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  • Writer's pictureDiane M Kellogg

The Use of Color in the Halloween Palette.

This is a reprint of an article originally published in PWM August 2019 and used again with the author's permission.

When I looked up the definition of color on, I was struck by the complicated wording used to describe color. If you look yourself, you will see what I mean. Perhaps the easiest description is color is what you see when light bounces off of things! Wow! When I think of color, I think of the multiple bottles of paint awaiting my attention in the studio. I think of a colorful palette I can’t wait to apply to a surface. I don’t think of the technical aspects of color, I just enjoy what I can see, what I can use to create. As I researched this article, I found so much information available about color. We often don’t give color much thought as we create, we just use what we think will look good. This shade of orange with that shade of purple, the artist in us inherently knows which colors to use. We, as decorative painters, are so fortunate to have a vast selection of colors to use.

What makes Halloween colors so inviting?

Black and orange, are the traditional colors of Halloween. Somber blacks, deep shades of orange, intense plums, and somber purples. How do dark colors influence our perceptions? What do brighter colors offer? The many shades of yellow and the lighter spectrum of orange, the seemingly bright color of white. These often appear in Halloween-themed art.

Let’s look into what the different colors make us feel as we use or view them in a Halloween-themed context.

Black gives us a feeling of power; it can bring about feelings of fear and mystery. Black has always been the color of death, from the Grim Reaper to a vampire’s cape. Used as a background, it gives feelings of perspective and depth. It is basically the absence of color; it relates to the unknown. Using the darker shades of purple, from a vibrant plum to an ominous shade of wine, we see the same effect as black, albeit a bit less obvious. Purple represents mystery.

Darker shades of blue offer much the same effect. While the color blue is often believed to keep the bad spirits away, a darker blue is often used for a nighttime background, meant much as the color black, to convey a feeling of perspective and depth. Once we have our background, we now look to the light. The contrast between the dark and light is one that has appeared from the dawn of time. Day and night, good and bad, stop and go...all are about contrast. Contrasting the brighter colors brings you out of the depth provided by your darker backgrounds.

Orange, in its many shades, provokes many feelings, from excitement to warmth. They bring about an energy that warms, adventure, and happiness. Orange is the color of the harvest, the color of fall.

Yellows bring joy and optimism while also providing a warning, to use caution.

Reds can vary, depending on the depth of the color. They can signify aggression or danger, even intensity.

Whites are not something we normally think of in relation to Halloween. Normally white makes us think of innocence and purity. When we place it into a Halloween setting, we get bones, ghosts, and even lightning...white becomes scary.

Halloween is a holiday that is generally celebrated at night. While researching, I have found many examples of art throughout history. Some aren’t necessarily meant for Halloween, but they fit the theme as examples of color use.

Consider the work of Vincent van Gogh, an artist who lived in the mid to late 1800’s. One of his best works is titled Starry Night. It is a perfect example of a darker background with lighter contrasts.

Another work to consider is that of Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893. At first glance, the painting appears very light but then you notice the dark that surrounds the central character’s head. The contrast of light and dark is there.

At the turn of the century, Halloween postcards were all the vogue. Many had light backgrounds, perhaps to brighten the mood or feel of the holiday. My favorites tend to be those with darker backgrounds, while not really scarier, they speak more to the aspect of light and dark.

While I would love to show you the many beautiful versions of current Halloween art that are available, copyright laws prevent me from doing so. However, a search for ‘current Halloween artist’ brings up a wide array of art using dark backgrounds while using the light to contrast. I hope that my journey into Halloween and its many colors inspires you to pick up your paintbrush and join in the fun!


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