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The Wonderful World of Color

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

Have you ever noticed the vibrant colors of the world around you? It’s easy to see that color is a huge part of everyday life. It’s in the plants, clothing, buildings, art and literally everything you see. Colors serve a multitude of purposes from showing wealth and status to indicating dangers and setting the mood for any emotion.


Uses of color


Safety

Cautionary colors come in many forms, from color-coded traffic lights that tell you when to stop, slow down, go and proceed with caution. Snakes, insects and other animals use color to warn predators of their dangerous nature. Typically brightly colored creatures carry a venom that is toxic or deadly. Some creatures use colors either vibrant or muted in an effort to camouflage and hide or scare and intimidate potential predators.


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Bright vibrant colors are used to attract the attention of consumers in the world of commerce. Neon signs along the Vegas Strip are the best example of eye-catching colors meant to draw in business. In the wilder sense color is commonly used by animals in an effort to catch the eye of a potential mate. Peacocks are an amazing example of the colorful extremes that the animal kingdom goes through to ensure the propagation of different species. Brightly colored flowers and fruits also advertise their wares in hope that pollen and seeds are spread as widely across the world as possible.


Emotional wellbeing / Emotional Scapes

Color is used to make a person feel calm and relaxed. The colors of hospitals and waiting rooms are very carefully thought out and used in hopes to create feelings of calm and wellness. Yellow is a color that helps promote happiness and joy. Red is the color of passionate emotions like anger and love. Blues can make a person feel calm and relaxed. Darker hues and the absence of color are used to inspire fear and darker emotions.


A brief history

Color is everywhere and it’s an artist's best friend. Where did all these colors come from?

For the sake of keeping this article short and sweet, the following will be a discussion of the basic colors of the rainbow and how artists brought them into our everyday lives. (see also Pigments Through the Ages)


Red

The first visible color in the spectrum, red, is a primary color. Primary colors are amazing because you can mix them together and get a number of other amazing hues. Red and yellow together make orange. Red and blue together make violet and hundreds of shades and variations are made possible. Red pigments used in making paint and dying cloth is derived from ochre and is one of the first colors used in prehistoric art. Ancient Egyptians, Mayans, and Romans strongly favored the use of the color red in their symbolism. Red is also of major cultural importance in China where the color brings luck and prosperity. Brides in China and India typically wear red. During the Renaissance, the nobility loved to have clothing made with red dyes derived from Kermes (derived from the bodies of female scale insects from the Mediterranean) and cochineal (an insect native to areas of the subtropics).


Orange

Orange is the second color in the rainbow and it’s a common color for the fall season. The color we know today was once known by another name, geoluhread which basically meant yellow-red. It later came into its name in the 15th century after Spanish explorers introduced Europeans to the naranja (which is Spanish for the fruit orange) and the word orange came into existence. Ancient Egyptians used a pigment created from a mineral called realgar (an arsenic sulfide mineral known as ruby sulphur) for tomb paintings. In the Roman empire, orange pigments were created from orpiment. The mineral known as orpiment was important in trade for the Romans, used as a medicine in China and is highly toxic. It was also used as fly poison and for tipping poisoned arrows.


Yellow

The color of sunshine and happiness, yellow is also associated with illness and a certain body fluid. Yellow is the second of three primary colored from which most other colors and hues are derived. Because of its availability, the yellow ochre pigment was one of the first colors to be used. In the cave paintings in Lascaux France, there is a painting of a yellow horse. Romans and Egyptians favored the color to represent skin color and gold.


Green

Green is the combination of blues and yellows. It is created naturally by plants in the form of chlorophyll, the chemical which plants use in the photosynthesis process. Green was not considered a color of the monarchy but it was very popular with the wealthier members of society. Merchants, bankers and the gentry were often seen wearing green. The color green show up rather prominently in the Mona Lisa and it’s a traditional color in Ireland and the Gaelic culture. The color green is also often associated with life, wealth, happiness, fertility, envy and spring. The Chicago River, since the year 1962, is colored green with an algae-based food-safe dye to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Over the years there has been such a large number of minerals used to create green dyes and pigments that it’s impractical to mentions many. Some of the more prominent choices have been chromium and viridian.


Dyeing the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day
Dyeing the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day

Blue

Blue is the third and final primary color. The color blue has historically been an important color. The ancient Egyptians used the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli was a popular stone for ornamentation. During the Renaissance it was used to make the pigment ultramarine for paintings. Chinese artists during the eighth century favored cobalt blue pigment to color their porcelain. In Europe blue was a popular clothing color with fabrics dyed with woad until it was replaced by the finer indigo dyes from the Americas. By the 19th century, the use of synthetic dyes brought about the richer darker hues like dark and navy blue. Dark blues were favored by militaries for uniforms.


Violet/Purple

At the end of the visible spectrum, purple is a mix of red and blue. Violet is actually it’s own color, meaning that it has its own wavelength in the light spectrum and is very similar to purple. It is most commonly associated with royalty. Purple first appeared in prehistoric art during the Neolithic era. Sticks of manganese and hematite powder were used to draw and paint animals and outline of hands, on cave walls. There are works of art in purple dated as far back as 25,000 BC. As early as the 15th century BC people along the coast of present-day Lebanon were creating purple pigments and dyes from sea snails and this shade is most commonly known as Tyrian purple. The process for creating the dye was long and painstaking and very expensive. It was also a very specific process with a lot of room for error as far as the hue was concerned. The color Tyrian Purple could vary as widely as a light purple to a deep crimson. As a result clothing and other items that were purple were expensive and became the color of kings, religious leaders, the nobility and those in high positions of power.


Conclusion

There you have it, a very brief history of color and some interesting facts to go along with it. Color is everywhere from vibrant hues to muted tones. Color serves a multitude of purposes and has a wide variety of meanings. Each culture across this vast planet embraces color in different ways and that is what makes it to unique and wonderful.


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