Can I develop an appreciation for yellow?

I like blue.

I like all kinds of blue: teal, turquoise, deep dark indigo blue. I also like purple. And red. And I don’t mind orange, and greens are ok…

But I don’t like yellow.

I’ve just finished reading ‘Interaction of Color’ by Josef Albers. It’s supposed to be a seminal work on colour - if a little unorthodox. It gets you to look at colours in relation to each other - hence ‘interaction’ - and realise that colours are not always what they seem. Although I feel that I need to take a deeper dive in to this book, a couple of things stood out on first read.

  • Firstly, the same colour will never look exactly the same if viewed in different light, in a different location, or even to different people.
  • Secondly, Josef Albers states that:

‘A continued use of disliked colors will teach that preferences and dislikes - as in life, so with color - usually result from prejudices, from lack of experience and insight’

Harsh… but fair.

I can’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t like yellow - I don’t have any traumatic experiences linked to yellow, rather, I have fond memories of a buttercup field near to my grandparents house and my Nana loved daffodils. As a graphic designer I’ve rarely used yellow. Visually it doesn’t have the same weight as other colours. If you print a word in rainbow colours the yellow letter recedes and makes the word hard to read (not recommended). My dislike is so strong that I walk past yellow images. My husband took a great photo of a harvested field, undulating land with lines of stubble following the contours. Whilst I could appreciate it was a good image, I couldn’t say I liked it…

So, can I develop an appreciation for yellow by working with it? 

First I made some swatches… For a household that’s not big on yellow I managed to find a good selection: Promarkers, watercolour paints, acrylic, pastels etc. and I can honestly say, I didn’t hate them all. The Sherbert Lemon Inktense watercolour pencil was weirdly green and my least favourite, but I didn’t mind the warmer tones, particularly the golden ’Aureolin’ Kuretake watercolour.

I tried out some combinations, thinking about what to paint as a final piece. I remembered a book I bought, probably because of the blue painting on the cover - ‘Realistic Abstracts - Kees Van Aalst’. What if I painted the same image in yellow?


I realised at this point that I wasn’t getting a good range of tones. I’d nearly taken yellow ochre off the first colour chart I’d made because I thought it was more orange than yellow. I kept it because of it’s name: ‘yellow’ ochre - and that, at least, was going to give me some contrast in my painting.

Later it occurred to me… if you take the colour blue, for example, you can go from the lightest, palest blue to the deepest, darkest navy and the whole range in between - and they’re all blue. Maybe the problem with yellow is not actually a problem with yellow, but the way we name the colours. To get the same tonal range you can start with a pale yellow, but as you get darker you need to move in to orange and on in to red and maybe even finishing with brown. We ‘see’ these colours, or are taught to see these colours, as different but what if brown is just the darkest form of yellow… If you think about it this way it could affect how you consider using it.

Having never studied colour theory before this was a revelation! Perhaps it’s covered in the more traditional or scientific books on colour, but I seem to have missed out on this 🤷🏼‍♀️

In Conclusion

There’s definitely room for further investigation in to colours, but you know, the next time I see something yellow I won’t be so quick to dismiss it. Having spent a few days looking, really looking, I realise that there are shades that I actually like. Yellow - welcome to my palette.

Information : :


  • Realistic Abstracts - Kees Van Aalst
  • Interaction of Color - Josef Albers 

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