What do colours mean? Part II

Part one of this article looked at the impact of colour on your psyche and physical wellbeing. We also analysed how your colour choices reveal your inner state, with specific reference to the colours white, black and blue. In part two, discover what your attitude to yellow, brown, grey and red reveals about how you operate.



Yellow is the colour of cheerfulness, optimism, insight, wisdom and intellect. An extroverted, generous and stimulating colour, it’s a warm energy and a major attention-getter. Yellow is the colour of confidence and self-esteem. It indicates we are ready and open to change and new concepts.

We are hardwired to yellow as a stimulus. Sunshine in the morning alerts us to a new day and fresh opportunities. If getting up in the morning is not fun, you may be rejecting yellow and not be open to its expansive nature. It is bursting with energy, stimulating everything in its path.

Yellow is a colour that commands attention but also demands caution. We use it for cautionary road signs and on safety vests. Amber traffic lights or flashing roadworks lights caution us about what may lay ahead.

Since the colour yellow is stimulating and suggests alertness, too much of it can contribute to anxiety, nervousness and agitation. Babies cry more in yellow rooms, tension increases in people in yellow rooms and people who drive yellow cars are more prone to becoming aggravated in heavy traffic (brings to mind a trip to New York and all those yellow cabs).

If you work in an environment with too much yellow and you recognise the anxiety, place blue above your desk or put posters or pictures with blue around the environment. If your work environment has poor lighting, introduce the colour yellow with posters, flowers or other objects. Spend time exposed to a lot of yellow and you’ll feel like time has sped up. On the other hand, if your environment is boring and time passes slowly, surround yourself with small amounts of yellow in posters, pictures, flowers and objects.

Yellow is people- or self-oriented rather than task-oriented. It’s the colour of communication and reflects an excellent intellect and a good grasp of communications and language. Yellow is logical and seeks change, personal development and new insights. It is friendly, welcoming and open. There is a tradition of using yellow ribbons to welcome people home — you may remember the song ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’.

When we say someone is “yellow”, we imply they lack courage. Yellow journalism was said to be alarmist and irresponsible journalism. In 10th century France, the doors of traitors and criminals were painted yellow.


The yellow person

A liking or craving for yellow indicates a wish to escape current limitations, a desire for personal development. It indicates an opening up, an optimistic approach, a need for change, a desire for exploration, a need for mental expansion. The colour you are attracted to along with yellow will indicate your preferred area of exploration.

Rejection of yellow indicates fear of change. If you don’t like yellow, you’ll be reluctant to change. You’ll stay with the devil you know. You’ll cling to the familiar rather than toy with the unknown. Current options will feel more comfortable than the possibility of disappointment, loss or isolation. People who dislike yellow often favour blue to calm themselves and feel secure.

If you like coffee for a pick-me-up, try drinking it from a yellow cup. The British Medical Journal reported research on the effects of different-coloured pills on patients, which concluded, “Colours affect the perceived action of a drug.” Warm colours, which include yellow, were perceived to be more effective as stimulants. Yellow is a stimulant and coffee is a drug, so check how they work together.

Scientists studying night-flying insects found that replacing standard white lights with yellow lights resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in the number of insects gathering around the lights, so yellow lights would be better close to the entertainment area. (See Blue for its effect on night-flying insects.)



Brown is the first and last word on “natural” colours. It’s the colour of Mother Earth. It nurtures and is grounded. Brown is symbolic of our roots in life. It is the source of our sustenance. Brown loves simplicity and indicates the importance of the essentials in life: family, hearth and home, and basic comforts. Brown is practical, organised, committed, reliable and steadfast.

Brown builds our most basic feeling of inner security. Brown is honest, down-to-earth, structured and constructive. Brown’s philosophy is no-nonsense, common sense. Brown likes the facts as they are — unadulterated, bare and easier to work with.

Brown is shrewd, though, and can dig its heels in if security in the earth is threatened. Home is paramount.

Brown contains a lot of black so has a serious side, but it also contains red and yellow and carries the warmth of those colours. It’s more approachable and supportive than black.

Brown is non-threatening, so is a good colour to get people to open up. Counsellors and journalists could take advantage of the effects of this colour. It’s generally too rustic and not sophisticated enough for the tricky corporate world.


The brown person

Brown is the colour of the fading and decay of leaves and autumn. If you are craving brown, you may have some basic bodily needs requiring attention. Poor-quality foods are not sustaining you or health requirements have not been attended to. You may be feeling insecure within your physical environment. Or you have an issue about which you require basic facts.

If you are rejecting brown, find it distasteful or unattractive, you have a fear of monotony and boredom and you probably over-compensate with colour. The colours or colour you choose will indicate what you are doing to ensure you’re not bored and don’t stagnate. You may have an underlying fear of hardship and over-compensate with workaholic behaviour.

Childhood experiences may be something you constantly move away from. The colours you use would indicate the way you work to keep yourself busy. Rejecting brown may also suggest a tendency to reject the facts.



Grey sits on the fence and plays it safe. It has little energy of its own because it’s so neutral and passive. It indicates a deliberate, calm, passive front. It is co-operative and efficient but unobtrusive. Responsible but guarded, it’s a protective cocoon revealing nothing. If you favour grey, you may be seen as fatigued or tired. To interact with others more successfully, add colour to the outfit, the room, the car, the house.

