This quote by Wassily Kandinsky really struck a chord with me when I first read it. It confirmed what I already knew, that colour has a powerful effect on the way we feel. The same way music can relax you, or make you want to get up and dance, so colour can calm you or give you energy.
I have a confession to make, I am a bit strange. I really love storms and I mean, really love them. Every year we go to Lyme Regis for a winter holiday. My biggest hope for that holiday is to witness a storm so huge that the waves crash over The Cobb (the harbour wall) and you have to fight to stand up in the wind. I absolutely have to be out in it. If a storm is forecast, I can’t relax or concentrate on anything else, I get anxious that I will miss it. I fidget and get agitated until I can get out there and stand on that beach. When I finally do, I am instantly soaked by the rain, or the spray from the waves. The wind is so strong you can lay back into it without falling over. It howls through the masts and sails of the moored boats, slapping and whistling. I feel like I have electricity flowing through me. I stand just a few feet from the raging sea and look out to the horizon. The sound of the wind is rushing in my ears and battering my body, the salty spray stinging my face, my heart is pounding. The emotion wells up in me and I cry. It’s not happy or sad or any feeling at all, but pure emotion from the exhilaration of being in the centre of that natural force. I feel like I can do anything. It brings me back to life. I am clear-headed and motivated and inspired.
In my back garden, I have a big Ceanothus shrub. Right now, I can see the buds forming that will turn into flowers. In a few weeks’ time, the whole plant will explode into the deepest, moodiest blue you’ve ever seen. This deep smoky colour is the colour of a storm. Every time I look at it, it takes me to my stormy Lyme Regis holiday and gives my soul that jolt of excitement as my mind reels back to standing on the beach, with the storm thrashing around me. For a split-second I am fully back in that moment, feeling the exhilaration again. I feel the physical change in my body and mind as if I am really back there. That is the power of colour. That is how it “directly influences your soul”.
If you look at my paintings, particularly my seascapes, you will see my signature stormy sky. I am drawn to this smoky blue, it changes something inside me, even when I am creating it myself rather than seeing it in nature. Two of the three paintings in my living room feature a stormy sky, because it makes me feel so good, I have to be able to see it every day. I use other colours to make me feel good too. In February and March, we always have a big bunch of daffodils in the house. We buy them every week, to bring some sunshine into our home in those long, last months of winter. Every time I see that vibrant yellow, it lifts my spirit. In the autumn, we collect scarlet and golden leaves, rich reddy-brown conkers, twigs and cones. We place them in a glass vase and light candles and the soft orangey glow of candlelight flickering on the walls and the warm colours of autumn, settle us in on winter evenings.
The colour that surrounds us, causes a reaction in us, whether we are aware of it or not. The knowledge of how colour affects our mood is used by others to cause specific reactions. The harsh colours and bright light in fast food outlets, mean we don’t stay long and take up precious space. The opposite is true in restaurants. Low lighting, subtle colours, more comfortable chairs, mean we are relaxed, stay longer and spend more. Supermarkets produce posters and price tickets in bright green for new products, anything cheap or in the sale is surrounded by red. We don’t need to read the tickets, we know from the other end of the store if it is new or on offer. Spa retreats, use this knowledge of colour and lighting with great effect. Sea blues and greens, very low lighting, warmth and comfort all combine to relax our mind and soothe our senses. They go a step further and use essential oils to trigger other responses too, to relax and invigorate our mind. Take a look around you next time you are out. See if you can catch your own reactions to the colours used in public space to influence us.
With new awareness of the power that colour and lighting has on our mood, we can turn our attention to our own little retreats.
Think about your own spaces. How do they make you feel? Your home should be a sanctuary, somewhere safe to relax in and escape the world outside. Try sitting in each room of your home and notice how your mind reacts to the colours and tones. Think about how you want each room to make you feel and see what you can do to enhance that feeling. Any shade of yellow is a bright and cheerful wake up colour, great to bring some sunshine to a kitchen area, not so great for your bedroom, when you are trying to calm your mind for sleep. Pale shades of green or pinky purples and blues are more appropriate here. How about your living room? Does this area make you feel relaxed and happy? For such a large area, warm neutral colours are great for the walls. They are restful on the mind, but have the flexibility to match with many different colour schemes. By choosing warm neutrals, you create a relaxing atmosphere that can be brightened up or cooled down with coloured accessories like paintings, cushions and curtains etc. If you want to be bold and go for a big coloured feature wall, decide if you want to contrast or harmonise with the colours you have in the room. Contrasting colours bring a vibrancy and energy. Choose colours opposite each other on the colour wheel above (blue and orange, purple and yellow etc.). If you want to harmonise, which creates a more restful mood, choose colours next to each other (yellows and green, greens and blues, blues and purples, and so on). The colours on the wheel here are pure and bright, so you would want to choose more muted, toned down versions of these to live with every day. Have a play around, see what looks good but more importantly see what feels good for you. See if you can give yourself an instant boost of energy as you walk into one room, or instant calm as you walk into another.
Have fun and enjoy the experiment and don’t forget, when you are out and about, take time to recognise the influence other people’s colour schemes have on you and if you are feeling frazzled, go outside and look up. Look at the trees and the birds and the sky. We were born to be outside, not cooped up in little boxes, so if you need to restore the balance, spend some time in nature. I promise, you will feel so much better!
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