The Color Yellow: Cheerful, Happy, and Warm

Published on May 9th 2007

Wheat Field under Threatening Skies by Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow is one of three primary colors along with red and blue. Its complementary color is violet (purple), which sits directly opposite it on the color wheel.

What yellow means to us psychologically:
Yellow is a happy, cheerful color. It’s permanently linked with sunlight and warmth, bringing (to my mind at least) thoughts of summer days and a feeling of contentment.
The color yellow is also psychologically linked with gold, and therefore occasionally indicates wealth or prestige.

Is yellow a “girl color” or “boy color?”
Yellow is another genderless color, but seems to be preferred slightly more by females than males. In clothing, yellow isn’t as common as more popular colors like blue, green, or red, probably because it’s less complementary to natural skin tones.

Yellow in society:
The color yellow seems to have more significance in Eastern cultures than Western, but unfortunately I don’t know enough about those to really cover them here.

In the Old West, however, calling someone “yellow-bellied” or even just “yellow” meant they were cowardly and weak. We still understand that insult today, even though it’s not as common.

30 mphInterestingly, yellow IS used today to suggest caution or indicate possible danger.

The middle, yellow light, in a standard traffic light makes drivers aware of possible impending danger, and lets them know to slow down and prepare for the red light.

Other cautionary traffic signs are yellow too, and some yellow warnings even show up in sports like the yellow card in soccer.

On the happier side of things, McDonald’s used its iconic golden (yellow) arches to build a “feel good” brand which is now recognized around the world.

Pigments found in yellow paint:
Early yellow paints were derived from ochre and other natural earth colors. Today there are wider ranges of yellow made from Cadmium, various Arylides, Copper complexes, Cobalt and Potassium, and other chemical compounds.

Common yellow oil paints:
I generally use Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Yellow Light, but there are many other popular yellow hues including Yellow Ochre, Naples Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Hansa Yellow, and Azo Yellow, just to name a few.

Famous yellow paintings:
The first painting in this article is Vincent Van Gogh’s Wheat Field under Threatening Skies. Van Gogh used a lot of yellow in his paintings, so I could have included a number of them.

When it comes to ALL yellow paintings I did find two that fit the bill—Barnett Newman’s aptly named Yellow Painting. . .

Yellow Painting by Barnett Newman

And Edward Hopper’s very poignant Sun in an Empty Room.

Sun in an Empty Room by Edward Hopper

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