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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

O is for Orange

"People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, "Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner." I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds." Carl Rogers

What is orange?

Orange is a secondary colour on the colour wheel, meaning it is made by combining two primary colours (yellow and red ). (The other secondary colours are green and purple.) Orange refers to any of a group of colours that are between red and yellow in hue; the various shades being created with the additions of white or black.

Etymology of the word orange

The word ‘orange’ was used to describe the fruit before the colour. It was not until the 15th century, that colour orange had its own name in Europe; previously it was simply called yellow-red ‘geoluhread’. The word for the colour orange in England was only used after Portuguese merchants brought the first orange trees to Europe from Asia in the late 15th and early 16th century. (Oranges became more common in northern Europe in the 17th century thanks to the invention of the heated greenhouse.)

The word ‘orange’ comes from the Old French and Anglo-Saxon orenge, from the old term for the fruit, pomme d'orenge. The Spanish used the word naranja taken from a Sanskrit word meaning orange tree (via Persian and Arabic) and the English altered and adapted it.

The importance of orange for artists

“There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” Vincent Van Gogh

Although the word as we know it was not used until the 15th/16th centuries, ancient Egyptian artists used an orange mineral pigment called realgar for tomb paintings. The same pigment was later used for colouring manuscripts by medieval artists.

Orange pigments were also made in ancient times from a mineral known as orpiment, which had a naturally golden-yellow colour. For centuries, orpiment was ground down and used as pigment in painting and sealing wax, was traded and even used as medicine despite its high arsenic content.

French scientist Louis Vauquelin discovered the mineral crocoite (in 1797) which led to the advent of the synthetic pigment chrome orange. Other synthetic pigments, (cobalt red, cobalt yellow and cobalt orange), made from cadmium sulphide plus cadmium selenite, soon followed. These new pigments, combined with the invention of the metal paint tube in 1841, meant artists could paint outdoors and capture the colours of natural light.

Artists continued to use orpiment until the 19th century but then because of its extreme toxicity and incompatibility with other common pigments, such as verdigris and azurite it lost popularity.

How does orange affect our mood?

“Orange is the happiest colour.” Frank Sinatra

When I think of orange I immediately think of the hue of the fruit and I can’t say that, that specific shade of orange has been one of the palette of colours that I am naturally drawn to so have never worn it. I do love the intensity of orange in nature though e.g. the autumnal orange shades of autumn leaves, pumpkins etc, the beautiful subtle oranges of sunsets, the orange colour of flames. There are also many beautiful orange flowers e.g. marigold, lilies, red hot pokers, crocosmias, nasturtiums etc but unless placed sympathetically I often find them a bit garish

Orange - Colour associations

Colours are like languages – they are used by everyone not just artists and poets to express mood, thoughts, feelings and personality etc and these expressions vary greatly so it is impossible to say that one specific colour has only one representation.

There are a number of different factors that can influence colour associations, for example past experiences and cultural associations. Just like there are a myriad of shades of orange, there is a similar spectrum of associations. Here are some:

Hope is linked to orange.

“The sky takes on shades of orange during sunrise and sunset, the colour that gives you hope that the sun will set only to rise again.” Ram Charan

Orange is thought to strengthen your spirit

“Orange strengthens your emotional body, encouraging a general feeling of joy, well-being, and cheerfulness.” Tae Yun Kim

Orange is thought to enhance feelings of vitality and happiness. It draws attention and shows movement like the colour red but is not as overpowering.

“Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” Wassily Kandinsky

Orange is thought to represent consideration

“Orange is the colour of the sun. It is vital and a good colour generally, indicating thoughtfulness and consideration of others.” Edgar Cayce

Orange represents freedom

“Orange is a colour of liberation, from the pains of hurtful love and inner insecurities. To channel orange is to truly be free, to be you.” Frank Ocean

Oranges and orange blossoms have historically been considered symbols of love and fruitfulness. In ancient mythology, oranges were often given as a marriage gift.

“This belief started in ancient times, as it was seen as the colour reflective of love, both earthly and heavenly. Greek muses wore orange, as did Bacchus, the pagan Roman god,”

Leatrice Eiseman .

In Chinese and Japanese culture, orange symbolizes good luck and prosperity.

All colours have a flipside, an inverse ‘negative’ sense that traditionally opposes the more ‘positive’ one. The most common negative associations of the colour orange include crassness, rudeness and frivolity . Darker shades of orange seem to have the most negative associations, such as distrust and deceit. Red-orange can be linked to desire, passion, dominance, aggression and action.

Why we use orange as a warning or for visibility etc

Today, orange is used for a variety of different purposes. Its high visibility makes it a popular colour for lifeboats and safety equipment like life jackets and flotation devices. It is also widely worn by cyclists and road workers to avoid being struck.

Crewmembers of the International Space Station wear orange. The orange colour allows rescue units to easily spot the astronauts in the case of an Orbiter bailout over the ocean.

Prisoners are also sometimes dressed in orange clothing to make them easier to see during an escape.

Hunters wear orange in the woods because it is the symbol of human life.

An aircraft’s two types of “black box,” or flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, are actually bright orange, so they can be found more easily.

A skull against an orange background means a toxic substance or poison.

