How to Use Color for Emotional Meaning

September 20, 2019


It's the 3rd post in my Beginning Watercolor blog series! You can see the rest here:


Watercolor Art Supplies
Color Theory
Using Color for Emotional Meaning (This post!)
Composition (coming soon)
Finding Your Style (coming soon)

Basics of Color-Emotion Theory


 You're probably familiar with the basics of color and emotion;

Red = angry or passionate

Blue = calm or sad
Yellow = enthusiastic or afraid

But you'll notice even in that short list, each color has a couple different connotations! So here's what I recommend:

Find a way of thinking about colors that works for YOU, and stick with it consistently.

If you relate purple to anxiety, then talk about that as you show your work to others. Always use it in the same way and for the same reason, and your audience will grow used to what you mean to communicate.


In my Enneagram Collection, I use colors to relate to different personality types. I don't use these colors in the same way in all my work, but will continue to use the same colors anytime that I am making art that references the Enneagram.

 What if I don't want to communicate anything specifically, I just want to make my audience to see beautiful colors?

You can choose your colors based on these two things:
1. What you personally consider beautiful (always be authentic to how you really think and feel about your colors)
2. What is generally accepted as beautiful, calming, etc. in colors

   Think about what you want to communicate; peace and calm? Choose natural, neutral, or harmonious colors. Joy and Liveliness? Choose bright, vivid colors. Edgy or Punk? Choose stark contrasts.

Do this exercise:
  * Pick a theme to run over 3-5 practice paintings, based on a single word: 'peace', 'passion', 'life', etc
  * Select 3-4 colors to work with that you feel reflect your chosen word. The majority must be harmonious (next to each other on the color wheel) and the last may be a complementary color.
  * Paint whatever you're most comfortable with; it can be a real subject, or you can experiment with different shapes or blobs of color. The point of this exercise is not WHAT you are painting, but how you are using your colors to communicate feeling.

Share your questions or your paintings below!


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