Saturday, August 4, 2012

Psychology of Color[1-2]
Art Resource

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This is the sixth blog in the "Art Resource" series, specifically aimed to construct an appropriate knowledge base in order to develop an artistic voice in ArtCloth. Other posts in this series are:
Glossary of Terms
Units Used In Dyeing And Printing Of Fabrics
Occupational, Health & Safety
A Brief History Of Color
The Nature Of Color
Color Schemes
The Naming of Colors
Munsell Color Classification System
Methuen Color Index And Classification System
The CIE System
Pantone - A Modern Color Classification System
Optical Properties of Fiber Materials
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part I
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part II
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part III
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part IV
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part V
Protein Fibers - Wool
Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers
Protein Fibers - Silk
Protein Fibers - Wool versus Silk
Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Cotton
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Linen
Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers
General Overview of Man-Made Fibers
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Viscose
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Esters
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Nylon
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Polyester
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Acrylic and Modacrylic
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Olefins
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Elastomers
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Mineral Fibers
Man Made Fibers - Other Textile Fibers
Fiber Blends
From Fiber To Yarn: Overview - Part I
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part II
Melt-Spun Fibers
Characteristics of Filament Yarn
Yarn Classification
Direct Spun Yarns
Textured Filament Yarns
Fabric Construction - Felt
Fabric Construction - Nonwoven Fabrics
A Fashion Data Base
Fiber Construction - Leather
Fabric Construction - Films
Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins
Fabric Construction – Foams and Poromeric Material
Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns
Weaving and the Loom
Similarities and Differences in Woven Fabrics
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part I)
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part II)
The Three Basic Weaves - Twill Weave
The Three Basic Weaves - Satin Weave
Figured Weaves - Leno Weave
Figured Weaves – Piqué Weave
Figured Fabrics
Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements

The Glossary of Terms, Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff, A Fashion Data Base, Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins, Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns and Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements have been updated in order to better inform your art practice.

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It is not easy to use color effectively. The ability to use colors is difficult to learn and to formulate. Hence, it normally requires lots of experience (i.e. trial and error type of experience) that will eventually lead to the development of a "good" eye.

Color has such strong psychological, and even physiological effects on us that any formula about its use would be doomed to failure. Due to its impact on our psychology even the producers of SitComs - such as Seinfeld - employed a colorist. Moreover, map-makers have long lived with the psychological effect of color. W.H. Nault reported that[1]:

"We have found, for instance, that children associate hue change (as from green to brown to blue) with change in quality, and they associate value change (light to dark) with change in quantity, amount or intensity. For example, many children said that light blue areas indicated shallower water and dark blue areas indicated deeper water. But when purplish or reddish-blue was used to depict the deepest water category, two-thirds of the children did not associate this with a further depth change, but rather guessed at all sorts of qualitative changes - islands, coral reefs, and so on. We found hue a difficult factor to handle in map-making. Children have learned many hue-associations before they ever learn to read maps; red is hot, blue is cold, green is grass, blue is water etc. Thus what often happens with maps is that colors are spontaneously misinterpreted."

This sort of problem calls for artists, designers and psychologists, who are acquainted with the theoretical and practical handling of perceptual principles to weld heir ideas into a coherent color theory - what are the chances! Hence, for those artists less experienced my best advice is to keep it simple: keep in mind what you are trying to communicate and make it look "right" to you. Look carefully and critically at how nature and other artists, colorists, and designers use color. Learn first by observation and then by using and experimenting with color in your own art practice.

Color Temperature
The color wheel is useful in that it shows the relationship between warm and cool colors. This is called color temperature and relates to the sense of temperature each color imparts.

The colors on the red side of the wheel are said to be warm because they are associated with a warm phenomenon, whereas the green side implies a cool phenomenon. These color temperature designations are absolute. More subtle color temperature relationships are relative. One red can be warmer or cooler than another for instance.

Color temperatures affect us both psychologically and perceptually. This property of color also determines how objects appear positioned in space. Warm colors are said to advance - they appear closer to the observer. Cool colors are said to recede - they appear farther from the observer.

