How to Choose Paint Colours & Psychology of Colour

The Different Types of Typical Paint Mediums Used.

Gouache, Water-colour, Acrylic, Oil and Water based Oil Paint.

This is a question asked over and over to me – which paint colours do I need to buy?  Which is a good brand? and so on. Here, I have compiled a summary of what the labels mean on paint tubes, what brand of paints to buy and what colours to buy to start with.

Please bear with us, we will be posting more information in the days to come.


Knowing what the labels mean empowers you to make informed choices. Different brands may have slight differences to their labelling system. Here I have used “Golden” brand acrylic paint as an example.   Let’s go through it from the top down.

1.  Some tube paints are made by mixing other colour pigments together – when you read “Mixture”, that is what it means.  Golden Artist Colors used to state each colour on their tubes – however, they have simplified their labels of late.  You may get more information of the composite of each colour from their website here: Golden Paints Technical Data 

Look under “C.I. Name” (Colour Index) column, from there, you will be able to see if the paint is made up of just one or more colours.

2.  The next down is the Colour Swatch – this is hand painted to show you the actual colour of the paint.  Do you see the black bars below the paint?  This helps you to see the level of opacity or translucency of the paint.

3.  Do note that different paint companies may come up with their own name for some of the colours.

4.  Colour Index name and number are given to different colours and is internationally recognised by both the Society of Dyers and Colourists and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.

5.  For Golden paints,  Lightfastness I = Excellent lightfast paint and Lightfastness II = very good.

Here are some other ratings by different paint organisations:

ASTM: American Society for Testing & Materials International

ATSM I = Excellent Lightfastness

ATSM II = Very Good Lightfastness

ATSM III = Not Sufficiently Lightfast

ATSM IV, V = Poor: Not used in artist quality paints


**** or AA = Extremely permanent colours

*** or A = Durable colours.

** or B = Moderately durable colours.

* or C = Fugitive Colours


Blue Wool Standard (UK)

1 – 3: Fugitive (Colour change within 20 yrs)

4 – 5: Fair (20-100yrs)

7 – 8: Excellent

6.  No need to worry too much about, unless you are doing paint research, Standard Specification for Artists’ Acrylic Dispersion Paints simply means the paint has been tested by ASTM International.

7.  The other couple of lines are pretty self explanatory.  The reason for the different value of the paint is how easily or difficult the pigment for the paint has been extracted or made during production.

We hope this has helped you to finally understand the meaning of the information given on acrylic paint tubes.  Oil and watercolour, will have similar information on them too.  


If you are a beginner, you would think that you need to start with the most cost effective paints or any art materials for that matter.  This is a misconception that many many students have and a big mistake that many beginners make.  It is harder for you to learn with low grade paints.  Visualise yourself learning how to run, in the cheapest foot wear possible – a pair of flip flops or how about a pair of wooden clogs.  Yes, sure, you can run in them and may even perfect it – probably after many visits to the A&E for twisted ankle and other muscular injuries.  Learning how to run in wooden clogs and learning how to run with a good pair of trainers requires different learning skill sets.  This is the same between lower grade and higher grade paints.  Why suffer when you can learn so much easier with well made materials?

So unless you are on a super tight budget, invest in better quality paints.  In the long run, you are actually saving time as well as money – lower quality paints use less pigment and more paint filler – which means to cover an area, you need to – struggle to layer on more paint.  So, which brands of paint to buy? The best way for you to decide, is to be open and experience the different brands for yourself.  Buy single tubes of the same colour paints and see which works best for you. Get feedback from other artists.  There are many great brands out there.  Here, we will be compiling a list of many of our personal favourite brands of materials that we know of and use under “Free Art Tips”. 


Here is a simplified guide on which colours to choose.  We believe in guiding you to feel and experiment rather than telling.  You will have a more fulfilling life long learning experience this way.  Before we start, let’s have a look at a typical painter’s colour wheel:

1.  Understand that there are “warm” and “cool” colours.  What are warm colours?  Visualise the scorching sun and blazing fire – simply put:  Reds, Oranges and Yellows.  What are cool colours?  Feel the sea, imagine lying on soft grass with soft breeze blowing : Blues and Greens.
2.  Understand what are primary colours.  Primary colours are colours that cannot be mixed by any other colour.  Before you read on, can you guess what they might be?  That’s right ~ Red, Yellow and Blue.  Notice that they are evenly spaced around the colour wheel.  These are the very basic colours that you will need.
3.  To go deeper, understand that each colour has it’s own warm and cool range. It helps your mixing repertoire to consider getting 2 types of primary colours each.  Here is an example:
Reds ~ choose a warm & cool red.  What is a warm red and what is a cool red?  A warm red will have the tinge of sun and fire in it and a cool red will have a tinge of blues in it.
From the colour wheel above, a warm red = Red Orange, the cool red = Violet Red (Violet is a mixture that has blue in it) Here is another example of a warm and cool red swatch:

