Red is used to send us messages in our everyday lives. What are those messages? What do they mean? Red is one of my favourite colours and I often use it to help tell my visual stories. Let’s explore the colour Red.
Just the Facts About Red, Ma’am
Before we get to the deeper meaning of red, let’s review what is generally known about red. In school, we learn that red is one of the three primary colours or pure colours. While red can be combined with blue or yellow to make other colours, red can not be broken down any further. And if you are a visual artist working in the digital world, you might have learned that red is also one of the three colours of light that can be combined to make white light. Crazy right?
If you are a science geek (OK, it’s me), you probably know that the light we see as red has the longest wavelengths of the visible light spectrum in the range of 625 - 750 nm. Did you know that the reason we see something as red is that the object we are observing doesn’t absorb those wavelengths? It absorbs all other wavelength colours and reflects the red wavelengths. So we see scarlets, crimsons, vermillions and more. Isn’t that cool?
Red is used to make important messages stand out in our everyday lives. You have likely noticed that stop lights, stop signs and dashboard warning lights in new vehicles are all red. (Those dash lights freak me out, man!) Red grabs your attention and says “Pay attention to me!”
It is the colour of the life-giving substance that courses through our veins and seeing that colour leaking out of our bodies is a sign that we need to pay attention and mend ourselves quickly. Sometimes the consequences of ignoring that vibrant fluid are dire.
Can You Give Me Some Examples, Please?
Brands, countries, and foods use red to tell us about who they are. Bold, daring, sensual, and important to name a few.
- Logos: Coca-Cola, YouTube, Adobe, Red Cross, Levi’s
- Muladhara - The Root Chakra - the seat of our power controlling our stability and security
- Red roses are given to symbolize passionate love.
- Sweet and juicy fruits - cherries, strawberries and raspberries
- Spicy peppers
- Roman Catholic Cardinal robes
- Flags: Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Japan
Using red in our conversations helps us efficiently express ourselves.
“Red in the face”
“Paint the town red”
“Roll out the red carpet”
“Caught you red-handed”
“We need to get out of the red”
Red in Film, Literature, and Life
Red is used in all forms of media to help us understand the significance of something. Is the character meant to provide a distraction? Does the colour mean the person did something bad, or is dangerous? Does it inform us that we can’t go somewhere? Maybe it thumbs its nose at those who try to control us.
The blond in the red dress in The Matrix
Little Red Riding Hood
The Scarlet Letter
The red room in Jane Eyre
Dorothy’s red shoes in Wizard of Oz
Red in The Sixth Sense
Mary Queen of Scots’ scarlet nightgown
Can You Just Tell Me What Red Means Already?
The simplest answer is that it depends on who you’re talking to. Depending on culture, personal experience, and education, the colour red can have a variety of meanings. Red might be worn for mourning in one culture and for weddings in another. How would someone with colour blindness feel about this shade? What might red mean to those in the medical profession? The science profession? A church? A brothel?
I know, I promised I’d tell you why it’s my favourite, but first, let’s explore what it means to you.
Take a minute and think about these questions and any other questions you can think of about the significance of red in your sphere of life.
How does it make you feel?
What things are typically red in your life?
Are there red foods or treats that you enjoy?
Have you had bad experiences where red was involved or a factor?
How do you feel when you wear red?
When someone else wears red?
OK, I Get It, So What Does Red Mean To You?
Red is an empowering colour for me. When I wear it I feel confident, sexy, and powerful. I often use it to highlight those qualities in my portraiture. But it can also mean temptation, danger, and sinister intentions. To illustrate this a little better I created a gallery at the end of this post for you to explore. Click on each image to see how red relates to the image.
Alright, So How Can I Use Red in My Art?
Go back to those questions I asked you earlier. Start there! Think about your intention for the piece you are working on. Do your thoughts on red intersect with the message you want to send? If so, how can you incorporate your symbols or your thoughts on red into your work? I believe that your work will become more meaningful if you apply your thoughts and beliefs to it rather than someone else's.
I hope this has helped open the door to deeper use of red for you. I would love to see how you used it in your work! Feel free to share your work or thoughts with me in the comment or tag me on social media so I can learn from you!
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