Grey is a good background colour for work environments. It doesn’t compete, so concentration on work is easier. Think of all those filing cabinets, desks, tables and storage facilities. Grey is seen by some as indicating refinement and dignity as well as signifying age and wisdom. If you are attracted to grey and preferring to use it, be aware that in many tones, grey is a dampener on perceptions and is seen as a lack of imagination or a sign of depression. It’s widely acknowledged that some people become depressed when deprived of adequate sunlight; think long, grey days.


The grey person

Excessive use of grey indicates a fear of exposure and a lack of self-confidence. Team different colours with your grey to adjust perceptions. Choose red for passion and action, blue for sincerity and trust, green for balance and control, yellow for intellect and pink for care and consideration. Grey with black will be an aggressive and powerful combination — though less mighty and more menacing.

If grey is appealing to you, this indicates a suppression of emotions and a need to remain uncommitted. It’s a walling-off and an insulating, subconscious choice. You may do things robotically. You may appear to be busy but the things you are doing are meaningless. You will be disassociated, noting things from outside the action while you are actually in the action.

If you reject grey, it indicates an underlying fear of uncertainty. You will exhaust all possibilities of a project and won’t rest until it’s completed. When rejecting grey, you could have a disregard for all things lacking imagination and/or a fear of boredom. You will have at least one or two colours in your wardrobe and may even have a wide range of colours, depending on the type of stimulation you seek to ensure you’re not bored or boring.

To over-compensate, you may select yellow as a favourite colour, which would indicate excessive searching for intellectual satisfaction to ensure you are not bored and not boring to others. If red is your compensation colour, it suggests excessive action, danger, dancing, sex, flying to ensure your life is busy.



Red symbolises action and energy, fire and fury, passion and lust, physical strength and speed. It’s brimming with life and expectation. A dominant colour, it demands attention and creates excitement. Red stimulates the physical and adrenalin. It raises blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.

Red is the colour of readiness and primal energy — think “fight or flight” survival response, red sports cars and action sports. Red communicates threat and competition. It’s instant energy out of the starting blocks, a drive to win. Red is masterful, active, intense, primal and daring. What is Virgin’s Richard Branson if not fearless? Red is not the best colour for sports requiring a steady hand, such as archery and shooting, or for sports involving a prolonged, controlled effort, such as marathon running.

Red is impulsive. People who love red love living on the edge and possess all that’s necessary to endure the course they set themselves. Things are bent or moulded to suit their needs. They speak fast and can be exhausting to be around. They are not in the quiet achiever category.

Red is not a good colour to wear to a meeting when contentious issues are on the agenda. Remember, it will raise your blood pressure and can do the same to those around you. Opt for a calmer colour, such as blue. Red relates to masculine energy, so is great for leading a team, but they’ll be exhausted and fall away if you expect them to meet your pace.

Balance your physical hype with some quiet acknowledgments and thoughtful compliments along with the high-energy enthusiasm. Be involved rather than demanding, help others at their pace not yours … and remember, not everyone is an extrovert.

Red is hot-blooded, sensually evocative, a passionate follower of desire. It is the colour of lust and sex as opposed to love, which takes on the more gentle tones of pink.

Red increases appetite. Just think of the many fast-food chains that have red as their dominant corporate colour. Read between the lines and you’ll see that red commands you to order fast, eat fast, make way for others as quickly as possible — or, alternatively, just drive right in, order and be on your way. So if you need to stimulate your appetite, nothing will do it better than red plates and a red kitchen. If you have a red sofa in the lounge room or TV room, are you always munching?

The fire brigade, ambulance, Red Cross and emergency services use red to call attention to their presence and notify everyone of their priority. They go places fast; for them, delivering a speedy response is paramount.

Red is a great colour for an active bedroom but not a good colour for restful sleep. Young boys with bed-wetting problems may have too much red in the decor. Change it and monitor the difference.

The red person

People who like red can be distracted by the desire to do too much at once. The mind conceives more possibilities and directions to explore than the body can physically accommodate. Time passes faster with red. When your face is flushed and your nose is red, you look like you’ve just been in the action. Red likes to live on the edge. Waiting is not its favourite thing; it gets frustrated when put on hold or asked to wait and it’s no coincidence that red cars attract more speeding tickets.

Journalist Liz Swanton, in wrote in an article in VIVE, “(Christine) Try has personal proof of the power of colour association. She once had a bright red convertible as her company car. ‘It was incredible. The guys would smile, blow kisses and give me right of way. I loved it. Then the lease expired. I wanted the same model but I couldn’t get a red one. I got white and I couldn’t believe the difference. I became invisible and anonymous. No more smouldering looks, no more right of way. I’ll never have another white car.’”

When red is positive, it has presence and authority. When red is negative, it’s angry and aggressive. To “see red” is to be angry. If you like or crave red, you need autonomy, have ambition and strive for your goals. “I’ve got to be me!” is your catchcry. Opinionated, confident, persistent and bold, you are well down the track before everyone else has actually started. Don’t bore you with detail — cut to the chase, get to the action. Stimulation, challenge and sexual gratification are on the agenda. Chill out is not in your repertoire.

When you are rejecting red, be craving peace and restfulness in your life. You may be physically exhausted. When you reject red, you reject the activity and stimulation of it. There will be no desire for any risk. Sex drive will be suppressed and affection (pink) will be more important. You will avoid noise and may prefer to travel before or after peak hour, even if you’re catching the train.

If you are sluggish and low on energy, and you want to pep yourself up, place small amounts of red above your desk or around your work area. If you are feeling tired but need to be perceived as energetic, wear some red clothing to stimulate yourself and those you are about to meet.


Chris Rewell is a professional colour and image consultant. W:

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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