Colour theory is a popular idea in the visual arts; graphic designers, illustrators, animators, and painters all feel they have a good understanding of which colours "compliment" and which colours “clash”.  Colour theory is such a commonly held notion that it is taught as a subject in visual arts’ schools, however, setting the colour wheel aside, colour, its meaning, and the value it holds for us is actually not as straightforward as we may believe.  At Inklish we view colour as a tool of communication with all the complexities and subtleties that that entails.

As animators we use colours everyday to represent objects in the real world.  A red apple, a blue sky, or green for leaves but colour is not strictly a property of objects, rather it is a property of the mind.  Colour is in actuality our interpretation of different wavelengths of light and the colour we see in objects is actually the wavelength of light (or combination of) that bounces off that object. This is a pretty cool concept but doesn’t usually change the way we colour a banana.

Where it gets more squirrelly and a lot more interesting is when we start to move beyond objects and into the world of abstraction.  The expressions ‘feeling blue’ or ‘seeing red’ demonstrate our association of the colour ‘blue’ with depression and ‘red’ with anger.  The commonality of these expressions shows how strongly we take this association for granted, it’s never explained, just understood. But actually they are relatively modern and definitely culturally specific associations.  Colour is also used to represent temperature; red means hot and blue means cold right?  It is a pretty common assumption and one that is reinforced by colour coded labels everywhere, the most obvious example being the hot and cold taps in your kitchen or bathroom but this association too is not universal; there are even some countries where blue equals hot and red cold.  The abstract language of colour is one of its most interesting features as it allows us to imbue an animation with emotions like anxiety or happiness just by focusing on one palette over another. 

Colour is an amazing tool in human communication, and one that we speak everyday at Inklish. It brings objects to life, can be used to represent complex feelings and moods, or to serve as a warning of potential danger. I even read recently of a study that showed the colour of your coffee mug can affect your perception of the bitterness of your coffee!  Now that’s some meaningful science.