A character in a book walks into a room filled with glowing golden light. Good, right? Now the light turns dark red. Uh oh, bad!
This is the magic of color symbolism, a literary tool where colors are used to convey deeper meanings, to whisper something about a character or setting, or to underscore a theme. From ethereal pastels to enigmatic dark shades, each color palette can orchestrate a different mood for the story.
In my novel, Painting Celia, I’ve employed color symbolism to enrich the narrative. It is a story about art, after all. Color symbolism fascinates me, a vibrant shorthand that evokes so much in so few words. I wanted to discuss it in this blog, but if I covered all of the colors I used, the post would be thousands of words long! Blue is the color with the most meaning in the book, so I thought I’d start there instead.
The Meanings and Feelings of Blue
Blue, a color as pale as the sky and as deep as the ocean, is a constant presence in our lives. It’s a color that can evoke a spectrum of emotions, from the tranquility of a calm sea to the turmoil of a stormy night. It speaks of introspection, wisdom, and understanding, but also of sadness and the depths of the human psyche.
In the West, blue is a symbol of trust and safety, often associated with authority, loyalty, and security. In the East, it’s tied to immortality, spirituality, and heaven. In Latin America, blue is associated with religion but can also symbolize mourning. Blue means quiet and melancholy to most people in the world.
Physically, blue has a calming effect. It can lower our heart rates, blood pressure, and even body temperature. It influences our sleep patterns and can enhance memory. Who knew one color could do all that?
The Art of Blue Symbolism in Painting Celia
In my book, the color blue nods at the meanings and feelings above, but takes on a few unique meanings.
The story revolves around the power of self-expression through art, with color playing a crucial role. Blue has so much import in the novel that it made the cover, as well as the whole palette of my website!
For León, colors, shapes, and stories are his language, his way of sharing his perspective with the world. For Celia, art becomes a path to self-discovery and believing in her own value. The color blue echoes throughout their story, very specifically telling a tale of three concepts: vulnerability, support, and hidden fears.
Painting in Blue
The blue painting, the first of León’s creations featuring Celia, is the most obvious use of blue as a symbol. It captures a moment of serenity, Celia floating in the pool, her vulnerability mirrored in the blue waters. Yet, these waters also offer support, cradling her in their embrace. Many times in the book, when Celia thinks about being supported (or not), the blue pool is invoked.
León panics when he sees he’s unintentionally painted the top third of the canvas in darker blues. He sees a looming threat to either the vulnerable subject of his painting or to himself, the artist. The deeper colors are like ocean depths, containing unknowns and mysteries León is not ready to confront.
Blue threads also weave through the fabric of the characters’ lives. When Celia dons blue, it’s a sign that she’s particularly vulnerable. When she moves away from her pool, the blue bedspread in her new loft highlights a place she may continue to feel vulnerable but supported, with León. The color blue also finds its way into the lives of Andrew and Trevor, who sometimes wear differently-hued blue shirts to the same event. It’s a symbol of their shared vulnerability and growing attraction.
At one of Celia’s very low points, León directs her to paint and express herself. She paints a blue line representing León, a symbol of support, right next to her own red line. Next, a black bridge with a line of blue beneath it, to show the pool. Then, naming friend after friend, Celia adds blue lines to the pool. The waters rise, line after line, as she realizes that her found family is there for her. Their support is like the waters, rising toward the bridge and there to support her if she does fall from it.
More Than Just a Color
In Painting Celia, blue is a signpost to say “here we have vulnerability” or “this feels like support” or sometimes “what lurks in that darkness?” On your second read of the novel, keep an eye out for mentions of blue and see if they aren’t clues you missed the first time through.
Believe me, the symbolism doesn’t stop at blue. León paints a whole rainbow of canvases. I hope you join me in future posts where I delve into the symbolism of other colors.