Colour Theory

Let us take a look at colour theory, how colours work and how we classify them.

Classifying shades of colour

Now when we start to talk about classifying colours, we encounter our first problem already. You see, the transition from one chroma to the next is fluent. We may see red as red and blue as blue and where they mingle, there shall be purple. But there is the more reddish purple and the more blueish purple, and while we give them names, such as bordeaux and indigo, how do we call the one in between indigo and blue? Indigo-blue? And between indigo and indigo-blue?

You already see the problem we face here. Of course there is the hex code and the RGB system where we have hues such as #e46034, which turns out to be a kinda darkened Peach. But what is with the shade between #e46034 and #e46134?

Colourful lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam | Colour Theory Avanova
Colours | Hoi An Lantern Town

Probably all humans perceive colours in the same, or at least a similar way. There are cultural differences however.
A Russian for example might tell you that there are more words for blue than just blue. And that makes me wonder: How much influence does our language, our culture and the environment we were brought up in – actually influence the way we perceive colour?

There are interesting studies on how our primary language influences the way we think and the way we handle a situation. Myself I am bilingual and I experience differences whether I tackle a problem with my mind set on English or on German. My daughter will be an even more interesting object of study in this case, since she is naturally multilingual.

Another interesting point is my wife and me, who originate from two vastly different cultures, may end up arguing whether a certain colour is actually green or blue or what shade of teal.
So let us assume, that our language has an influence on how we actually experience colours around us. More of that at a later stage.

Colour | Linh Phuoc Pagoda in Da Lat
Colours | Linh Phuoc Pagoda in Da Lat

In our current situation the most important factor is how we classify colours, or let’s say colour families. Bordeaux and Crimson, both belong to the family of red for example.

Another way of managing colours is the difference between the additive and the subtractive colour scheme. Additive means the colours of light which – all mixed together create white light.
In contrast to the additive colour stands the subtractive colour that we experience in pigments and painted objects. If we mix all primary subtractive colours together, we end up with black (well, rather grey). Here as well, I will talk about that later.

Autumn colours of Austria
Autumn colours of Austria

For now let us stick with the most prominent colour families, their meanings, effects and perception history.

Colour Families


Red is the dynamic hue, that symbolises passion, love and lust, but also blood, war and anger.


Blue is the shade of the far away, dreams and wanderlust.


Green is the colour of thriving nature and all the fresh, new things.


Yellow is the hue of the sun, golden, bright and prosperous.


Orange is the shade of happiness, freedom and joy, as well as enlightenment.


Pink is the colour of the young love, sensitive and tender. The more intense it gets, the more… intense it gets.
Rose is female, sensitive, tender and charming. But also young, soft and sometimes naive. On the other hand, there is pink, which is also female, but more aggressive, untamed and independent.


Brown is the hue of trustworthiness, like the fertile soil. It is also simple and uncomplicated.


Purple is the shade of creativity and extravagance – and it´s got a mystic touch.


Black is the colour of the hidden, the unknown, death and sorrow. But it’s also powerful and solid.


White is the hue of innocence, untouched and clean.


Grey is the shade of reliability, plain and boring. But also the hidden one behind the scenes.

Sources & Stuff:

Colours in German: