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Hey Everyone! I have been studying color since I can remember. I've been through countless art courses both physical and digitally, I have a Fine Art Degree with a minor in Art History, and I read textbooks on Color Psychology in my spare time. I'd like to pass on this treasure trove of information for those who are interested in learning and use this as a way to organize my own thoughts on the topic. For those willing to brave the posts to come, I am eager to share with you all the nuances and intricacies of my very favorite topic ..COLOR! 

 

This first post will be about why we, as humans, develop the color preferences we have. Buckle up cuz we're about to get science-y!

 

There are many theories floating around about why we develop attractions to certain colors. The truth is that we don’t definitively know the answer to that question but it probably involves a little bit of all the current theories. Why do we care about this as mini painters? Because we can utilize our understanding of how our brains process and understand color in order to communicate a characters personality, a monsters alignment, or a scene's mood all without saying a word because we're communicating in the language of color!

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Ecological Valence Theory

This theory suggests that we develop our emotional connection to colors through experiences with them over time. Evolutionarily, in order to survive and reproduce, we needed to sustain ourselves with nutritious and edible foods. Finding which foods those were was a matter of trial and error but we developed visual cues for categorizing which colors were good and which were bad.

Another example: We give our children gender colored toys as infants (blue for boys/pink for girls) and they begin to develop positive connections/experiences with that color. As they get older, and begin to construct a gender identity, cultural norms also begin to play a role in defining their concept of “male” or “female” which may make those connections even stronger.

This explains how we develop positive and negative associations but what about deeper meanings/connections? First let me explain how your brain works…

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The Network Model

Your brain is made up of a network of nodes which each represent one of the following:

  • Emotion (Joy)
  • Sensory Experience (Taste of an Apple)
  • Semantic Meaning (an association with a concept like “Trees”)

Those nodes get connected to other similar nodes and the more similar they are the stronger the connection. This process will continue to evolve as we experience life. 

So, say that we take the node for Green. It has strong connections to Nature, Grass, Trees etc. but then we have a terrible experience changing a very dirty, and very green, diaper. That experience is now associated with our understanding of the color green. 

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Spreading Activation

Here’s where it all comes together. When one node gets activated, all of the nodes connected to it also become activated. When those surrounding nodes become activated they temporarily become integrated with your perception of reality.

Here’s an example: Woman sees a guy wearing a red shirt. Her past experiences and network of associations with the color red include “passion/romance”. When that node gets activated she will temporarily perceive things associated with the color red to be more sexually attractive and therefore believe the man to be sexier than she might otherwise have thought.

How powerful is that?! What’s even better is that thinking about a color creates the exact same neurological effects as actually seeing it!!

 

Practical Application

If positive experiences lead to positive color associations then the color which makes you happy could be vastly different than the color which has that same psychological effect on me. Therefore, our personal interpretations of color could be completely different. That means we should take a closer look at those "this color means this" lists. How can those be universally true if we are all developing individual associations with color? The answer is really that they aren't universally true but they provide a really useful starting point for communicating with color because they are based on social and cultural norms (like pink is girly and blue is masculine) and generally speaking we are going to all have those same connections because of marketing and repeated reinforcement of those norms. Kind of like learning your ABCs, if you want to write a dissertation you're going to have to learn how to use words and you need to understand what those words mean in order to communicate effectively. However, not to be too confusing but it must be stated, we should also be aware that social norms change and color associations change with it. In the 1920s pink was seen as simply a variant of red, a highly masculine and energetic color. By the late 19th century, and with the emergence of Dr. Freud's work, we see a shift in that cultural norm. In modern day America, painting your army in pastel pink doesn't exactly communicate an intimidatingly masculine message. So we also need to be paying attention to how color is being used around us and what it is being used to represent. Just like any other language, color is an evolving method of communication and staying up to date on all the new lingo is helpful.

 

So what color should you paint your army? Well, there's no simple answer to that but I will be taking you on a deep dive exploration of each major hue in the spectrum so we can analyze and understand what each are associated with individually and how we can combine those meanings to communicate complex messages to our viewers simply through color.

 

I hope you guys found this installment of our exploration of color useful. Maybe spend some time jotting down what your personal color connections are. What is your favorite color? Do you know why?

 

-CVP

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Edited by Rainbow Sculptor
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Interesting. I will stay tuned. 

