Yellow is the color between green and orange on the light spectrum. In traditional color theory, yellow is a primary color together with red and blue.
Humans have painted the color yellow since prehistoric times. Its name stands for "bright", "gleaming", and "to call out".
As an artist, it's important to understand this eye-catching 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 Yellow
We, as a species, have painted with the color yellow since prehistoric times. The earliest form of yellow pigment used by our ancestors came from yellow ochre made from clay. This is evidenced by a 17,300-year-old cave painting of a horse in Lascaux.
The ancient Egyptians associated yellow with gold which was thought to be eternal, indestructible, and imperishable. They believed gods had skin and bones made of gold. The ancient Egyptians extensively used yellow ochre and/or brilliant orpiment in their tomb paintings.
The murals of Pompeii show that ancient Romans also used yellow to represent gold and various skin tones.
The early Christian church not only associated the color yellow with the Pope and the golden keys of the Kingdom but also with Judas Iscariot and to mark heretics.
In China's Middle Kingdom, bright yellow was the color for the royal family and their household. Yellow carpets were used to welcome special guests.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, new yellow pigment sources were discovered from substances such as arsenic and cow urine. It was around this time that painters started using yellow colors to create moods and emotions.
The renowned painter Victor Van Gogh was a well-known admirer of the color yellow, associating it with brilliant sunshine. He became one of the first artists to use commercially manufactured paint rather than the ones he made himself.
In recent history, the color yellow became a color of exclusion as it was used in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied countries to identify Jewish people.
In today's modern times, yellow has become favored due to its high visibility at great distances and high speeds. This characteristic has made yellow the ideal color for moving vehicles and lighted signs.
Yellow Colors: Psychology and Meaning
From its use in prehistoric times up to today, the color yellow has stood for many things in different cultures.
In the United States, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, yellow is a duplicitous color with both positive and negative connotations. Westerners associate the color yellow with positive emotions like humor, amusement, happiness, spontaneity, and gentleness as well as wisdom, glory, and harmony (in many Asian countries).
Yellow is also associated with jealousy, greed, envy, duplicity, cowardice (in the US), and sickness/pallor (in Iran).
Shades of Yellow
As mankind's paint technology advances so do our ability to develop more varied color shades and pigments. As of the writing of this article, there are currently 28 shades of the color yellow.
Here are just a few of them:
As the name implies, the cream shade is derived from the color of the dairy product of the same name.
This shade is light yellow-green in color.
Xantho has a vivid greenish-yellow color. It's the color of Xanthine and Xanthate, both of which are xanthic acids.
Lemon is another vivid greenish-yellow color.
As you can already tell, its name and color come from the fruit of the same name.
Gold is a yellow-orange color made to mimic the precious metal. The first recorded use of the color name "golden" in English was in the year 1300.
5. Safety Yellow
Safety yellow is a high visibility vivid yellow.
This color is most used on hazard symbols, warning signs, guard rails, dangerous equipment, and other objects that require high visibility.
Chartreuse is a vivid yellowish-green color derived from the liquor of the same name. This color has been called "chartreuse yellow" in American English since 1892.
7. Feldgrau Yellow
Feldgrau yellow may not look much like a yellowish color, but it is. This dark grayish yellow was the color of the German army from late 1907 to 1937.
Modifying Yellow Acrylic Paints
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the color yellow and some of its shades, it's time to learn how to make some of your own. As artists, we usually look for the right shade of color to really make our painting pop.
If you don't happen to have the exact shade you need, here's how you can modify your yellow acrylic paint to achieve your desired shade.
How to Create Warmer Shades of Yellow
Yellow in itself is already a warm color.
If you want to give it a deeper shade without taking away its warmth, try mixing in some red or orange.
How to Create Cooler Yellow Shades
As mentioned, yellow is a warm color, but you can also give it a cooler shade. To do this, simply mix in some cool colors like blue or green.
How to Mute Yellow Colors
If you want to take away your yellow's vividness without taking away its brightness, you can add some white.
If you want to take away your yellow's vividness and brightness, try mixing in some gray.
You may not want to mix yellow with black as what results is a greenish color, although you can use this knowledge to your advantage to produce green.