Color Stories

Jester by Kathryn Sturges

Jester by Kathryn Sturges

I’ve been thinking about color a lot these days! There is a set of symbolism associated with different colors. Colors mean certain things based on the context within which they are viewed. Religions and spirituality and different groups in society assign different colors for different things. Here are some color stories to get you thinking about color in fresh new ways!


The color white has always symbolized purity to me. Ever since I went to church as a kid I saw white dove artwork and associated white with the color of Heaven. Now that I’m older the color white symbolizes a blank canvas, ready to be covered in rich layers of colors. White is a total absence of color when it comes to pigment. So white could be a clean slate, a fresh start, an open vessel untarnished by the other colors. When I paint with white acrylic it is fascinating how white blends with other colors. It creates a sort of pastel tone and dulls a color. White is often more opaque than other colors. White paint reflects light which is why so many homes are painted white. White is also associated with minimalism, and minimalist homes often have vast expanses of white open spaces. White calms the mind and is a soothing tranquil color. Leaving lots of white space in art can be really cool, it sort of sets the stage for other colors to stand out.


Oh how I love the color red! When I first started painting about ten years ago I was too timid to even use red in my color palette. Red is bold, it is one of the loudest colors in the spectrum. I associate red with passion, anger, and romance. Lately I find red to be a great color to wear! Red makes me feel more confident and adds so much pop to an outfit or painting. I use red in very specific ways in my art. I rarely use red haphazardly like I do some of the other colors, because red gets the attention! Red is a great color for a focal point or to add pops of color here or there. Seeing the color red makes people hungry, which is one reason that red is used a lot in restaurant decor. Valentine’s Day is also associated with the color red. Lust, love, romance, passion are all of the color red. Red is also one of the primary colors which means that it is one of the colors that you cannot mix two other colors to create.


Orange is one of my three favorite colors to sew with. I don’t know what it is, I just love the way orange accents other colors. Orange can represent harvest, fall, leaves changing, pumpkins, Halloween. Orange reminds me of the Seventies, combined with brown and yellow you can achieve a retro look and feel. I’ve actually noticed that orange doesn’t come in many different varieties, whether in a tray of watercolor or looking at fabrics; there are usually only a few orange tones to choose from. Red and yellow make orange, so it is kind of a softer version of red. Because I’m color blind I often confuse the color orange and red. My husband wore a shirt for a few years and one day I told him how much I loved that red shirt. He told me it was indeed orange and not red! Orange is a summery citrusy color and I can’t get enough of it! Orange is a warm color and in sewing and quilting, people often prefer to sew with red orange and yellow in the warmer months. My go to palette for quilting used to be orange yellow and green, because they are analogous colors right next to each other on the color wheel. Analogous color palettes tend to be more relaxing, but with the orange and yellow those projects always popped!


Yellow has been my favorite color for years now. Yellow is just so cheerful, bright and seems full of laughter and sunshine. Yellow is often said to be a good color for socializing, so it is often recommended to paint the living room yellow. Yellow comes in different variants and all are so lovely, I always run out of yellow in my paint and marker sets first before any other color. Yellow is the color of the sun and reminds me so much of summer. Yellow attracts bees, is associated with honey and pollen. It is the lightest color in watercolor, so I used to start every painting with some yellow first. When painting watercolors, if you put down a layer of yellow in the background it tints the entire work to have a sort of glow about it. Yellow is also a fall color and mustard yellow has become popular in recent times. Yellow is also a primary color so you cannot mix other colors to create yellow. Yellow is a warm color and seems to warm the heart.


Green is a very fickle color, it can be warm or cool depending on the tint. There are endless shades of green and honestly I’ve never been able to tell which green tones are warm or cool. Green is a sort of neutral tone that works well with most color palettes. Green is a very spring like tone, symbolizing plant life, leaves, nature. I often pair green with brown for this very reason. Green symbolizes money and abundance and green candles are often used to manifest money. St. Patrick’s Day is very green, four leaf clovers, luck, good fortune. I have always loved green since I was young, but lately I don’t like it near as much as other colors. It is somewhat difficult to find a truly natural looking green in watercolor palettes. Green is often viewed as a healing color and malachite represents healing, which is a green stone. If you look through my work I don’t use green in large quantities in my art. It is a great compliment to other colors but rarely steals the show.