The use of orange by various groups, associations and countries

Formula 1 driver Max Verstappen is a Dutch citizen. The national colour of Holland is Orange which has given rise to his fans being known as the orange army, wearing orange tee-shirts, and letting off orange distress flares

The Dutch football team is also known as “Oranje”. Orange is related to the Dutch Royal Family; The House of Orange-Nassau.

Today the colour also represents the national identity of the Netherlands. The first use of orange as a symbol of The Netherlands dates back to 1572, when the Dutch rebels conquered the city of Den Briel in the war against Spain. The inspiration for these colours came from the uniforms of William's of Orange army wearing uniforms with these colours.

Saffron orange is also one of the three colours in the Indian flag, signifying courage and selflessness. Saffron indicates the strength of this nation and its will to give away all for the benefit of its people.

The colour orange also has a political dimension.

Orange is the traditional colour of the Christian democratic political ideology and most Christian democratic political parties, which are based on Catholic social teaching and/or neo-Calvinist theology. Christian democratic political parties came to prominence in Europe and the Americas after World War II

In Ireland and Northern Ireland, orange is associated with Unionism and the Orange Order; a Protestant fraternal organisation.

In recent times, orange has been adopted by other causes and companies.

Wearing orange is linked to more than 200 non-profit organizations demanding gun safety. “Orange is a bright, bold colour that demands to be seen,” its Wear Orange website says. “Orange expresses our collective hope as a nation – a hope for a future free from gun violence.”

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, uses the colour orange as a theme running through all of its global campaigning to prevent and end violence against women and girls. “This colour was adopted as a symbol of a brighter future, free from violence against women and girls,” Sharon Grobeisen

Humanism also uses orange and is the colour of the Humanist International

The sacral chakra (the second chakra in the human body) is represented by the colour orange. It's thought to govern how you experience sexuality, creative expression, emotions, and more.

The use of orange in religions

Orange is a sacred colour in many Eastern religions.

In Confucianism orange resents the colour of transformation. Unlike the West, in China and India, the colour took its name not from the orange fruit, but from saffron, the finest and most expensive dye in Asia.

“According to Confucianism, existence was governed by the interaction of the male active principle, the yang, and the female passive principle, the yin. Yellow was the colour of perfection and nobility; red was the colour of happiness and power. Yellow and red were compared to light and fire, spirituality and sensuality, seemingly opposite but really complementary. Out of the interaction between the two came orange, the colour of transformation..”

Hindu and Buddhist monks wear orange robes.

Saffron symbolizes all aspects of Hinduism – the colour of Agni or fire. Fire burns away the darkness and brings light and it is symbolic of knowledge burning ignorance. Fire also shows the spirit of Yagna (Ritual of the sacred fire) which is important to Self knowledge. When wisemen (sages) moved from one ashram to another, it was customary to carry fire along. The inconvenience of carrying a burning substance over long distances may have given rise to the symbol of a saffron flag. Triangular and often forked saffron flags are seen fluttering atop most Sikh and Hindu temples.

In Buddhism, Saffron is connected with the pigments that were readily available to dye holy robes and the colour represents the highest state of illumination and perfection. The saffron colours of robes to be worn by monks were defined in the 5th century the Buddha himself and his followers The robe and its colour is a sign of renunciation of the outside world and commitment to the order.

In Sikhism, orange or saffron appears in the form of Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag), the cholas (warrior attire) worn by Panj Pyaray and Sikh turbans. This is the colour of deep joy and bliss. The colour is thought to absorb shock, nasty experiences and trauma. It’s associated with letting go of what holds us back or what is not helpful. Orange is the colour of connection, a sense of community, belonging and social aspects of being.

Orange and different cultural associations

Colour is a matter of taste and sensitivity.” Edouard Manet

Like any colour, orange has different cultural associations.

In Western cultures it can represent the colours of autumn, harvest and warmth. Western culture also associates orange with frivolity and amusement. Clowns wear orange wigs. Mythological paintings depict Bacchus—the god of wine-making, fertility, ritual madness, and religious ecstasy—in orange robes.

Eastern countries link orange to love, happiness, and good health. For the Japanese, orange symbolizes love, courage, happiness and the sun.

In Indian cultures, orange (specifically the yellow-orange hue saffron) is considered sacred.

In the Middle East, it is associated with mourning and loss.

Orange represents fertility in Colombia

In Ukraine orange is a sign of bravery and is linked to the Orange Revolution of 2004 when Ukrainians peacefully rose up against the discredited regime of president Leonid Kuchma following a disputed presidential election. Ukrainians poured into the streets of Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv to reject the claim that the government-backed candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, had won the presidential election run-off. Hundreds of thousands gathered en masse to insist that Viktor Yushchenko, the internationally recognized winner of the poll, be allowed to fulfil his mandate. Kyiv turned orange, as everyone from shopkeepers to taxi drivers to bank presidents adopted Yushchenko's campaign colour as their own. After 17 days of loud but orderly protest, the newly emboldened Supreme Court ordered a repeat of the presidential run-off and less than two weeks later, Yushchenko celebrated his victory in that poll.

Whatever your personal thoughts about the colour orange. It is always interesting to understand that orange symbolism, like all colours, is not universal and therefore it is useful to know about other perspectives than your own and the reasons behind its use.

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out, because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what is inside.” Wayne W. Dyer

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