Colourless light waves travel from the sun to the earth and one of three cones in the human eye senses the frequency of the light wave and interprets the frequency into a colour. Each of the three cones in the human eye senses a different light wave frequency:

  • Low frequency waves are sensed as reds, oranges and yellows;
  • Medium frequency waves are sensed as greens;
  • High frequency waves are sensed as blues, indigo and violet.

Reds, Greens and Blues (RGB).

There are also three rods in the human eye that pick up shades of grey.

Black is an absence of colour and white is all the colours in the spectrum mixed.

The visible colour spectrum (as sensed by the human eye) is made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (ROYGBIV). The colours of the rainbow.

Evolution is considered the main reason humans have developed such a sophisticated sense of colour, beginning with what’s safe or dangerous to eat and in more recent times through learnt social and cultural conventions, e.g. tribal colours, fashion and art.

Lower frequency reds are considered active colours, medium frequency greens balancing, high frequency blues support cerebral activity and greys are neutral. Colours can stimulate the physical senses, raise or lower blood pressure, heart rates, stimulate us in to action, calm us, quieten the mind, create a feeling of safety and belonging or stress.

Graphics/Images by Wendy Corbett. (Above top) ‘Light Waves’ and (above) ‘Balance.’

References

Birren, F. (1978) Colour and Human Response. Canada: John Wiley & Sons.

Eckstut, J. and Eckstut A. (2013), The Secret Language of Colour, New York: Blackdog and Leventhal Publishers,  p.17.

Bibliography

Albers, J. (2013) Interaction of Colour, 50th Anniversary Edition. 4th edn. Yale University Press.

Birren, F. (1987) Creative Colour. Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Birren, F. (1978) Colour and Human Response. Canada: John Wiley & Sons.

Birren, F. (1963) Colour, A Survey in Words and Pictures; From ancient mysticism to modern science. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press.

Birren, F. (1961) Colour Psychology and Colour Therapy: The factual study of the influence of colour on human life. 2016 edn. Pickle Partners Publishing.

Eckstut, J. and Eckstut A. (2013), The Secret Language of Colour, New York: Blackdog and Leventhal Publishers,  p.17.

Gage, J. (1999) Colour and Meaning, Art, Science and Symbolism. London: Thames and Hudson.

Itten, J. &Birren, F. (1971) The Elements of Colour. Germany: Van Rostrand Rheinhold Company.

Olsen, S. (2009). The Golden Section. Nature’s Greatest Secret. Glastonbury, UK: Wooden Books Ltd.

Park, D. (1997) The Fire Within The Eye, A historical essay on the nature and meaning of light. Princeton University Press.

Saussaure, J. de (2008) Basic Colour, A Practical Handbook. London: A&C Black Publishers Ltd.

Schneider, M. (1994)  A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing The Universe, The mathematical archetypes of nature, art and science. New York: Harper Perennial.