Orange is the color between red and yellow. In traditional color theory, orange is a secondary color produced by combining the two primary colors, red and yellow.
Humankind has used orange paint and pigments since ancient times but the color only got its modern name in the late 15th to early 16th centuries.
As an artist, it's important to understand this energetic color, how it's used in the past until today, what it means and the different emotions it evokes, as well as its different shades, and how to produce them.
This article aims to help you do just that.
A Brief History of the Color Orange
Humankind's use of the color orange dates back to ancient Egypt, ancient India, and ancient China.
The ancient Egyptians used a mineral pigment called realgar to paint tombs and other objects. The ancient Indians used orange carnelians extensively in their handicrafts. The color orange was also used in Medieval times to color manuscripts.
Apart from realgar and carnelians, a mineral known as orpiment was also used to produce orange pigment in ancient times. Because of its yellow-orange color, alchemists in the West and China used orpiment in their attempt to create gold.
If you've noticed, the color orange has been around for a long time but it wasn't called "orange" yet. The color was simply called "yellow-red" until the late 15th century and early 16th when Portuguese merchants brought the first orange trees from Asia to Europe along with the fruit's various names, which included "orange" in English.
The color and name "orange" was also adopted by the royal House of Orange-Nassau, one of the most influential royal houses in Europe, which caused the color to also be linked to Protestantism.
In the 18th century, orange was sometimes used to depict the robes of the goddess of fruitful abundance, Pomona, who got her name from the Latin word for fruit. Also around this time, orange became an important color to impressionists who knew that, based on their study of color theory, orange placed next to azure made both colors brighter.
From the 20th century up to this day, orange is used for objects and articles of clothing that require high visibility. The color has also gained significance in various religious and political organizations.
Orange Colors: Psychology and Meaning
With such a long history of use by humankind, it isn't surprising that we give the color orange various symbolic meanings and associations.
To the followers of Confucianism in ancient China and India, orange stood for transformation. This stems from their belief that existence was governed by yang and yin. Sice yellow represented light, nobility, and perfection while red stood for fire, power, and happiness, combining both would produce orange which represented transformation.
In Buddhism and Hinduism, orange/saffron was also associated with the divine. The divinity Krishna's robes were often depicted as yellow or saffron. The Buddha himself defined that the robes to be worn by monks must be saffron colors which represented illumination, the highest state of perfection.
In Europe and America, orange and yellow represented entertainment, frivolity, and amusement. Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, ecstasy, and ritual madness was often depicted in orange. Today's clowns regularly wear wigs and clothes of orange color.
As mentioned before, since orange is quite a visible color, it's become the color of visibility and warning. The Golden Gate Bridge was painted orange to make it more visible in the fog. We often use orange for life rafts, life buoys, life jackets, traffic cones, signs, as well as warnings for danger to make them more visible.
Shades of Orange
From the early days until modern times, humankind has developed more and more variations of the color orange. As of the writing of this article, orange currently has 35 variations bridging the gap between the primary colors yellow and red.
Here are just a few of the most commonly-used shades:
Just like yellow-red getting the name "orange" because of the fruit, tangerine also traces its origin to the fruit of the same name. This vivid orange shade got its name in 1899.
As the name implies, the orange shade peach shares the same color as the fruit of the same name.
This pale yellow shade of orange has been called peach since 1588.
The orange shade coral is a vivid reddish-orange. The first recorded usage of this name was in 1513.
One of the oldest shades of orange. Saffron as a color name has been around since the year 1200. It's characterized by vivid yellowish color.
Goldenrod has a strong yellow color (hence the name).
It got its name from the deeper gold-colored goldenrod flower.
6. Tiger's Eye
Crayola named this shade after the gemstone of the same name in 1994. The tiger's eye shade is deep orange.
This final entry is another fruit-inspired orange shade. People started calling this pale orange-yellow shade "apricot" in 1851.
Modifying Orange Acrylic Paints
As artists, we look for the perfect shade of acrylic color to best complement the ones already on the canvas. If you don't seem to have the right shade of orange, you can always modify the color you already have to achieve your desired result.
Here's how you can do just that:
How to Create Warmer Shades of Orange
If you want to produce a warmer shade of orange, you have two options: red and yellow.
Adding some red lets you create a darker yet still vivid reddish-orange while adding some yellow produces a lighter but still vivid yellowish-orange. Do make sure to choose a yellow paint without hints of blue otherwise your end result is going to look muddy instead vivid.
How to Create Cooler Orange Shades
Unfortunately, there's no way to produce a cooler shade of orange. Orange is a secondary color created from two warm colors, red and yellow, so adding more of either color only makes it warmer.
How to Mute Orange Colors
Similar to red, you can mute orange using black, white, or gray.
Black produces a darker muted orange while white produces the opposite. Gray produces a muted orange that's in between both black and white.