Color Lesson: Orange

The following color lesson is taken from Color: messages and meanings

The first mention of the fruit that gave a name to the color orange dates back to 500 BC. Oranges had their origins near the South China Sea. From there they were transported and cultivated throughout Malaysia, India, East Africa, and into the Mediterranean regions and the rest of Europe. There was literally no word for orange in Europe until the fruit had arrived. Oranges became known as the fruit of the gods, of emperors and kings and the hierarchy of the church—exclusively for aristocrats and the wealthy, ultimately gaining symbolic importance in Renaissance paintings. So the origins of the fruit, as well as the appreciation for the color, started in rather exotic lands. Eventually orange was impressively integrated into fine art available only to a rather privileged society and finally available to the masses when oranges were imported into the “new land”.

The popularity of orange took a plummet in the 20s, but was renewed and rejuvenated in the 90s. In fact, if a prize were awarded for the best “makeover color” in recent history, it would have to go to outgoing, optimistic orange. Orange has now gone uptown, especially when clothed for both fashion and home in light to mid peach tones or deeper terra cottas. No matter where and how it’s used, just slice of various tones of orange adds zest to the highly visual flavor. It is, in fact, most often suggestive of tangy or spicy food.

It is seen as a vitamin-enriched, vital color. Because of the association with the Mother hue of red from which it comes, vibrant orange is a very physical, high-visibility color, seeming to be in constant outward motion, calling for attention. But because of its connection to convivial, sunny yellow, orange is seen as friendlier and more approachable, less aggressive than red. It is a great favorite for children, as they become more fascinated by the secondary colors, especially in the three to six year old age group.

The closer orange moves to red, the ore sultry and sexual it becomes, especially in exotic tigerlily-like shades. These tones can be though of as wild, provocative and uninhibited. Corals also have a sensual connotation and coral roses are symbolic of desire. In Buddhist teachings, coral is one of the five sacred stones and symbolizes the energy of life force, teaching flexibility and flow. It is an auspicious color in Tibetan culture, harboring a belief that one who wears coral will have success in life, while in Chia it is a symbol of longevity.

While bright orange is perceived to be the hottest of all colors and some people might feel uncomfortable with all that intensity (precisely why they make great prison garb), the lighter and less intense apricot and peach tones seem to wrap you in a warm, welcoming embrace. Just as the delicious, fuzzy fruits that inspired their names, they are the perfect shadings for imbuing any product, packaging or environment with a sense of smelling a sweet scent, feeling a soft touch, and having a pleasurable visual experience. Pale peach also implies modesty.

Mid to deep orange tones such as terra cotta or brick literally are “of the earth” and “down to earth”—as are any russet-toned, baked clay colors. They are whole-some unassuming, warm shades that are known and used by many cultures—from the southwest regions of the U.S. to weathered Italianate villas in Tuscany.

So orange has gone from crass to classy in a relatively short period of time and, to tell the truth—orange you glad?

Orange Associations:

• Peach — nurturing, soft, sweet, intimate, modest, embracing
• Coral — life force, energizing, flexibility, desire
• Tangerine — vital, juicy, fruitful, energizing, tangy
• Vibrant Orange — fun, whimsical, childlike, spontaneous, jovial
• Ginger — spicy, flavorful, pungent, exotic
• Terra Cotta — earthy, warm, country, wholesome, welcoming, abundance


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