“Seeing is believing” is an adage that underscores how important we consider our visual world. So much of our information is processed through our eyes, yet sight is not an absolute. We see what we know and learn to see what is familiar.
A child’s initial visual connection to the world, for example, is his or her caregiver, and very few other visual details will manifest themselves in a way that the child understands. In the same way that a child will not recognize different people until they become known, you may not identify the shape of a tree’s leaves if unfamiliar with the tree. Although you “see” trees, you do so in a generic way and cannot easily distinguish one tree from another. Seeing is determined by familiarity as much as physiological processes. You can’t assume something is seen just because it is there. Therefore, if you want to be sure some object is noticed, surround it with movement, additional light, or bright colors. For example, if you want to take time out to read more books, place bright light on a bookshelf and place a red object on the shelf beside the books.
By understanding the emotional context of colors we can manipulate the experience of place to our benefit. Colors engage our eyes as well as our cultural interpretations of emotional experiences. Black, a color that absorbs all others, represents death in the West. We believe that at the moment of death we are rewarded or penalized by the accumulation of our life’s virtues or transgressions. On the other hand, Chinese wear white to symbolize death, which summarizes their philosophy on physical extinction. White does not absorb any color; it reflects all. In death, the Chinese believe, we are released from life’s accumulated energies and begin the process of growth and change for another lifetime.
By adding or reducing a color, its intensity, or its purity, you can adjust a setting to complement its intent. For example, no one would decorate a hospital room all black in a Western culture, nor would an all-white room be appropriate for a young child. But reducing black to an accent color and softening it to a gray could be appropriate in a healing setting, as would adding colored pigment to white, intensifying it into pale yellow, rose, or sky blue for a child’s room.
Here we will define the experience of color, the range of emotional extremes, and how to use color in a setting. Color can express personality and should be used in the same way you select your wardrobe.
I have a friend who likes the color orange; not the kind of orange you find on a Popsicle; this wouldn’t suit her, for she is complex and exotic. A muted darkened mango orange matches her personality. When selecting a color, find the shade, tone, and temperament of a color that reflects you as well as the experience you intend for the space.
Remember also that colors can have both positive and negative meanings. While a single red rose on a dining room table symbolizes elegance and beauty, the notion of a red-light district implies an offensiveness.
Red, being the color of blood, represents a flow of life’s forces. When we add this color to a setting, we are affirming life on a deep level. Red can be a springboard from which activity, responses, and focus commence. It produces the long wave at the extreme end of the visible spectrum and a strong human reaction.
Red can register as overpowering. Our eyes are drawn to this color, and it is often the first one noted in a perceptible field. Moreover, it is associated with violence and can agitate as well as deplete a feeling of comfort. In all cases pure red will elicit a powerful reaction, and an awareness of its potency is paramount to its effective use.
Use Red To . . .
Denote extremes, as in a red stop light
Distract, as in a toreador’s cape in a bullfight
Warn, as in a lifeguard’s red flag
Mark a ceremonial activity, as in red ribbons at opening ceremonies
Agitate, as do carnivals’ flashing red lights
Warm, as does sitting next to the glowing embers of a fire
Attract attention, as in a bulls eye in a target
Signal approaching an important area, as does a red carpet
Yellow is the color of the sun, which is an important element of life on earth just as the center of an egg is the epicenter of life for many species. In some cultures gold represents wealth. Wealth in biological or material terms starts with a notion of plenty—enough sunlight or enough money.
The macula lutea of the eye is a small yellowish area slightly off center from the retina that makes up the region of maximum visual acuity Yellow can clarify perception.
In our culture yellow is often associated with negative attributes such as rumor mongering (yellow journalism) and cowardice (yellow bellied). Paper yellows when it ages. A yellowish tint in the whites of the eyes suggests an unhealthy condition. In addition, we perceive a person’s face as unattractive when cast in a yellow light.
Use Yellow To . . .
Cheer, as does sunshine
Infuse with hope, as do golden opportunities
Vitalize a work area with light
Elevate mental activity, as does meditating on a point of light
Counter the effects of diminished daylight Warm, in the same way as reflection from polished gold
Activate explorations, as did the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz
Stay Away from Pure Yellow . . .
