yellow buildingFor decades, interior decorators, graphic designers, advertisers and artists have been using color to enhance our environments. The use of color can be used to create a certain mood or to create a message or sharp response in the viewer.

As artists we  learn how to use the positive or negative attributes of color in our works to subliminally send a message.
Last year, I posted a very informative article which explains how to Use the Hidden Meaning of Color in Your Art . I decided to break down the article into individual posts about each important color and its meaning. Last week, I explained how to Use the Hidden Meaning of the Color Red in Art & Design. This week, the subject is the ever popular color ‘yellow’.
Here’s a little review:
Yellow is a primary color…

  • A primary color is a fundamental color that cannot be separated into any other colors or mixed from any other color. However, when primaries are mixed, they can produce all the remaining colors.

Yellow is a warm color…
Warm colors:

  • Tend to convey emotions ranging from happiness to violence – especially those with yellow undertones.
  • Red, orange and yellow colors trigger hunger.
  • This is why you see restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King using these colors in their logos and advertising.
  • Safeway, Walgreen’s and Costco all use red in their logos.
  • Red instantly attracts, makes people excited and increases the heart rate.
  • Just think of Coke and Red Bull!

YELLOW: We associate yellow with sunshine and it represents light. It creates a feeling of hope, happiness and wisdom. Yellow evokes an optimistic sense of well being and natural light. It is airy, radiant and atmospheric. Yellow gives the feeling that all is okay with the world.
An example of this is Luminism, an early generation of landscape painters who explored ways to depict light realistically on canvas by using color to depict a melodramatic or romantic mood.
But, yellow is a complicated color… On one hand, it is considered ‘light-hearted’ and childlike, but actually it is known to make babies cry.  Although, light-yellow represents intellect, freshness and joy, dull-yellow is associated with caution, decay, sickness and jealousy.  Yellow at times is cowardice.
The phrase, ‘yellow-bellied-coward” came into use around 1910 which probably derives from yellow’s association with both treason and weakness.  More than a millenium ago, Judas Iscariot was often portrayed in yellow garb symbolizing his betrayal of Jesus Christ – a cowardly act.  In America’s pioneer days, yellow dogs were considered worthless and the term “yellow dog” came to be used to describe anything worthless.
Our observation of the yellow of tree leaves as they age and die, as well as the yellowing of old books and papers, led to the association of yellow with old age and illness.  But, yellow is very effective at attracting attention – think of a taxi cab.  Yellow is also used as a warning symbol. In football, a ‘yellow flag’ issues a warning.  When place alongside black, yellow issues a  warning.  Yellow is also used in traffic lights and signs to advice us of danger.  The list goes on and on…
Painting Hint: In painting light, try using yellow and play it against cool colors for the illusion of light. Just don’t think in terms of  black to white…

sunflower and yellow goldfind songbird still life painting

“Memories of Summer” by Lori McNee © 2010

Hope this helps….next week, we will learn more about the color ‘blue’!

PS. Please check out the original article & my sources, Use the Hidden Meaning of Color in Your Art. Also, I really enjoyed reading the book: Color Style: How to Identify the Colors that are Right for Your Home

Thanks, Lori 🙂