Colors greatly affect how we view art. We can feel excited, melancholic, or peaceful depending on the colors we see.
As an artist, it’s crucial for you to learn how to use colors to effectively make the viewer feel the emotions you want them to feel.
There are quite a few articles on color theory that apply to logo design, web design, or other creative works. But, I haven’t seen a good one that tailors directly to art.
So, I’ve spent a few hours putting this together so that it helps with your art. Now let’s dive into it!
Why colors and emotions are important in art
Colors affect the way the viewer views your art. Each color has a set of emotions associated with it. Some are positive emotions like love and passion, while others are negative emotions like greed or hatred. Learning about these emotions and the meanings behind each color will let you more accurately convey the message or the feeling that you want.
We all associate things or emotions with colors in a different way based on what we have experienced in our lives. For example, one person might associate red with roses while another might think of blood when they see red. But, there are a lot of common themes that most people would agree with. Once you know these, you will be able to pick the right colors to make your viewer feel melancholic, joyful, tranquil, or any other emotions you desire.
Different colors and the emotions associated with them
Understanding the different colors and what they represent is crucial because it allows you to choose which sets of emotions you want the viewer to feel. Here are the main colors and emotions that you should be familiar with.
Red is one of the most vibrant colors. It can convey passion, love, courage, excitement, warmth, and attention. When we look at red colors, our heart rate rises and can even send adrenaline down our veins. Red excites us and can also arouse us. On the negative side, red can also represent anger, hatred, pain, demons, and evil beings. When you see red, you might think of things like roses, hearts, flames, or blood.
Orange gives out feelings of warmth, joy, excitement, creativity, and vitality. You can use orange to paint autumn scenes like the example above. Or you can use orange to draw attention to specific areas of your painting. Orange is often used in warning signs to draw attention. But, too much of it can become irritating to the eye. When you see orange, you might think of sunsets, flames, fresh oranges, or traffic cones.
Yellow is often seen as cheery, happy, and can stimulate you or warn you as orange does. Lighter shades of yellow are seen as happy, but dull and faded yellow can actually be sad and melancholic. Darker and golden yellow can be a symbol of wealth. You can often see yellow in the sun, raincoats, rain boots, bees, Pikachu, taxis, and sunflowers.
Nature is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see green. A lot of different plants and vegetables are green. Green represents nature, prosperity, peace, healing, and luck. On the opposite end, green might also convey poison, greed, or overgrowth (like in an abandoned building with mosses and tree roots). Here are some examples of green things: grass, trees, potions, cash, and four-leafed clover.
Blue often transmits trust, safety, confidence, and peace. You can see a lot of blue in nature like the ocean or the sky. Lighter blues also give you a feeling of happiness and peacefulness. Darker blues or faded blues, on the other hand, can feel cold, sad, and distant. When you see blue, you might think of water, the sky, Twitter/Facebook, the sea, or winter.
Purple is a majestic color that radiates creativity, romance, royalty, spirituality, mystery, and power. Purple can be seen in things like lavender that gives you a feeling of romance and cleanliness. You can also see purple along with red and golden yellow in a lot of royalties. Purple can also be seen in jellyfish, octopuses, and grapes. On the negative side, purple can be used to paint poisonous, evil, witchy, and undead things. For example, you can paint a necromancer with purple as the main color and green as a secondary color.
You can use white to exhibit purity, simplicity, cleanliness, and healthiness. White is often associated with things that are pure and innocent. It is also associated with medical things like nurses and hospitals. In some cultures, white is also the color for mourning. On the negative side, white can feel cold, elitist, and deathly. You can observe white in things like polar bears, snow, bandages, or pillows.
Black can be powerful, mysterious, and sexy. But, black can also be spooky, gloomy, deathly, or evil. You can use black in a wide variety of ways like painting a spooky vampire castle. Or, you can draw a sexy woman with black lingerie. In nature, black can be seen in a powerful black panther, an unlucky black cat, or an ominous murder of crows. In western culture, black is often used for funeral attire and mourning.
Grey can feel serious, industrious, rocky, stern, or practical. Like in the character design above, grey can give you a more stern look. Because of its lack of vibrancy, grey can give you a more serious feeling and a lack of emotions. When you see grey, you might think of robots, boulders, or concrete. Adding grey to another color can also give you a duller look.
Warm vs Cool Colors
The colors on the color wheel can be roughly separated into two halves that make up warm and cool colors. Red, orange, and yellow are considered warm colors. Green, blue, and purple are cool colors. Warm colors represent activity, sunshine, heat, and passion. They can be used to convey a wide variety of emotions like anger, hatred, irritation, love, and joy. Cool colors represent water, peacefulness, ice, sky, and coldness. You can use cool colors to display sadness, relief, alienation, sorrow, and grief.
When you place warm and cool colors next to each other, you create a nice contrast to highlight the difference between the two objects. For example, you can make a character with warm colors stand out by choosing cool colors for the background. On the other hand, you can create a sense of harmony by placing warm colors with warm colors or cool colors with cool colors.
Keep in mind that color temperature is relative. A very vibrant red can seem warmer next to a dull, dark red. Read more about color schemes and color temperatures in our color theory article.
Dualism in colors
As you’ve seen above, sometimes colors can have two seemingly opposite emotions. For example, red can make you feel love and warmth, but it can also make you feel pain and anger. Green can represent nature, healing, and peacefulness. But, it can also represent poison and overgrowth. It’s important to keep that in mind as you choose your colors.
Different tints and shades have different meanings
The meaning of colors can change if you use different saturations or different tints (white + color) and different shades (black + color). For instance, pink can convey innocence and femininity while dark red can give you a more gloomy and murdery vibe. Baby blue can convey innocence, purity, and peacefulness. Dark blue can convey confidence, intelligence, and masculinity.
Design and shapes also affect emotion
Color is not the only thing that affects your emotions. Your design and the shapes of what you draw also affect emotions. This can be better explained using Pokemons. For example, a Charmander has rounder shapes, smiles, and looks cute and innocent. On the other hand, a Charizard has more jagged shapes and pointy eyes that make it look more angry and aggressive.
Simple things like how round or how jagged the object is can affect how you view that object. Obviously, there are other factors like facial expressions, gestures, and lighting that affect emotions.
What to do next
Now that you know how colors affect emotions, try keeping that in mind when you plan out the colors for your next artwork. If you’d like to learn more about colors, check out our article on color theory.