 

FWIW, when painting, my favorites are either a warm brown/yellow/green scheme, or a cool purple/grey/teal scheme, but I avoid reds and blues.   Don't know what that "means".  Preferred clothing colors are grey, dark blue, and dark burgundy reds.  Unless I'm dancing on stage then it could be anything from hot magenta with sequins to neon green and silver spandex.  Probably I need a psychologist, lol!

 

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For me, color has a myriad of meanings, all of them in context.

Red plant based food make me think of apples, cherries, strawberries, and 'feel' delicious. Red sauces are either ketchup or hot sauce. And red meats just need a little searing for tasty goodness.

But red liquids splattered on a wall give a sense of unease. A crime scene, or "Dagnabbit, I tripped, and the ketchup smashed against the wall."

Red clothing says "Here I am! You will not ignore me!"

And a red creature, whether a more realistic rusty red or an unnatural fire engine red, implies a creature totally unconcerned with camoflage, and therefore either extremely tough and powerful, or lethally poisonous.

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The Anatomy of Color

We have all seen and heard about color correspondences. Red = Anger/Passion Yellow = Happiness etc. but the truth is that there’s much more to color than just it’s name. The psychological effects of color, and therefore the messages we can communicate with it, are much more heavily influenced by those other components. So let’s take a look at the three components to color: Hue, Value, and Saturation.

 

Hue

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Put simply, Hues are the categories of color. They are the general name we refer to a color by. Sky blue and Midnight blue are very different colors but they both fall under the Hue Blue. There are many lists of correspondences associated with each Hue which include planets, days of the week, deities, emotions etc.  We've already started thinking about this and analyzing what our personal associations with the major hues are. Also noticing that it's not universal is it? Red doesn't always mean the same thing to us. The context we're viewing it in plays a major part in how we interpret it.

 

Value

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Value refers to how light or dark a color is. It’s typically broken down in a 1-10 scale in art school. The lighter range (called High Key colors) are referred to as Tints whereas the darker (Low Key) colors are called Shades. When painting minis or creating dioramas there should be a full range of values throughout the piece. (unless specifically done otherwise for a purpose). When you want to draw attention to a particular area you can do that by creating high contrast there (very light values next to very dark values).

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This is an old watercolor painting of mine we're going to use as an example. The image on the left, which has a full range of values (1-10), is far more eye-catching than the image on the right which has only the top 4 or so high key values. By putting the darkest black next to the lightest white in the eye area it creates an attention grabbing contrast and directs the viewer's eye.  You can create contrast in any of the three components of color but value is typically what we're referring to when critiquing paint jobs.

 

Saturation/Chroma

This term is probably the most misused/misunderstood property of color. It refers to the intensity of the color. This is the range between pure color (most intense/vivid) and grey (no color, only value). This does NOT affect the value only the color.

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The left image is very saturated, the colors are vivid and recognizable. The version on the right is very desaturated, almost completely colorless, but the values haven’t changed only the intensity of the color.

Learning to understand and apply all 3 components of color with accuracy is challenging but very important. Here are some ways you can start training your eye and hand to apply these principles.

 

Create a Value Range- Just like the graphic here, get used to mixing your paint into 10 separate values. You’ll gain more control and a better eye for what a full value range looks and feels like. You can use acrylic, ink, or oil but keep it strictly to values, no color just yet.

Saturation Survey- Paint several minis that are either saturated or desaturated. What models did you choose? What effect does the colors intensity have on your perception of the character/creature? Does a desaturated figure look ghostly and creepy or soft and comforting? Do the vivid colors of a saturated palette make it feel young or good? or garish and toxic? 

Limited Palette- Pick one major hue to work with and experiment with how different values and saturation levels can be used to create contrast.

 

I hope you have a good understanding of the anatomy of color now. Try to incorporate some of the terminology we used when referring to color in your discussions to get used to categorizing them for later use. Maybe you want to use that high key desaturated yellow from the sunrise you saw on a figure to convey new beginnings and fresh starts! The next lesson will be exploring the science behind your favorite color so stay tuned.

 

-CVP

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Kudos on presenting color in a way that I can understand.  It is short and direct and simple ... matching my learning style.  I await future posts.

 

I do think that color affinity changes over time.  When younger, I was drawn to anything blue.  That has shifted to green.  I find I am increasingly interested in oranges.  I now recoil from the purple/blue area of the spectrum .... because I see it so much in current minis.  IMHO, it has become overused, and, dare I say, a cliché.

 

BTW, your FB link seems broken. 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Highlander said:

Kudos on presenting color in a way that I can understand.  It is short and direct and simple ... matching my learning style.  I await future posts.

 

I do think that color affinity changes over time.  When younger, I was drawn to anything blue.  That has shifted to green.  I find I am increasingly interested in oranges.  I now recoil from the purple/blue area of the spectrum .... because I see it so much in current minis.  IMHO, it has become overused, and, dare I say, a cliché.

 

BTW, your FB link seems broken. 

 

 

I'm so glad you found it understandable!

There's actually a lot of research to support your observation of shifting color affinities. Newborns, young children, teens, adults, and the elderly all have particular palettes that they tend to be drawn to. Gender plays a role as well and marketers try to capitalize on this in their targeted ads. Interestingly, current science states that before 3 months infants can only see in value (Black/White/Grey) EYE FACTS. Further studies show that past 3 months infants are drawn to highly saturated colors and prefer the long wavelengths (Red/Orange/Yellow) whereas adults have a preference for the shorter wavelengths (Blue/Purple/Green). STUDY

 

There's actually a fascinating connection between language and color that I was reading about a while back. Anthropologists were studying cultures who had no words for particular hues and were unable to differentiate them from other hues due to the language barrier. I'll have to dig up that book and take a look again if anyone is interested. Red and ochre hues are typically the first color words to appear in language but blue was altogether left out of some!

 

Thank you for letting me know about the link, that is the wrong one. Every place I can find to put the correct one in my profile was already changed but i'm sure there's a way to edit the footer that shows up. I'll have to figure that out.

Edited by Rainbow Sculptor
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Thanks for this thread!

 

The more I read about colour theory the more It looks like a minefield to me where a lot of highly subjective views clash and a lot of "philosophy" is presented as "scientific facts". 

 

I really enjoy the way you present the subject here and it is great that you link to studies for more in-depth information and fact checking! I'll follow this thread with great interest!

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Starting at the beginning, with the color Red. The hue with the longest wavelengths, complimentary color to Green.

We know that colors effect us on an emotional, mental, and physical level. These changes occur when light enters the eye and affects the hypothalamus portion of the brain and the pituitary gland. We can, to some extent, predict these responses and use that information to cause an emotional response in our viewers. This is learning the words in the language of communicating in color. When combined with the sculptural components we choose, the environment (in the case of dioramas), and the lighting we paint we create a complete message.

 

Before we breakdown each color we need to first understand that each hue is in itself a spectrum. There exists both the Yin and Yang, Warm and Cool, Passive and Active states, both Enhancing and Diminishing qualities. Each variation within the hue will have it's own emotional impact. Cooler versions of red are softer, less aggressive, and push backward in comparison to their warmer counterparts. 

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We also have both positive and negative associations with the hues. These don't directly correlate to using cooler vs warmer necessarily but in order to choose what the right shade of red is to evoke the emotion we're going for, we need to see examine both it's good and bad qualities.

 

Positive Aspects

This is a highly motivating color. It stimulates our appetite and get’s us up and going. As the first color in the spectrum, and the highest vibrational frequency (625-740nm), we often associate it with firsts and beginnings. It has a primal energy, often directly correlated to dominance, reproductive success, and testosterone levels in the animal kingdom. We innately understand the strength and power of this hue but it is also the color associated with physical and passionate love, friendliness, and forgiveness. It's considered a primary color, a fundamental signifier of life. If your character has no tinge of red in their skin they will often feel lifeless and dull. The color red has been noted to increase performance in sports and video games though in controlled tests there was no apparent increase in measurable performance and is therefore simply a perception.

 

*Fun Fact: Bulls actually have dichromacy, meaning they can only see blues and yellows. They actually cannot distinguish the red of a bullfighters cape and are instead aggravated by the movement*

 

Negative Aspects

At it’s worst this color comes with a destructive and dangerous energy. Violence, rudeness, rage, and an overbearing quality can come from too much of this color. It’s intensity can manifest in a sense of resentment or a desire to revolt.  A room full of red will quickly make people agitated and aggressive. It causes an intense emotion, in both positive and negative ways. Catholic Cardinals traditionally wear red, "Seeing Red" is a phrase indicative of someone experiencing blind rage. It was a color associated with the deity of war, Aries, in the Greek Pantheon (later Mars in the Roman pantheon). The pigment itself comes from the hematite tinted clay of red ochre which became one of the first colors utilized in cave paintings. It is a color that causes us to stop and take caution. People with red hair have been historically singled out as dangerous and untrustworthy. Sports teams are often judged more harshly for wearing red and statistically driving red vehicles have a 7% higher crash risk in comparison to other colored cars. That said, it is more due to visibility than anything else and statistically only come in second on probability for getting a ticket. 

