Yellow is the most powerful colour psychologically – Why?

I was motivated to write this post after a recent client deemed yellow to be her ‘scary colour’, and not for the first time have I heard this!

I was fascinated to discover through the study of colour, that the yellow wavelength is long and therefore stimulating. Also known as a ‘psychological primary’, it’s stimulus is emotional meaning its positive and negative psychological properties make an impact on us psychologically.

Yellows negative psychological properties are substantial: irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety and suicide.

Whereas yellows positive psychological properties are incredibly joyous and uplifting: optimism, confidence, self-esteem, extraversion, emotional strength, friendliness and creativity.

So how to avoid a negative yellow scenario? Firstly it is the combination of colours that trigger your response to them. And as with all colours, for the positive properties to be at the fore the different shades must be combined from within their own tonal family, or ‘colour group’. When a particular colour has been combined with colours from different tonal families then the negative properties of that particular colour are communicated and the subconscious rejects it. Colour is a language and it speaks to us, we all instinctively understand it even if consciously we’re not aware of it. As with musical notes, if the colours do not fit together then it’s confusing, and the music doesn’t make sense.

Of course for some people a past experience may have resulted in the creation of a negative association with yellow and personal associations to colour are very strong, it is part of the fabric of that experience. But if such a person were to be presented with a harmonious yellow colour scheme, it’s possible they mightn’t feel entirely comfortable with it but on a deeper level they will recognise the harmony, and absorb the positive message that colour combination is communicating as a whole, putting them more at ease.

I was down at my local Brewers store today doing a bit of colour scheming and I took a few pictures of the Farrow and Ball colour boards in order to demonstrate harmonious and disharmonious yellow colour schemes.

Firstly let’s take a look at Farrow and Balls ‘Yellow Cake’. This is an acidic shade of yellow and green based, making it a cool shade of yellow. The essence of its colour group is one of powerful contrast and strength and the characteristics communicated by it are: uncompromising, powerful, excellence, material aspiration, efficiency, drama, sophistication, modernity and ‘high-tech’.  I think you’ll agree looking at it combined here with ‘Pitch Black’ (also Farrow and Ball), which is also cool, and from the same tonal family as ‘Yellow Cake’, that the overall message received is indeed just that.

It may not be your cup of tea but in terms of colour harmony it really does work, and the point is you are absorbing the positive characteristics of ‘Yellow Cake’ and ‘Pitch Black’ due to both of these shades belonging to the same colour group.

Now if you were to put ‘’Pitch Black’ against a warm yellow (usually yellow based), from a different colour group to it’s own, then things start to unravel. Here I have combined ‘Pitch Black’ with another Farrow and Ball shade, ‘India Yellow’ which is looking fragile and timid, and the Pitch Black heavy and oppressive (negative traits).

But if we combine ‘India Yellow’ with a warm Farrow and Ball blue from it’s own tonal family, namely Inchyra Blue, then suddenly we have a vibrant and rich colour combination, one that would add real depth and substance to the appropriate interior.

The ‘India Yellow’ is now rich and welcoming, and the ‘Inchyra Blue’ has real depth, providing a trusting and calm vibe.

The positive characteristics for this colour group are: warmth, friendliness, tradition, solidness, substance, reliability and earthiness. They work particularly well in period homes of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Lastly let’s look at cool ‘Yellow Cake’ against the warm ‘Inchyra Blue’, but perhaps not for long as it’s quite a strain visually and I must admit I really started to feel weird after looking at it for a long time.

The ‘Inchyra Blue’ now appears cooler and rather lacking in feeling, and its rich depth and vibrancy is missing. The ‘Yellow Cake’ is no longer powerful and dramatic, instead fragile, sickly and draining, simply, the negative traits of these colours are being communicated.

Colours are wavelengths of energy and if a group of colours are on the same wavelength, then we are on the receiving end of all that is good to see and feel about them. If however they are working against each other then that positive energy turns to negative energy, and our minds will read the message that’s being conveyed accordingly.

It’s important to get your colour combinations right!

Claire Templer

COLOUR SCHEME by Claire Templer Design : Colour and design for interiors
PAINT by Farrow & Ball

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