color, emotions, and ultra violet explosions

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color and our emotions

Our visual perception of colors is not as passive as we may think. Perceiving a high amount of stimuli in a color or color scheme has subliminal psychological effects on our bodies, depending on the hue in our eyesight. Maybe you have felt this walking into a room with lots of dark, neutral grays and blacks and suddenly becoming unsettled. Even if the situation itself is pleasant, the dull room subconsciously makes you feel a little dull. Similarly, walking into a coffee shop decorated with red and brown earth tones gives you a sense of comfort and even makes you a little hungrier.

Why is this? The color professionals at Pantone have a clear, scientific answer:

Color is light and light is energy. Scientists have found that actual physiological changes take place in human beings when they are exposed to certain colors. Colors can stimulate, excite, depress, tranquilize, increase appetite and create a feeling of warmth or coolness. This is known as chromodynamics.
— Pantone on Color Psychology

Based on the amount of light we perceive, and how it is reflected off rods and cones in our eyes, color has the powerful ability to influence our physical and mental states and can evoke specific emotions based on the visual message we are receiving. This is one of the basic principles behind color theory - the interaction between colors and how to mix them in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Advertisers use these tactics when trying to market products to consumers, in the same way an interior decorator would be conscious of which colors to use in certain rooms of the house. The image below provides a basic description of common feelings associated with primary and secondary colors:


Pantone’s color of the year

Ask any digital or fashion designer and they will tell you that Pantone’s color systems are one of their most widely used tools. Essentially, Pantone is the mother of color in design. While they did not invent color, they have created color systems for graphic, fashion, and product design to allow uniformity and consistency across all platforms. For printing ink on paper, there are 1,867 color chips categorized by three or four digit numbers, followed by a "C" for coated or gloss paper or a "U" for uncoated paper. There are separate color systems for fashion and product design, but all books contain hundreds of tints and shades of each primary, secondary, and tertiary color, as well as neutrals.

Pantone is also a pioneer in visual trends, curating the annual “Color of the Year” for the integration of color as a strategic asset. The company describes this phenomenon as “one moment in time that provides strategic direction for the world of trend and design, reflecting the Pantone Color Institute’s year-round work doing the same for designers and brands.” Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year is 18-3838, more commonly known as ULTRA VIOLET. Such an enigmatic shade has come to represent “originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future” while also being a symbol of counterculture and artistic brilliance. It is no surprise that a shade with powerful visual significance was chosen as the symbol for a year filled with such unconventional trends and events.

credit: Pantone

credit: Pantone

ultra violet inspiration

While researching ultra violet and it’s associated emotions, I came across Pantone’s own description of the color as a symbol of non-conformity used to spur individuals to push boundaries through creative outlets, while making their unique mark on the world. I resonated with that statement wholeheartedly, as those same principles were the inspiration behind starting this blog. That description also led to the creation of this post - a direct repercussion of being stimulated by such an imaginative shade! Clearly, Pantone has mastered the concept of using color to trigger our thoughts and emotions while simultaneously being a trendsetting element across all forms of design.

If the color of 2018 had been anything else, I might not have been struck with such a lightning bolt of inspiration. Not only was the color visually stimulating, but the concepts it represents are powerful. As an artist, there are moments when inspiration is not always obvious, and we must learn how to “see” things from a deeper perspective. I think there are certain colors that evoke deeper, more complex emotions than others. I don’t feel very much staring at a grey wall, but while researching the shade ultra violet, my creative lightbulb kept going off.

making ultra violet explosions in a glass

Maybe I have been looking at pictures of ultra violet for too long, but the nature of the shade has served its purpose by inspiring me to create an ultraviolet explosion in a glass. This simple experiment can be recreated in less than 10 minutes using household items and a bit of creativity.

You will need:

  • food coloring (red and blue for this shade, but use your imagination!)

  • oil (vegetable, olive, peanut - any will work)

  • plastic cup

  • glass

  • a fork

  • warm water

Start by pouring 2-3 tablespoons of oil into one of the cups. Add a few drops of food coloring to the oil and use a fork to mix them together, breaking up the drops into smaller beads of color.

Fill the other glass 3/4 of the way full with warm water. Then, slowly pour the oil and food coloring mixture into the water. The low density of oil compared to water will cause it to form its own layer. After a few seconds, the drops of color will begin to seep into the water creating a unique explosion-like effect.

After experimenting with different color combinations, I learned it was best to mix the red and blue food coloring separately before pouring it into the oil to get the colors to blend together and make purple. You can also try this experiment in a jar or larger container to create an even bigger effect. Here are some results:

Through this basic experiment, I was able to see this enigmatic color through the perspective of the glass, which added new dimension to its visual appearance. Maybe that is the art nerd in me coming out, but it can be nice to take a few minutes out of our busy lives to appreciate seemingly ordinary things like color. After all, the psychological part of our brain is certainly affected by it. Color can be an endless source of inspiration not just in art, but to our emotions as well.