Art & Colour Semiotics

Colour Semiotics?


Colours surround us and contribute to visual communication in a powerful and yet often implicit way. Colour may tell us about personality through a person’s dressing, evoke the genre of a film in a movie poster, a political orientation, and it may guide our navigation of a virtual space, or a hospital ward.

Colour tells us about the roles of the people we meet, their position in a hierarchy, their profession.

Colour misinforms us as well, it tells us about gender, and it tells us about race. In doing this, it consolidates stereotypes and inequalities.

Whatever colour means, it may do so loudly, or it may mean subtly so that we only barely notice its contribution to our understanding of the world. Except for the colour visually impaired, we all see colour, and yet for some people, colour means nothing at all, colour does not exist, and the world is described using other parameters which have nothing to do with hue. 

This blog is intended to share research and reflections about the types of meanings colour make in our world. Many historical accounts of colour, and several accounts of colour in culture and colour psychology exist. This blog takes a semiotic approach (van Leeuwen 2005), it looks at colour meaning in context, specifically the types of meaning: meanings that relate to things and concepts; meanings that relate to emotions and relations between people, and finally meanings that enable people to navigate a space, real or virtual, or to read infographics, and how these meanings are created (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996/2006; van Leeuwen, 2011). The idea of this blog stems from the university module on colour semiotics which I wrote and teach. Students on the module consistently produce amazingly interesting papers, which should be reach more than one reader!

So, please come back to the blog regularly to read about, for example…

-Colour in COVID infographics, how do governments and the media use colour to communicate about the pandemic.

-Colour to attract, colour to repulse: the case of cigarette packets.

-Colours in Singaporean shophouses

-What is a city’s chromatic identity?

-Evolution of the Disney Princess through colour treatment

And many, many other fascinating topics researched by students over the last few semesters.


Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.
Kress, G., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Colour as a Semiotic Mode: Notes for a Grammar of Colour. Visual Communication, 1(3), 343–368.  
Van Leeuwen, T. (2011a). The Language of Colour: An introduction. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.