There’s more to yellow than just canary yellow

There’s more to yellow than just canary yellow

Posted on: 20-11-2019

Yellow, a cheerful summer colour, which is steadily gaining popularity. In the past we used to think of yellow as canary yellow or the colour of the setting sun.


But there are so many more types of yellow than just those. Yellow comes in thousands of different variations, from a crisp yellow colour to variations with a hint of orange or green. 


Come and join us on our journey through the colour yellow.

Yellow books

There’s just something about yellow books. Some love the summer vibe of a yellow cover, and others think they feel a bit off. There’s actually a reason for that odd feeling you may get when seeing yellow books, which you probably don’t know about.

In 19th century France, ‘sensational novels’ were often bound in yellow covers. Later this trend was adopted by many marketeers and even to this day you can still find some of the ‘less literary’ books bound in yellow covers. These yellow covered books can even be spotted in two paintings by Vincent van Gogh!


For many artists in those days, it wasn’t necessarily about the contents of the books (or so they say), it was about breaking free from the strict Victorian regime. Things were allowed to be different, there was freedom, less tight regulation; yellow books were permitted. However, the avant-garde was not a fan of these yellow books. – Who knows what was under their bed though? – The books were in contradiction with their strict rules and regulations.


In those days, yellow obviously was not a chaste colour. Which meant that people focused on it, illuminating how much yellow there really is in the world. Have you ever paid attention to the amount of yellow you see every day?

Pastel yellow mood board with ivory, island white, and Havana yellowOchre mood board with blankets, pillows, and decorative objects

Yellow pigments

Besides the fact that yellow was considered unproper, the colour was also often viewed as ‘dirty’ and was associated with contamination. However, it wasn’t necessarily the colour that was so dirty, but rather the way it was made; the pigment.


These days, many pigments are created synthetically. In the past, however, most yellow pigments were difficult to find. Two of the base pigments for yellow (orpiment and gamboge) were poisonous and ‘Naples Yellow’ originated from the Vesuvius crater. Gallstone Yellow was produced with, yeah you guessed it, gallstones, and Indian Yellow was produced from urine. Very appetizing.

Pastel yellow painted brick wall with wooden garden furniturePastel yellow painted brick wall

Associations with yellow

Thankfully, there are also pleasant associations with yellow, such as happiness, summer, the sun, life, wisdom, creativity, fantasy, luxury, and beauty. For ages, blond hair has been the beauty standard in the West and in India yellow is a powerful and spiritual colour. In China, for some time only members of the royal family were allowed to wear yellow. And of course, gold, a luxurious colour that is associated with wealth.

Restaurant with bright yellow ceiling, yellow tiled bar, and white walls and furnitureDark yellow wall with white table and white vase with flowers

Primary colour

Yellow is a primary colour, which means that it is a base colour. Primary colours are often associated with children because of how cheerful and bright they are. Bright yellow is often considered cheap, loud, and flat. This is because the colour is so powerful, it stands out. Which is also why yellow is a signal colour.


However, if you add some warmth to the colour it becomes more luxurious. Think of golden yellow or the luxurious feeling of the sun setting on vacation. After all, yellow is also often associated with vacation. This is why yellow combines well with similar colours, such as brown and red.

Hallway with light brown walls, red motif wallpaper, and ochre yellow ceilingDark yellow wall with hooks and coat

Combinations with yellow

There are so many possible combinations with yellow. Think of ton sur ton; like the combination of different orange and yellow tints, colours with similar tones.

Or with a strong contrast: Who doesn’t know the red and yellow logo of Shell? Or the red and yellow colours of McDonald’s?

Red and yellow are colours that are near each other in the colour circle, but are not directly next to each other, since orange is in between. By skipping one single colour, you create a combination that draws your attention but is not too contrasting. Are you looking for a softer look? Try moving a step closer towards a dark orange or ochre yellow. Or add an extra colour that is more in between the two colours, such as brown.


By combining colours that are far apart from each other, such as bright blue and bright yellow, or yellow and black, you create a harsh look. Which can result in a cheap look, or it can scare people off. Think of a wasp with its black and yellow colours, or an ambulance which needs to draw people’s attention.


For a nice overall look, it’s best to stay away from these harsh combinations.

If you are interested in combining colours such as blue and yellow, opt for softer, less saturated tones that are less bright and complement these colours with soft nuanced tones. Such as a grey blue with ochre yellow, white, and soft pink. Ochre yellow and soft pink are colours that are close to each other, allowing them to create a soft transition in the same way that grey blue and white do. Together, these colours create a pleasant and cohesive overall look.

Ochre gold mood board with yellows, beiges, and reds
Booming yellow moodboards with yellows, greens, and blues

A blog by Iris Floor for Pure & Original. All-round stylist, creative advisor & developer at Ayame styling & design.