Psychological Properties of Colors
There are only eleven basic color words in the English language, and yet there are literally millions of colors. Computers yield some sixteen million and the human eye can distinguish more than any machine.

After the basic eleven, we borrow words, such as avocado (is that the flesh, or the skin?) and grape (is that deep purple or green?) to describe the myriad of shades, tones and tints. This inevitably creates confusion in color communication. People often ask, "Do we all see colors the same?" Who knows? The point is that in color psychology it does not seem to matter what we think we are looking at; the effect of colors on us is caused by their energy entering our bodies. Color-blind people are also sensitive to color psychology - albeit it in shades of greys.

The eleven basic colors have fundamental psychological properties that are universal, regardless of which particular shade, tone or tint you are using. Each of them has potentially positive or negative psychological effects and which of these effects is created depends on the relationships within color combinations.

There are four psychological primary colors - red, blue, yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions and the essential balance between these three. The psychological properties of the eleven basic colors are as follows.

Red symbolizes the color of love, danger, anarchy and left wing politically. Part of its significance is derived from the color of blood and fire.

Being the longest wavelength, red is a powerful color. Although not technically the most visible, it has the property of appearing to be nearer than it is and therefore it grabs our attention first. Hence, it is effective when used in traffic lights. Its effect is physical; it stimulates us and raises the pulse rate, giving the impression that time is passing faster than it is. It relates to the masculine principle and can activate the "fight or flight" instinct. Red is strong, and very basic. Pure red is the simplest color, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive. No wonder women wear red lipstick!

Blue is the color of the mind and is essentially soothing; it affects us mentally, rather than gives the physical reaction we have to red. It is the symbolic color of heaven in the Christian religion. It symbolises prudence, peace, contemplation. Politically it has associations with the status quo or with conservatism.

Strong blues will stimulate clear thought and lighter or softer blues will calm the mind and aid concentration. Consequently it is serene and mentally calming. It is the color of clear communication. Blue objects do not appear to be as close to us as red ones. Time and time again research reveals that blue is the world's favorite color. However, it can also be perceived as cold, unemotional and unfriendly.

While yellow is not gold, it has a close association with it. Nevertheless, associations in color are not necessarily associations in symbolism. Hence, gold symbolizes preciousness, value, wealth and perfection, whereas yellow indicates jealousy, inconsistently, cowardice. In medieval paintings, Judas was often depicted in yellow robes as a symbol of betrayal. It is important to note the shading of yellow used in such paintings.

The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case the stimulus is emotional, and so yellow is the strongest color psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the color of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a color scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety (see above). Our "yellow streak" can surface.

In language, green is the color of immaturity (greenhorn), jealousy (Shakespeare's green-eyed monster) and freshness. Graphically it is used to express the idea of natural purity and of course the environment.

Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the center of the spectrum, it is the color of balance - a more important concept than many people realize. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.

The shortest wavelength is violet, often described as purple. It takes awareness to a higher level of thought, even into the realms of spiritual values. It is highly introspective and encourages deep contemplation, or meditation. It has associations with royalty and usually communicates the finest possible quality. Being the last visible wavelength before the ultra-violet ray, it has associations with time and space and the cosmos. Excessive use of purple can bring about too much introspection and the wrong tone of it communicates something cheap and nasty, faster than any other colour.

Since it is a combination of red and yellow, orange is stimulating and our reaction to it is a combination of the physical and the emotional. Buddhist monks often wear a combination of yellow, red and orange robes.

It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort - food, warmth, shelter etc. - and sensuality. It is a “fun” color. Negatively, it might focus on the exact opposite - deprivation. This is particularly likely when warm orange is used with black. Equally, too much orange suggests frivolity and a lack of serious intellectual values.

Being a tint of red, pink also affects us physically, but it soothes, rather than stimulates. Pink is a powerful color, psychologically. It represents the feminine principle, and survival of the species; it is nurturing and physically soothing. Too much pink is physically draining and can be somewhat tiring.

Pure grey is the only color that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of color is depressing and when the world turns grey we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, grey has a dampening effect on other colors used with it. Heavy use of grey usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.

