In art and design, color is one of the most influential of all the visual elements. Color in the art world has the inherent quality of influencing our innermost emotions. By its very nature, color attracts our attention, stimulates our emotions and can soothe our mind, body, and spirit.
Just as personality and taste vary from one individual to the next, our perceptions of color are also unique & subjective. Powerful tools, colors have long been used by artists, art therapists, and designers to influence our decisions about personal space or interior design and it is only natural that we often take careful consideration of what colors to surround ourselves with.
Red is a color that stirs our emotions, our appetite and gets our blood flowing, which means red in any artwork may also be a clever choice for the kitchen or bedroom, depending on the mood you’re trying to set. Red ochre is one of the oldest pigments still in use, found in iron-rich soil and thought to be first used as artistic material in prehistoric cave paintings.
Although during the 16th and 17th centuries, the red pigment came from a cochineal insect that could only be found on prickly-pear cacti in Mexico. Artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens and Raphael used this not only for glazing but also for increasing the intensity of the red palette. The demands for this pigment quickly became the third greatest import out of the “New World” along with that of gold and silver.
The earliest known blue dyes were made from plants and blue pigments from minerals, usually either lapis lazuli or azurite. For hundreds of years, the cost of lapis lazuli rivaled even the price of gold.
This precious material adorned Egyptian funerary portraits, Iranian Qur’ans, and later the headdress in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665). In the 1950s, Yves Klein collaborated with a Parisian paint supplier to invent a synthetic version of ultramarine blue, and the color became the French artist’s signature. Blue’s characteristic tranquil tones can sooth, create calm, allow for better sleep or help unwind after a long commute, while navy can offer assurance and a feeling of stability.
Combining the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red the color purple is associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power, and ambition. Purple has also been associated with wealth, extravagance, creativity, wisdom, dignity, grandeur, devotion, peace, pride, mystery, independence, and magic.
Producing purple pigments was expensive and difficult, the color was often worn by those of high status and royal descent throughout the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires as well as Japanese aristocracy. From here on out purple remained a color to symbolize royalty and nobility throughout history until 1856 when the color became more accessible to every class and simply became a signal of fashion and style instead.
On the lighter end of the spectrum is lavender with its pale, soft shades communicating femininity, nostalgia, romance, and tenderness.
Associated with that of sunshine and gold, yellow is a vibrant and historic color. The color yellow derives from clay and is thought to be one of the first pigments ever used as a paint in prehistoric cave art, with the first application thought to be over 17,300 years old.
Thanks to its close association with gold, yellow was considered eternal and indestructible to the Ancient Egyptians. With its longstanding relationship with the world of art, yellow inspired artist Van Gogh who adopted it as his signature color to signal warmth and happiness. Amongst these associations, yellow is a color that embodies many ideas depending on the shade and application.
Green is a color with distinctive ties to nature, the earth and our environment. Historically, green was a difficult pigment to reproduce. Due to this, many art and fabric applications of green either turned out to be a dull brownish-green or eventually faded due to the temperamental pigments used.
It was only when synthetic green pigments and dyes were produced that green was seen more prolifically throughout modern art. In Western countries, green is seen as a color of luck, freshness, jealousy, and greed.
Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence of visible light and one of the first colors used in the art world.
The Lascaux Cave in France contains drawings of bulls and other animals drawn by Paleolithic artists between 18,000 and 17,000 years ago using charcoal and manganese oxide minerals from the earth to create deeper black pigments. To the ancient Egyptians, black had positive associations; being the color of fertility and associated with the rich black soil flooded by the Nile.
And later in the 23rd century B.C. Chinese artists and calligraphists varied the thickness of their black inks producing delicate shading and subtle or dramatic effects for their brush painting. We also know contemporary artists such as Frank Stella and Richard Serra are also known for their monochromatic black paintings absence of any subject matter other than the beauty of the paint itself.