Colour transforms. I enjoy drawing in black and white, but when I paint in colour or add colour to a drawing, it comes to life in a new way. It’s all about spectrums and how we see light. Why then do we respond strongly to particular colours? What is colour theory and how can it express how we feel, or improve wellbeing?
Colour theory covers diverse thinking about the use of colour, from primary and secondary colours to which colours may be seen as warm or cool. Many of these ideas developed during the 17th century and have been a focus for art and design ever since. But there’s also another side to this: colour psychology, linking emotions and colours. Many of us would agree, for example, that grey can be a depressing colour, or that blue is refreshing, but colour psychology explores why and how colours have these impacts.
I know I respond more to bright colours in winter. I find myself wantingt o paint or draw using bright colours, as a counterbalance to dark and overcast days.
Colour symbolism has its roots in associations. For example, many of us associate blue with sea and sky, or yellow with sunshine – so these can seem positive, soothing colours. But colours also develop negative associations – “the blues” has become a term for depression, and we say someone “sees red” if they lose their temper. So associations can vary. Red is a strong, powerful colour – but is also the colour of a poppy, symbol of fragility and of wartime remembrance.
Colours have even been found to create physical responses in people. Red can speed metabolism and breathing rates and boost circulation. Maybe as a bold colour, it can embolden us in turn.
Combining colours together also has its own impact. Colours near to each other on the spectrum, like red and purple, can be more restful because they look alike. Combining colours from opposite ends of the spectrum on the other hand, like red and green, is more striking because of the contrast. So in artwork, contrasting colours add drama.
Then there are warm and cool colours – warm colours (like red) are stimulating, energizing and exciting, dominating the scene, while cool colours (like blue) are tranquil and calming, and easily overshadowed.
And there are all different ways we could surround ourselves with different colours to boost wellbeing. You could decorate one room in pale blue to calm you, or you could add a burst of colour to a dark or neutral room with a colourful throw or ornament. Spend some time on dark, overcast days doing some craft using all colours of the rainbow, or colouring a vivid scene. If you feel anxious, look at a blue sky. Go on a colour walk focusing on how many colours you see – even on a winter walk there’ll be more different shades and hues of colour than you might think. You could experiment with planting different colour combinations in your garden or windowbox. And you could think about using colour to express or work through feelings – think what colour you might use to represent how you feel about a particular issue.
It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 – what impact do colours have on you? Thank you!