Crazy for colour? Let’s take a closer look

Colour is an extremely powerful tool of communication, and can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even effect physiological reactions. Certain colours have been associated with a noticeable change in skin response, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, blinking frequency, and even vision[1]. Even our sense of taste is often fooled by our sense of sight – you eat with your eyes after all[2].

In recent years, thanks to an unexpected new fanbase of stressed-out adults seeking a healthy, mindful way to unwind and breathe, colouring books have enjoyed a massive resurgence.  As a result, sales figures of adult colouring books have been nothing short of amazing: the United Kingdom’s largest high street chain of bookshops, Waterstones, saw a 300% rise in colouring book sales between 2013 and 2014[3], while Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden topped the Amazon charts in the United States and Canada for months[4]. Although the trend actually started in France with the publication of Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages anti-stress in 2012[5], it’s now a global phenomenon – in Brazil an incredible one in six books sold in 2015 was a colouring book[6], with South Africans eagerly whipping out their pencils and Crayons too.

Although the trend has died down somewhat, it still speaks volumes about our new need for quiet and meditation, and how immersing oneself in a world of creativity and colour can achieve that. “Not only has colour and creative artwork been used in psychotherapy, they are also meditative and relaxing activities that many people use as a hobby. Colouring in, drawing and painting have often been associated with the concept of mindfulness. In social terms, many refer to mindfulness as something relaxing, to wind down and breathe. However, the term ‘mindfulness’ is linked to the Cognitive Behavioural Therapies and emphasises a state of being that is focused on the here-and-now, the present moment, with full awareness and appreciation of oneself and their surroundings. Although creative mediums may form part of a longer psychotherapeutic process, they can also produce beneficial responses in individuals simply wanting to unwind,” confirms Dr Nikki Themistocleous, Clinical Psychologist.

The anxiety and depression busting abilities of colouring books are well documented[7] which is why some claim to be ‘art-therapy’ or have therapeutic benefits. “Art and the use of colour has been used in psychotherapy for decades. Mediums like painting, drawing, and clay work have been used to tap into people’s emotional and psychological aspects, particularly from a psychoanalytic perspective. Colour can have a powerful effect on people. These activities are usually done for specific reasons in the psychotherapeutic process, but always under the guidance of a trained psychotherapist,” says Themistocleous.

The psychology of colour is well-researched, with specific colours known to evoke certain emotional and physical reactions in us. “If we look at colour specifically – we see that different shades often produce an emotional and subjective response in people, and can be connected to one’s feelings, memories and associations,” says Themistocleous.

For example, red represents intense feelings, like aggression, happiness, love, and passion. Red also evokes ideas of action, adventure, and strength, and it’s been found to stimulate the appetite, which is why many popular fast-food chains feature red heavily in their logos and establishments[8]. Some prisons are painted pink in the hope of reducing aggression[9], while doctor’s rooms are crisp, clean and white to represent a hygienic, clean space.

Every year, the colour specialists at the AkzoNobel Global Aesthetic Centre in the Netherlands create a series of diverse palettes around one central Colour of the Year – a stand-out shade that perfectly captures the mood of the moment. Based on extensive research into societal, cultural, design and lifestyle trends from a broad range of lifestyles and disciplines, their insights confidently predict which colour sums up a global state of emotion. The shade du jour is a beautiful, warm honey tone called Creme Brulee.

“We’ve noticed a strong sense of awakening,” says Nathalie Sweeney, Marketing Director for Dulux Sub Saharan Africa. “Creme Brulee is inspired by the varied tones and remarkable properties of honey – natural, timeless and enduring, protective, rejuvenating and healing,” she says. According to the ColourFutures™ Report, 2019 is set to be a year of optimistic consciousness, with around experiencing a renewed sense of energy, optimism and purpose, and the power to ‘be the change’. We’re figuring out what matters to us most.

Themistocleous agrees: “There’s a desire to reach out, engage with others, and to make things better. People are ready to seize the moment. We’re seeking clarity, asking searching questions, examining our values and deciding where to place our trust. We want to develop a new sense of independence and self-belief, to become strong, stoic and resilient in the face of adversity. This warm, soft amber tone reflects that emotion perfectly.”

As a result there’s a growing desire to create homes where we can contemplate, consider, gain perspective and forge our own conclusions about what really matters to us. “Now, more than ever, we need the time and the space to think,” says Sweeney.

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