That reflects on faces
Inside cupboards or drawers
In a room for meditation
Sky and water cover the globe with the color blue. These unknowns puzzle us and invite exploration. Blue is a color of isolation and adventure. Interestingly, it is also the most popular color choice of American males. Are they not taught to be independent and investigative?
Yet if the skin becomes bruised, it turns blue. A blue movie or blue joke connotes profanity When we are extremely exasperated, we are described as “blue in the face.” Blue, like all colors, has one foot kicking open a positive door and the other a negative one.
Use Blue To…
Denote mystery, as do the deep blue seas Assist with meditation, as does the sky to contemplation
Express uniqueness, as does “once in a blue moon”
Cool, as blue waters can on a hot day
Attend to seriousness of purpose, as when I wore a navy blue suit to my college interviews
Orange is the fusion of the visible red blood of human life (blood is blue until it mixes with oxygen) and the sun’s yellow. Midway between yellow and red, it absorbs the characteristics of both. However, orange is not a popular overall color for interiors because of the confusing symbolism between a human being’s life-sustaining entity (blood) and the world’s life-sustaining entity (the sun). Many cultures elevate human activity above the natural universe and consequently use red more than both yellow and orange;
Use Orange To . . .
Fuse person to place, as red and yellow fuse earth to human life
Sustain conversation or thought, as enlightenment needs awareness
Define spirituality, as do a monk’s saffron robes
Refine a sense of commitment Repel loneliness
White is the reflection of all colors. It cannot be influenced by anything. It connotes innocence because it is untainted; nothing but self is present.
Since white diffuses all color and remains pure, godliness is often associated with the color white. White surrounds the egg and the seeing part of the eye, and it is an appropriate wrapper for life itself.
White can be experienced as counterrevolutionary or taking a stance against the status quo because it makes all other things stand out. Nothing can be hidden when surrounded by white. White is a good color to wear to a job interview because it shows you have nothing to hide.
Use White To . . .
Define a focused ego, as does a white shirt for business attire
Identify purity, as in a bridal gown
Convey cleanliness and freshness
Show there is nothing to hide
Ah, the magic and mystery of black! We feel absorbed and are absorbing when we wear black. I once had a female client from Texas who, after a normal feng shui consultation, asked me why so many people asked her why she always wore black. Could I explain why they seemed uncomfortable with her choice?
The traditional Sough’s social conditions bade females to be simple and helpful, not enigmatic. Black is the color of mystery. It says, “If you want to know me, find out for yourself!” In some situations the mystery and magic of black is sexy, and in some places it causes discomfort.
Totally absorbing, black reveals nothing and does little to brighten. Black requires our eyes to strain and communicates, “You figure it out.”
Use Black To . . .
Evoke intrigue and mystery, as did the lady in black
Radiate warmth because it feels absorbing
Express strength and solidarity
Purple is not a simple combination of blue and red. It is a hard color to mix, created only when blue is mixed with certain shades of magenta. This difficulty is reflected by its regal use. It’s hard and rare to be a leader just as it’s hard to mix purple. To come forth with insights requires us to dig deep inside and believe in our egotistical view of the world. Purple evokes self centered-ness and spirituality.
Rage is the flip side of asserting oneself calmly with grace. The expression “purple with rage” connotes purple’s negative message.
Use Purple To . . .
Evoke higher mental processes
Scientists are learning more and more about the physical effects of color. After World War II, the navy spent time trying to discern what color was best suited for the stressful conditions inside submarines. The research showed that bubblegum pink induces calmness and serenity, and today the same color is being used experimentally to help calm highly charged teens in juvenile detention centers. No matter how excited and overly stressed, after ten minutes in a bubblegum pink room enraged detainees usually stop yelling and screaming. After twenty or more minutes a statistically significant number of teens are dozing or sleeping. Bubblegum pink has sedative effects.
The pyramid school tells us to go with our feelings, not a prescribed notion of fashion, to determine which color should be augmented or reduced. When we touch a chord within, we usually are responding on all levels—culturally, biologically, and socially.