We all have favorite colors, don’t we? Maybe it’s not a single color but an overall color “family”, or maybe we like only certain tints or shades of a particular hue. Most of us, I think, have a decided preference between warm and cool colors.
I’m a cool color lover. Give me blues from the lightest to the darkest, and go ahead, add in a few touches of green and violet. Surround it with lots of white space, and you’ve got a perfect color combination. In my opinion, that is. Your opinion of perfect colors is probably different.
Recently Dawn from Brush of Dawn Oil Paintings shared a link to an “Artistic Preference” quiz. One of the assessments was for a warm/cool color preference. It’s a fun little test to take, although I don’t know how accurate the overall results are. I will say, however, that my preference for the cooler side of the spectrum did come through.
The test information indicated that women generally prefer warmer colors while the cooler colors are considered more masculine. I think that’s a concept that has become ingrained in our western culture. We dress little girls in pink and baby boys in blue, although that’s actually a fairly recent idea.
For centuries, children of both genders wore practical white dresses. These could easily be pulled up for changing diapers, and the dresses could withstand lots of bleaching. When pastel colors were introduced for children, they weren’t gender-specific at first. Gradually, though, accepted conventions were established — precisely the opposite of what we now think of as “correct.”
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” – From Ladies Home Journal, June 1918
Fashion thinking has gone in different directions since then. In the 1940’s we began seeing blue for boys and pink for girls — the latter an idea reinforced in the 1950s with the introduction of Barbie dolls dressed in pink. Then, as “Women’s Liberation” came along in the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was a trend toward “unisex” colors. Things changed again when advances in medical technology made it possible for women to know their unborn child’s gender, and having a distinct “pink for girls” and “blue for boys” was an idea promoted by manufacturers and marketers to sell nursery décor and infant clothing.
I’m sharing this history because I’m wondering if it accounts for the ideas expressed in the art quiz mentioned above. Is it true that women prefer warmer colors? I don’t think that’s necessarily so.
Of course, we do associate warm and cool colors with specific ideas. They are part of a symbolic language we draw upon in our art. They also have certain physical properties which determine how they are best used.
- Warm colors advance and should be prominent in the foreground.
- Cool colors recede and are best placed in the background.
Now that I’ve been reading books on color theory, learning about paints and pigments, and trying first-hand to mix colors on my palette, I know that it’s not as simple and straight-forward as “red is warm, and blue is cool.”
For the moment, though, let’s keep it simple. Let’s go back to the color chart I posted above:
What do these different temperatures represent in art? When we go beyond the “advance/recede” guidelines, what do we express by the colors we choose in painting?
I’ve been exploring this idea while reading Debora Stewart’s book, Abstract Art Painting: Expressions in Mixed Media. One exercise involves expressing emotions. Color, of course, plays a huge part in that.
We tend to associate red with anger, blue with sadness. But then again, we see pink — a lighter tint of red — as delicate and feminine, and we speak of the “bluebird of happiness”, so maybe the associations we think we know aren’t as universal as we might believe.
Recently in a bit of chat with Dawn, she mentioned the cultural belief that blue doors kept evil spirits away. Really? I was off to do a bit of research to learn more. I came across a site on Feng-Shui explaining that blue represents water and abundance. It can represent the sky, as well. It’s seen as calming, tranquil, and peaceful. Blue signifies trust, loyalty, and stability.
Red is associated primarily with heat and fire. Logical, of course. From there it extends to energy, anger, passion, and love. A red door? Back to a little Feng-Shui information. Red means “Welcome”. Red doors can also be “protective” as they symbolize the Biblical story of blood smeared upon the doorways to turn away the plagues of Egypt, or the blood of Christ. And in an interesting note, home-owners in Scotland often painted their front door red to show that the mortgage had been paid in full.
As I’ve been reading and researching, I’ve found the following associations for the colors.
Excitement, warmth, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, motion, strength, courage, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, flames, protection, welcome, pain, blood, war, revolution, violence, danger, all things intense and passionate, sincerity, happiness.
Peace, tranquility, balance, cold, calm, stability, harmony, contemplation, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, sky, water, reflection, solitude, loyalty, technology, depression, sadness, appetite suppressant, happiness.
Do these colors have these meanings for you? Do you use them in your art to reflect these qualities and emotions? Do you have other associations to add to the list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these colors. So tell me, are you “hot” or “cold”?