Black is all colors - totally absorbed. The psychological implications of that are considerable. It creates protective barriers, as it absorbs all the energy coming towards you, and it enshrouds the personality. Positively, it communicates absolute clarity, with no fine nuances. It works particularly well with white. It communicates sophistication and uncompromising excellence. It creates a perception of weight and seriousness (it is a myth that black clothes are slimming). Black is essentially an absence of light, since no wavelengths are reflected and it can, therefore be menacing; many people are afraid of the dark - and modern day Goths (joking!) Moreover, it is the symbol of mourning.

White is a symbol of innocence, chastity, purity and so on. It is also associated with peace - a white flag symbolises a truce or a surrender.

Just as black is total absorption, so white is total reflection. In effect, it reflects the full force of the spectrum into our eyes. Thus it also creates barriers, but differently from black, and it is often a strain to look at. It communicates, "Touch me not!" White is purity and, like black, uncompromising; it is clean, hygienic, and sterile. The concept of sterility can also be negative. Visually white gives a heightened perception of space. The negative effect of white on warm colors is to make them look and feel garish.

Brown usually consists of red and yellow, with a large percentage of black. Consequently, it has much of the same seriousness as black, but is warmer and softer. It has elements of the red and yellow properties. Brown has associations with the earth and the natural world. It is a solid, reliable color and most people find it quietly supportive - more positively than the ever-popular black, which is suppressive, rather than supportive.

Experiments With Color
Apart from juxtaposing complementaries or adjacent hues there are other way of achieving effect with color. The appearance of hues, tones or colors of varying intensity are always modified by the surrounding or adjacent colors. For example, a particular hue will look brighter against black but darker against white, more intense against grey than against black or white, and more luminous against its complementary. Even the area of a patch of color will appear to vary according to its surroundings. Large areas of color will appear more intense than small areas etc. A combination of large numbers of small areas of color will create an effect of luminosity, particularly if they are high in tone. This effect was skillfully used by the Impressionists. Contrast the way the Impressionists used color compared to the Post-Impressionists and when you make such a comparison you will see they were as different as chalk is to cheese.

Impressionist - Claude Monet, "Sunrise" (1872).

Post-Impressionist - Paul Cézanne, "The Card Players" (1892).

You can experiment with patches of colored material or paper to gauge how colors are influenced by their surroundings. For example, in the figure below it may surprise you to realize that the central color in 6(a) and 6(b) are the same color. Note how more intense it appears in 6(a) when compared to 6(b) due to the surrounding color.

In figure 7 the grey hexagonal square drifts into changing intensity as you navigate its path through the two backgrounds.

As a further example, consider the situation below. Note how these two adjacent colors affect, that is enhanced or diminished the magenta square. It is clear if white is the background, the magenta solid block value is unaffected. That is why lots of galleries have white walls and lots of blogs incorporate a white background. Some of us don't follow the norm and so we pay a price (see my blog's background).

When a mid-grey is placed on lighter and darker greys, there will be a "value" change. On a lighter background the mid-grey will appear darker. On the other hand, on a darker background it will appear lighter.

In the example below note the changes in hue, value and saturation as the colors in these palettes intermix.

Colors also yield a spatial effect. The masters who used this property advantageously in the composition of their art were Cezanne and Matisse. Generally, warm colors will advance your perception spatially, whereas less intense hues will recede it. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that such statements are relative, since a cold but intense color may appear to advance in front of a warm but less intense one.

Henri Matisse, The Snail (1953). Gouache on paper - cut and pasted, on white paper, 287 cm × 288 cm, Tate Gallery, London.

Oh dear! I hope after this blog - you don't end up like that person in the picture!

[1] W.H. Nault, News Letter Of The Geographic Society Of Chicago, Vol. 3 No.5 (1967).

[2] Editors A. Jeff, W. Martensson and P. North, Creative Arts Encyclopedia, Octopus Books Ltd., London (1977).

1 comment:

John Rembo said...

The impact of color on us is too big, don't you think so? Let's open this post to ensure that I am telling the truth: