Sunday, January 27, 2013

Color Casts Powerful Messages: Learn how to USE it!

I find as we become more immersed in internet advertising, gaming, social media, and the relaying of information in what we now call "infographics" (a one-page presentation of charts, facts and images), we need to spend more time examining visual literacy - understanding how color, lines, angles, camera shots, and the insertion of short bursts of text so profoundly influence our emotions, our decisions and the inferences we make.

In  previous posts, I have related:
This week, I'd like to demonstrate the awesome power of COLOR.

We use COLOR in our blog, Facebook, Pinterest posts and our kids use it for computer or hand generated school projects. To use and interpret color and color images effectively, we all need to understand how to generate various colors and when best to use each color.

Google defines  COLOR (n.) as  "The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light." According to Wikipedia:
"Color... is the visual perceptual property corresponding in humans to the categories called red, blue, yellow, green and others. Color derives from the spectrum of light (distribution of light power versus wavelength) interacting in the eye's ... light receptors. Color categories and physical specifications of color are also associated with objects, materials, light sources, etc., based on their physical properties such as light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra."
While "color" is the general term applying to the whole subject, hue, a more specific term refers more accurately to the pure spectrum of colors.  So, when you want to paint a room and you go to the paint store with either an idea in your mind, or a color chip in hand, you find catalogs or visually displayed rows of paint chips organized in groups of hue. Colors that can be produced by a single wavelength, the pure spectral colors, are called HUES. The paint chip hues you see are defined by that company so they know exactly how to reproduce it.

Primary colors are three hues that when mixed together can produce all other hues.  Interestingly, there are three types of primary colors [and click here for a more detailed discussion
  • Painters Primaries -  red, blue, yellow
  • Printers Primaries  -("subtractive colors") CMYK cyan (turquoise), magenta, yellow, black (designated "K" so as not to be confused with blue)
  • Light Primaries - ("additive colors" when used with lights) - red, green, blue-  these are used on computers, for example when colored lights (as opposed to paint pigments) are used.  When all three overlap they produce white (as opposed to black when the other primaries are mixed). 
When mixing hues to produce various colors, not only do we have to mix the pigment or light but we have to consider their "value" (their relative lightness and darkness) and when placing one color next to another, we have to also consider their relative contrast (how clearly the colors stand out from other colors next to them). If values and their contrasts are close, shapes will flatten out and will not stand out from other colors.  If values contrast, shapes will appear to separate in space and stand out one from the other.

There is a whole science to mixing colors and I will leave this for another time. To read more see:
It's important to understand how to generate colors when working on any type of color project or presentation. BUT, equally important is understanding what inferences, emotions, and images these colors relay. Let's look at some basic colors and what they relay [in a future post I'll talk about shading, black, gray, white, and brown]:

Red Before reading this paragraph, look at the image to the left...What feelings or thoughts does it evoke for you?
Typcially, RED  is engaging and emotive. It triggers adrenaline, stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ response, and increases blood pressure, breathing and metabolism.  Red primes attention and creates focus in the brain – and is often used to encourage last-minute purchases. Red is also good for catching people’s attention. It also makes you feel tense and often invokes anxiety. Typically, red evokes passion, energy, blood and war. It is often used in flags and is a symbol of pride and strength.


Orange  and Yellow...  Before reading this paragraph, look at the image to the left...What feelings or thoughts does it evoke for you?

Orange is often the color of flesh, friendly warmth. It evokes feelings of approachability, fun, and informality. It can also suggest something or someone that anyone can approach. Orange is often used to represent fire, the sun, fun, warmth, and tropical images. Orange has been found to increase oxygen supply to the brain and stimulate mental activity.
Yellow is the brightest color to the human eye and the first color a person distinguishes in the brain. It is associated with stress, caution, and apprehension yet it also stimulates a sense of overall hope, happiness, sunshine, and balance.  It is the color of sunshine and so is optimistic, upbeat, and often is associated with ‘modern’ but the energy of yellow can become overwhelming.  This depends on the shade of yellow.
Green Before reading this paragraph, look at the image to the left...What feelings or thoughts does it evoke for you?

Green is also a calming colors and is one of the cool colors. It reduces tension. When we look at green it lowers the histamine levels in our blood which calms us. We associate green with plants, insects and has an overall organic feel to it.  On the other hand, green can also suggest decay (as in fungus and mold), toxicity and artificiality. Green typically represents growth, nature, money, fertility, healing  and safety.
Blue: Before reading this paragraph, look at the image to the left...What feelings or thoughts does it evoke for you?

Blue is another cool color and it is the most tranquilizing color. When we see it, our brain releases 11 different neurotransmitters that relax the body and result in reduction in temperature, perspiration and appetite.  It is often used to suggest trust, elite status, excellence and loyalty. Doctors’ offices often use blue to help relax patients. Sometimes blue is too calming for learning environments because it makes us too relaxed. On the negative side, we may think of “the blues” when we see blue which will in turn evoke sadness, passivity, alienation or depression. Blue is also associated with exploration and is believed to prime creativity.


Violet: Before reading this paragraph, look at the image to the left...What feelings or thoughts does it evoke for you?

Violet is the color of fantasy, luxury (royalty), playfulness, impulsiveness and dream states. It often suggests introspection. In its negative mode, it may suggest nightmares or madness.

QUESTION: What color triggers your appetite and suggests you're hungry????  Leave your best-guess in the comments and I'll post the answer here later in the week!!

How to help your kids develop a sense and understanding of color:
  • PLAY with color - experiment mixing colors with paint pigments and with light (on the computer); string color beads together and talk about how the colors 'go' together;
  • Play color games: Say you're thinking of a color that makes you feel happy, or sad, or angry, or evil...what color are you thinking about...
  • Go look at art and color all around you -in museums, online,  outside in the winter snow - and talk about the colors you see and how they make you feel;  look at the colors of the seasons, of holidays - talk about them; play color games on the computer;
  • Take photographs and play with exposure and color -which will in turn change the 'feel' of the photos.
  • Read graphic novels and graphic, illustrated texts - no matter what age your child is - and talk about the artist's choice and use of color in the images or panels or even of the fonts used for specific words.
  • Go to the movies and talk about the shots that really stood out - was it the camera angle, the colors used?

What color games / activities do you play with your kids?  Please share them in your comments.

In the meantime, thank you for your visit and please leave your answer to my color question and your favorite color games and exercises in the comments.  Your visit and responses are appreciated.


  1. Wonderful. I am an artist - watercolour. Love colour except in my clothing. I seem to favour brown, blacks, turquoise (yep a good one). My conservative nature is probably holding me back. I bought a pair of red pants but have only worn them twice. .mmm
    I am taking 2 arts lessons a week - and learning much on value, contrast, hues, lines and shapes.
    Thanks for a great post,

  2. I just found your blog on the GFC blog hop and I am glad because I have always been interested in how color affects people! I am a new follower too! Can't wait to see more post from you

  3. Hola!
    Wow! What an informative post! Stopping by via the GFC blog hop and am now your newest reader #660. Looking forward to getting to know more about you and yours!

    ~SimplyyMayra of
    PonderWonders @

  4. It is amazing how colors really evoke different thoughts and emotions, isn't it? :) Love the information! :)

    Wishing for Snow, Valentine Unicorn Bouquet, Sore Throat Remedy – RTT Rebel

  5. Good assessment. Of course, I can barely SEE the word 'yellow' against the white background, so there is that...

  6. Fascinating post. Color is such an important component of life as is the absence of color. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  7. The colors really do evoke instant emotions, I guess you just don't notice them unless you're paying attention to noticing them. I really like the beautiful background you have up on your blog right now.

  8. I think a lot of Fast Food restaurants use red, yellow and orange.
    Eat quickly and leave so more can come, is the underlying feel they give.
    Very interesting post today Meryl.
    We definitely are influenced by color. I think that's why so many people get depressed in the winter months. Very monochromatic landscape.

  9. Lovely colourful post! Thanks for linking up! x

  10. Meryl another excellent post and so informative and even delightful!

    Carol of : A Creative Harbor

    Thanks for coming by and commenting ~ ^_^ I am running late this week!

  11. I looked at all of the colors and I liked red the bets, it makes me feel love and warmth.

  12. Great post! I like almost all colours, but I like the combiation of blue, violet , purple and pink best.

  13. I once had a student with dyslexia who read better wearing yellow tinted glasses. I don't know how it works, but it did!

    abcw team

  14. I'm drawn to brighter colors which is why I chose my blog colors to be what they are. I hope that my blog is a happy and fun place to visit :)

    Thanks for sharing for WW!


  15. Thanks for linking on Amanda's Books and More! I love colors and blue is my favorite. You have loads of info. here. Thanks for sharing!

  16. I teach a class on Color and Design Theory. We learn about all this stuff.

    Print colors are actually called CMYK Cyan Magenta, Yellow and Registration Black. The K is just a registration.

    Computer colors and TV colors are RGB Red, Green and Blue.

    Just like there is a warm side of the color wheel: red through yellow, there's a cool side: green through blue. Purple can be argued to go either way. It has the warm of red and cool of blue. Texture actually has warm and cool properties as well. Heavily textured things (like rough wood bark) are thought to be warm. Smooth surfaces are thought to be cool. Such as a marble counter top.

  17. Your post is always informative. I leanred different things every week.

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  18. Ooo, you know I love color! Fun evocation exercise.

    ♥ aquariann
    Featured Photo: Icicle Image

  19. This is very interesting! Thanks for posting!

  20. Happy WW,
    Have a wonderful week!

  21. I love the tips for kids. Happy WW and stopping by

  22. I love your play with the image. It's great! I learned about the color wheel in the 4th grade. However, I did not learn how to use it properly until college. I am also a visual person.

    Please if you knew how very difficult blogger's word verification is you would stop using it. Most times it takes a minimum of three tries! It's terrible and makes it nearly impossible to leave comments!

    Happy WW! :-)

  23. All colors make me hungry! LOL. I love being surrounded by color. We are currently living in a rental house with all beige walls! YUCK!


  24. They say color is a very powerful thing and I believe it! Enjoyed the information and colorful post!

  25. My 3.5 year old has Color Day at school tomorrow. They've been learning about primary and secondary colors in preschool and now they get to dress up in their favorite color and celebrate together :)
    stop by and link up!

  26. I have always believed that colors influence our moods. Hugs and Thank you for sharing at the hop :-)

  27. Great info! Found you on Thursday Favorite Things! I'm kicking off a brand new blog hop on Superbowl Sunday called the Creative HomeAcre Hop! I would love to have you join the fun at:

  28. Thanks for sharing this information. I absolutely love color, and I'm always looking for ways to use it in my second grade classroom. This is fascinating stuff!

    Sally from Elementary Matters