I used to hate the color blue but now I’m warming up to it. It is a cool color on the spectrum, and symbolizes water, masculinity and power. There are lots of shades and variants of blue, and it is the third primary color. Blue can be associated with depression and I have read that you should not wear too much blue or it might bring on a blue mood. I find blue to be a very commanding color, it can either be the focal point or serve as a backdrop for other colors but it always makes a huge impact on a work. The sky is blue and I often use blue in works of nature. Blue is great to use alongside other tones in a sky or water painting. The color has a lot of pop to it and looks very different in different works depending on the shade and how it is used. Blue is often associated with perception and seeing beneath the surface of things. I use navy blue in a lot of my quilts, and navy is my favorite version of blue to wear. It produces a back drop to other elements really well and allows other colors to really sing out! Sometimes I use blue instead of black in a painting to add more character to the piece.


If there is one color I use least of all, it is purple. Something about purple just doesn’t jive with my taste in colors that well. Purple is a very feminine color and is often said to symbolize leadership and royalty. Red and blue make purple and the color varies depending on which of the two colors is most predominant. Purple often looks strange right out of a paint set, often mixing the color produces much more beautiful tones. I use purple in fantasy paintings a lot because it feels like a fantastical color, but I almost never sew with purple fabrics. Purple is a very juicy color and I’ve seen a lot of women use it in luscious ways in their art. Purple does stand out and stands on its own really well. Lately I’ve created some purple comics because the color has a sort of rebellious quality to me…probably because I don’t use it much! My husband bought me a purple quartz crystal necklace and I love to wear that stone! It is the only purple item I wear.


Black is such a mysterious color! It is associated with the dark, the void, the shadow, the depths. Black is a combination of all the colors in pigment. I love to use black in my paintings, sometimes all I need is a black marker and paper to produce something that is fabulous. Black and white is a great color pairing, and much of my wardrobe features these two colors. Black is sort of a grounding color which absorbs light. It is said that wearing black clothing can ward off negative energy. Black is a slimming color to wear and is a very professional, dressy color. One time I went to a wedding and everyone else was wearing black while I was wearing green and brown! DOH! Black is a formal color and in artwork it is a great color for defining elements. Illustrations often have a black outline and comics and cartoons are typically inked in black before the color is added in. I’ve read that when painting shadows it is a good idea to use other dark colors besides black because black is a very flat color. I find the color to be very commanding and use it in most of my works in some way. Black is neutral and pairs great with any other color! It has a really modern contemporary feel.


I actually used to use brown for everything in place of black. Brown is a nature tone and can easily be mixed in watercolor. Often it is said that when you mix too many colors together in watercolor it makes “MUD”. That mud is a brown tone that I actually adore. There are lots of variants of brown and I find it to be a very earthy color. Tree bark, mountains, chocolate and coffee are all brown, just to give you an idea of the earthy richness of this color. I often use brown tones as a wash to give a painting a more grounded, vintage type feel. Brown also pairs great with green tones and brown and pink are a daring combination. I used to wear a ton of brown tones when I lived in the country. Then when I moved to the city it was slowly replaced with black for a more urban look. Brown is a neutral tone and is a great ground for other colors in a painting.


Gray is also a neutral but I don’t use it very often in my works. There are beautiful shades of gray but I find the color to be very flat. Gray is a mixture of black and white and can be created with more of one or the other to produce different shades. When you mix too many acrylic colors it produces a gray tone. Gray is another earthy sort of color; stones, mountains, pavement, and buildings are often gray. Gray can be really incredible when accented with other colors, so give it a try if you are after a cool looking palette.

These are my color stories and I hope they give you some things to think about for your own artwork! The best colors for any artist to use are the ones that speak to them, the ones that make their hearts sing! Be bold with color and try new shades from time to time. Color can be an adventure and make life so bright!