You may use the same principle with the other primary colours and look on either side of it to ascertain the warm and cool of it.  Then you might want to add to your palette, a white, a dark colour(choose your blacks according to what you usually paint ~ more on that later!) and a violet.  Some violets are not mixable with your primaries, so, it’s helpful to buy that.  In total, a minimum of 9 colours.
Hope this simple guide helps you to get started on the type of colours you will need.  Happy experimenting and painting!


The Psychology Colour

It is important to be aware that the meaning of each colour is highly subjective.  There are many factors that can affect how we respond and feel about a colour.  A type of green could feel soothing in one environment and yet be very disturbing in another.  From our human perception, the interpretations that we form of a colour really depends on what and where the colour is placed against.
However, to satisfy our need to understand the world of colours and our response to it, here is a basic offering of the meaning of each rainbow spectrum.  Note that it’s meaning is solely derived from our perspective of each stand alone colour.

Red in it’s positive: Creativity, life force, energising, taking action, healing, ambition, leadership and drive.
Red in it’s negative: Anger, intolerance, domineering, destruction, animal passions, violence.
Extra tip: In asian cultures, it can symbolise luck (Chinese) and purity (Indian).

Orange in it’s positive: Adventurous, enthusiastic, warmth, sociable, optimism, vitality, relaxed informal, warmhearted and tolerant.
Orange in it’s negative: Lazy, self-indulgent, inconsiderate, reliant on others, indecisive, unpredictable.
Extra tip: Being surrounded by the colour of orange can stimulate appetite.

Yellow in it’s positive: High aspirations, broadmindedness, uplifting, cheerful, illuminating and hope.
Yellow in it’s negative: Perfectionist, egotistical, impatient, crafty, anxiety, stimulant, cowardice and ignorance.
Extra tip:Yellow vibrates at a fast frequency, so when one is feeling agitated, it’s could stimulate your mood further and cause tensions.  It’s best to focus on other slower frequencies of colours such as green or blue.

Green in it’s positive:  Harmony, clarity, hope, balance, growth, serenity, practicality,  generous, adaptable, tactful.
Green in it’s negative: Materialism, greed, possessive, tyranny, devious, sickness.
Extra tip: After long periods of drawing or reading, looking at green shades on plants can help to relax the eyes.

Blue in it’s positive: Loyalty, sincerity, intelligence, artistic, reliable, caring, orderly, devotion, relaxed, nostalgic and refinement.
Blue in it’s negative: Rigid, cold, snobbish, cunning weak, untrustworthy self righteous and conceit.
Extra tip: Ultramarine blue was made from the precious stone, Lapis lazuli and was considered one of the most expensive colours to produce and to buy.  Hence, this colour was only reserved in paintings for enlightened master such as Jesus or Mary.

Indigo in it’s positive: Selfless, responsible, intuitive, visionary, idealistic, truth seeker, inspiration and faith.
Indigo in it’s negative:  Self- righteous, fanatical, conformist, disloyal, fearful and self-deception.
Extra tip:  Indigo colour may stimulate the creative brain and also helps with enhancing spatial awareness.

Violet in it’s positive: Selflessness, imaginative, mystical, magical, spiritual, unusual, love of mankind and creativity.
Violet in it’s negative: Spite, cunning, scheming, cynical, and destructive.
Extra tip: Linked to royalty and power.  When you are in the space of openness and having feelings of infinite possibilities, you are probably glowing in violet!

Colour and How It Relates to Us

Colours come from light and it’s no coincidence that the 7 spectrum of light corresponds with our 7 main body energy centers or chakras as it’s commonly called in the East.  So if that is the case, we can safely say that we are literally made up of a body of rainbow light!

These centers connect to our endocrine system and the foundation of that are glands and hormones which governs our moods, growth, tissue function, metabolism as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.

Image source: Rhys Thomas

The continual advancement of science and technology has supported us to look deeper into understanding how we function and the potential of who we are.  The Aura Imaging Biofeedback machine now allows all of us to see the energy and colours of our chakras.  Below is a video that shows the machine at work.