readability.
  • Black contrasts well with bright colors. Combined with red or orange – other very powerful colors – black gives a very aggressive color scheme.

So, in deciding what kind of mood or feeling you want to convey within your painting, you now have a few tools to begin your work!  But, by no means is this a complete explanation.  Heck, there are whole books dedicated to this one subject alone! 

I think I’ve only scratched the surface.  Hopefully,  you’ve got enough information in Color Psychology, color meaning and other color theory to help you in deciding which colors to use to convey your message within your painting!

Click here to go back to the top of our Color Psychology page.

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