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The Psychology of Colour in Art and Animation

June 26, 2018 By: in Blog Animation

Psychology of Colour | Max The Mutt

Whether it’s in animation, concept art or illustration for sequential arts, the psychology of colour might play as much a role in a viewer’s impression of your work as just about any other aspect.

In terms of art and animation, the psychology of colour involves the mental and psychological effects that the colour in your work exerts on viewers.

But colour psychology is at work every day in everything we do. For example, the colour red has been shown to trigger increased heart rate, and a subsequent increase in adrenaline, in many people. As such, interior decorators generally won’t recommend a bright red for bedrooms, often opting instead for blues and greens, which are more often associated with calmness.

Keeping the Psychology of Colour in Context

It’s important to note that no definitive studies or series of studies exist to show that any particular colour will consistently trigger an emotion or psychological effect in everyone.

But, especially in marketing, analyses have shown results in how colours can generally affect a consumer’s brand perception, and even inclination to buy. The takeaway here is that colours shouldn’t be relied upon to instill any particular psychological effect, but should be considered as potentially having a psychological effect in the context of your work.

We can look again at the colour red for an example. Yes, red can generate excitement, but it may also produce feelings of anger, or engender a sense of romance.

Sticking with red, cultural influences can also affect the psychology of colour. Red is considered lucky in Chinese culture.

The Psychological Effects of Cool and Warm Colours

The psychological effects of colour are commonly noted around two main categories of colours: warm colours and cool colours.

Cool Colours

In color theory, cool colours are considered those in the blue-green and blue-violet ranges, including most grays. As mentioned, blues and greens tend to induce a sense of peaceful calm and relaxation. 

Warm Colours

Reds, yellows, browns and tans are considered warm colours. Generally, their effect is to arouse and stimulate. There’s a reason why so many restaurants use red in their branding – it’s actually been shown to cause some people’s stomachs to growl.

Nature always has a balance of cool and warm. In your work, a lack of warmth will make a piece seem lifeless. Too much warmth will appear garish.

As you get more sophisticated about the use of colour, you’ll begin to see that there are actually warm greys and cool greys, and with red pigments and yellow pigments there are also warmer and cooler reds and yellows. Nature does a dance between warm and cool changes that can be very subtle and when we mimic that in our work, it sparkles. That’s why a well chosen palette will include warm and cool blues, yellow and reds. The potential for colour mixing, while not as great as nature’s, gives artist’s many expressive possibilities.