 

Physical Effects

We typically view people wearing red as assertive and extroverted. This color stimulates the production of adrenaline, assists in blood circulation, and in the production of hemoglobin for new red blood cells. It raises blood pressure, promotes heat in the body, stimulates the nervous system and has been found to be effective in treating various forms of numbness and paralysis. Other health conditions that have benefited from this hue include anemia, the common cold, and pneumonia. 

This is a great color to use for motivation as it reignites our drive to be physically active. 

 

KEY WORDS: Energizes, Revitalizes, Generates Passion, Warmth, Alertness, Instigates Action, Danger, Anger, Blood, Dominance

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Thank you for presenting this information so that those of us without art backgrounds can understand this topic better.

 

Quick question…
Is it best to decide when painting a mini to go “all saturated” or “all desaturated” or a mix of both?  Will one strategy look right or wrong or better or worse?

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On 9/18/2021 at 12:28 AM, Darcstaar said:

Thank you for presenting this information so that those of us without art backgrounds can understand this topic better.

 

Quick question…
Is it best to decide when painting a mini to go “all saturated” or “all desaturated” or a mix of both?  Will one strategy look right or wrong or better or worse?

That's a great question @Darcstaar! As a general rule I select one main color to be saturated, then the supporting colors will be less saturated depending on where they fall on the color wheel.

As an example: if I choose a bright saturated blue for my paladin character than any greens in my palette can still be saturated (though less so than my main color) because it's very close to blue on the color wheel. Any reds/oranges in my palette would be very desaturated (a very grey/dark/or white version of the color) since they fall directly opposite blue on the color wheel. I tend to visualize it as this sort of pie shape over-layed on the color wheel where the center of the arc is my primary color focus. As you can see the most saturated greens we would pick would lean more towards turquoise, the most saturated magentas would lean purple and the red/orange/yellow side is all very desaturated (this is an example of desaturation towards grey but you could also desaturate as a whitish tint or as a dark version of the color)

 

I hope that helps 🙂

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Hey guys! I was doing some thinking and although I've sort of discussed this broadly already I wanted to put it in a more succinct, and hopefully more digestible, format before I move on to the other major hues.

 

As humans, we relate to color in 3 ways (maybe?):

 

Personal Association-

This is largely conscious association we have made between a particular hue or color combination. It is highly personal to us individually. This could be the color of your favorite sports team. Maybe it's the color of the sweater your grandma knit you and you had to wear for what felt like far too long. For me personally, I hate the color combination of yellow and blue. Color theory-wise it makes perfect sense and it is a relatively common color combo but it makes me think of rubber ducks in childish bathrooms and I struggle to enjoy that color scheme when I encounter it. 

 

Cultural or Symbolic Meaning-

This is usually a deeply embedded belief about a color within a culture. A color may have gained symbolic significance over many generations, if not hundreds of years, and slipped into folklore. A commonly stated example of this being funeral colors. In America we generally associate black with death and mourning. We expect people to wear black to funerals and we regard black clothing or decoration in general to be of a more serious or somber nature. That is not the case in Eastern Asia however, where the funerary color is white. Culturally, white represents rebirth and purity which is a reflection on their religious beliefs about death primarily based in Buddhism. In South Africa however, Red is a color of mourning which they associate with the bloodshed they suffered during the Apartheid era. This type of color association is shared but often not outwardly analyzed or explained, it's just a social understanding.

 

Psychological Meaning-

This type of association is explained as an innate understanding at a subconscious level. It is the emotional impact a color has on us biologically and is completely instinctual.

 

Theoretically, this emotional impact influences our behavior and emotional state without us necessarily being aware of it. This is often where people struggle to differentiate between "color theory" and "color psychology". Color Theory is a study of the use of color practically and more or less mathematically. Color Psychology is a study of the emotional impact of color and our responses to it. Now, perhaps color has no innate emotional impact on us and what we are observing is simply the culmination of the other two ways we process it. Or maybe it does. The truth is we don't really know but this is the area of study I personally find the most fascinating. 

 

Mark Rothko, abstract painter during the 50s-70s, explored this idea by creating these massive canvasses entirely filled with either one color or multiple blocks of color. The idea was to immerse the viewer entirely in a field of a particular hue, or hue combination, and allow them the space to observe what emotional impact it had on them. 

