What color comes to mind when I share these following words?




Blood. (I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones).

In last week’s article, I talked about how the color purple was reserved for Roman leaders because it was so costly and time consuming to extract purple dye from the shells of mollusks. Cost, both physical and financial, elevated the color purple at this time to something regal, and thus, also a symbol of power. Today, we also have clear associations with color, but it changes across culture.

How Color Creates Meaning on Artist Strong

Coca Cola in Muscat, Oman

When artists choose a palette or writers tell a story, color is an integral ingredient for the creative recipe. Very few artworks are created without color and well, how many sayings do our many languages have with regard to color? Immediately green with envy comes to mind as does the term grey area (commandeered as of late by a series of books and now to be movies).

Today, let’s look at a few examples of images in contemporary culture and analyze their use of color and how it creates or emphasizes meaning. I’ve done a bit of a scavenger hunt around my home and photographed images and logos I’ve found within my home. Let’s see what meaning we can glean from them.

First, let’s take my first image.

Even in Arabic, I’m pretty sure you know which brand this is. No? Coca Cola is part of millions of households around the world. While I don’t drink it (I think it tastes hideous), I still can observe the brand and considering the emotional, social and psychological messages created from branding and color. Coca Cola is red and white with it’s branding. Red is associated with danger, action, adventure, love and far eastern culture it’s even associated with vitality and prosperity. White is often associated with purity and honesty. When people think of Coca Cola what associations do you think they have with the brand?

How Color Creates Meaning on ArtistT hink

This is a Game of Thrones Book cover from the now famous series by George R.R. Martin

I found this great infographic that discusses word associations people have with colors and branding that also speaks to this.

Now, I do have Game of Thrones on my mind. I’ve read the whole series already but was looking for some quality escapist reading so decided to return to the books. Here is an image of one of the original covers for the book:

This cover design has a limited color choice. It uses grey and silver, which emphasize the throne, which is made from metal and looks sharp, dangerous and uninviting. Grey actively creates distance between the viewer and the object: it is regularly used to emphasize perspective and suggest the illusion of distance in a painting. Additionally, with the image of this hard, metal, sharp throne as the main focus, the grey emphasizes that association with metal. As this infographic tells us, grey can also suggest authority and respect. The text is in blue, which could reference notions of depression (someone can feel “blue” and with everyone we like dying in this infuriating story I’ve certainly felt blue reading parts of it!).

Lastly, I selected a video cover from my DVD/Blu-Ray collection:


The Hunger Games’s cover uses an analogous palette (one color with it’s harmonious pairings (yellow and orange for red in this case) to create harmony and unity within the image. It’s also using the color red like Coca Cola, but rather than just feeling excitement, we really understand the feeling of danger being expressed. This is emphasized with the diagonal composition, the figure pointing a weapon almost at the viewer, and the fire within the image.

Color can work alone, but it is an amazing tool that helps clarify our visual communication.

Artists often work intuitively with color, as writers can with words. But all creatives would do well to consider how color symbolism and cultural meaning impact creative work.

“Learn how color can help us understand the images in the media saturated world around us.” (Click to Tweet)

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Select an image of something around you, that you see each and every day. Select an image that’s so ubiquitous in your life you take it for granted and almost stop “seeing” it. Tell me, applying the strategies above, how do you see this image in a new light?