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 ("Orange, Red, and Yellow" 1961 Mark Rothko)

 

Biologically we know that humans have red and green cone receptors in our eyes that overlap. This limits our ability to see a wider range of color. The honeybee, by contrast, has evenly spaced cones and can see a wider range of hues. We utilize this arrangement in digital camera sensors to achieve the same effect, yet humans do not have this spacing. Because of the overlap in our cones we are able to distinguish a more accurate variation in those hues (red and green particularly) which scientist theorize may have several useful reasons for being that way. Fruits often shift from green to red as they ripen and distinguishing when it was best to eat them would have been helpful. Our faces and bodies get flush with blood flow at crucial times like when we have a fever or are ready to mate. This same thing happens in primates and is utilized at a social level. The lack of red might have also indicated sickness or a lack of nutritional needs. More about that if you're interested HERE

 

So, as you can see, the intuitive impact of color isn't without scientific basis but it does often get bogged down by superficially imposed conjecture which can result in people dismissing it as a legitimate field of study entirely or becoming confused with the excessive amount of conflicting information. I hope this clears a few things up or restates them in a useful way. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the emotional impact of color and the perception vs reality of color psychology as a whole.

 

Edited by Rainbow Sculptor
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On 9/19/2021 at 11:20 AM, Rainbow Sculptor said:

That's a great question @Darcstaar! As a general rule I select one main color to be saturated, then the supporting colors will be less saturated depending on where they fall on the color wheel.

As an example: if I choose a bright saturated blue for my paladin character than any greens in my palette can still be saturated (though less so than my main color) because it's very close to blue on the color wheel. Any reds/oranges in my palette would be very desaturated (a very grey/dark/or white version of the color) since they fall directly opposite blue on the color wheel. I tend to visualize it as this sort of pie shape over-layed on the color wheel where the center of the arc is my primary color focus. As you can see the most saturated greens we would pick would lean more towards turquoise, the most saturated magentas would lean purple and the red/orange/yellow side is all very desaturated (this is an example of desaturation towards grey but you could also desaturate as a whitish tint or as a dark version of the color)

 

I hope that helps 🙂

image.thumb.png.5f3ebb4738a9b27463f8ab5d4d28a7f9.png36843050_Inkedsaturationcolorwheel_LI.jpg.84ad5b2c640bbf0ba840239f1dfcf029.jpg

Thanks.  Good info!

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I find green particularly comforting.  It has always been a favorite color.  It compliments my skin tone and matches my eye color.  I’ve always seemed to think my eye color shifts toward whatever color of green I’m wearing.

 

As for combinations, it’s the “danger” colors that seem to catch my attention easiest:  red, orange, and yellow paired with black.

 

Navy and orange will always remind me of the Chicago Bears, and that makes me think of my father fondly, for all their games we’ve watched together over the years.

 

Finally, I’ve gravitated toward green and white and blue and white, as I like heraldic examples of those colors and how they work well together on figures.

 

All of this begs the question: are white and black, so prominent in my answer, even colors at all?

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On 9/20/2021 at 5:02 PM, Rainbow Sculptor said:

So, as you can see, the intuitive impact of color isn't without scientific basis but it does often get bogged down by superficially imposed conjecture which can result in people dismissing it as a legitimate field of study entirely or becoming confused with the excessive amount of conflicting information. I hope this clears a few things up or restates them in a useful way. 

 

This! Thank you so much!

 

I have the impression that "cultural meanings" of colours are often presented as "psychological meanings" (to use your terminology). This is something that annoys me quite a lot in classical colour theory and I'm very happy that you point it out.

 

While it may be true that red is seen as the colour of love and of war in a certain culture, during a certain period of time, that is by no means universal. On the other hand it's probably not disputable that humans in general have a strong reaction towards the colour red.

 

In terms of evolution that may have been useful, because seeing red signals (among other things) that blood has been spilled - and that happens in situations where an additional adrenaline boost would be very helpful for survival. (Sources: A mixture of educated guesses and some dim memories from minoring in perception psychology at university a long time ago  😇).

 

The other thing i find quite fascinating is that the reality we see is not the reality there is. Our perceived reality ist just a filtered image optimised for our survival. Why can I see red while a dog has no need for it? In what way is a dog's reality different from mine? Why has a dog no use for the colour red? Or maybe a dog would find seeing the colour red really useful - but by pure chance it has not evolved the ability to do so? Why can't we see radioactivity, even though it would help our survival?

 

Really fascinating...

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