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Do you dream in colour? by art blogger The Colourist

June 10, 2021

The Colourist blogging handle of Helen Trevisiol Duff

British figurative artist Helen Trevisiol Duff aka 'The Colourist' turns her thoughts in her June blog to an issue many of us may not have considered before.  Do you dream in colour?

Many years ago a friend of mine who worked at Metanoia Institute, a training establishment for psychological practitioners was organising a Dream research workshop.

She needed a case study volunteer as a prominent dream interpreter was arriving from the States.They needed someone who had vivid dreams to regale their dream in front of trainee therapists so that they could use Freudian and Jung techniques to decipher the meaning of the dream.

That volunteer was me! I had always had exciting and interesting dreams that I would often write down.

Ideal guinea pig!

My vivid dreams are always in rich colour and have a very tactile quality about them. I can remember so many details that I was the ultimate ''guinea pig" for the workshop.

After 2 hours of questioning by 20 counsellors I was intrigued. I learnt a lot about myself through the recognition of symbolism and interpreting the meaning of the content of my dream. Dream interpreters for many years had believed that we can only dream in black and white but sleep research has proven this to be incorrect.

Does everyone dream in colour?

As a professional colourist working on colour palettes for large corporations in the fashion Industry at the time, I wondered whether colour was so vital in my daily life that it was inevitably going to mean that I would dream in colour? I took it that it was a given that everyone dreamt this way, until I started to ask around. I began to ask if everyone dreamt in colour?

My fellow artist and friend Stella Tooth said, “Perhaps it’s surprising for a colourist artist like me to reply ’no’. But, insofar as I remember my dreams, I dream in black and white. It’s like I’m in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, or the monochrome section of The Wizard of Oz before Dorothy travels from Kansas into Oz with its glistening Emerald City and red brick road! I can only think it has to do with my love of black and white movies which I watched with my mum when I was small and silver gelatine photography where the tone that forms shape comes to the fore. My dreams are always very 3D!”

It’s during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep that dreams usually occur, because this is when activity in the brain is high and most resembles that of being awake. The continuous movements of the eyes during sleep identifies REM sleep; however, dreams can still occur during other sleep stages, but the dreams tend to be less vivid and much less memorable.

What does dreaming in colour mean?

In our waking state, colours stimulate response and emotions. Similarly, colours also stimulate our feelings and emotions in dreams. REM studies have shown and proven that we tend to dream in colour, but we do not always remember them. The meaning of colours in dreams is not just indicative of the dreamers’ feelings and emotional state, but also their unique personality traits.

While most people report dreaming in colour, roughly 12% of people claim to only dream in black and white, as Stella Tooth replied. Studies were done where dreamers have been awakened and asked to select colours from a visual chart that closely match those in their dreams. Apparently soft pastel colours are those most frequently chosen.

Men and women who are under the age of 25 very rarely report dreaming in black and white. Those over the age of 55, however, report black and white dreams about 25% of the time. This is believed by researchers to be linked to childhood exposure of black and white TV. I remember when we got a colour telly and our neighbours came around to see the testcard... the little girl holding her teddy bear. I also remember watching snooker on TV in black and white - something which now seems absurd.

Do dreams inspire our creativity?

I believe that for some artists dreams are hugely important in developing creative thoughts. As an illustrator, my imagination is everything. I work on commissions where I discuss the brief with the client and then come up with initial sketches from my imagination. The process of being mentally stimulated to do something can come from our conscious or subconscious minds especially when it's something creative.

Nicolette Carter, one of our artists at Skylark says, “My work is about seeing the power in colour, patterns and detail. The placing of disparate elements to create a unified image." When asked what she loves most about being an artist, she replied, “The charm of being able to play and dream out loud.”

Inspiration comes from the imagination

Inspiration comes from the imagination and dreams play on this. A student of Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dali, turned to a most unusual way to access his subconscious for inspiration. He knew that the state between wakefulness and sleep was possibly the most creative for a brain.  Like Freud and his fellow artists and surrealists, he believed dreams and imagination as “central rather than marginal to human thought.” 

Dali searched for a way to stay in that creative trance-like state for as long as possible so that he could conjure up visions and thoughts, just as any one of us might enjoy staying in bed in a semi-awake state while we use our imagination and visualisation to its fullest. He devised a most interesting technique. In an essay by Ewell in 'Art and Gallery News'*, he said that Dali would sit in the warm sun, after a full lunch, and would place a metal mixing bowl in his lap and hold a large spoon loosely in his hands.  As he fell asleep, the spoon would fall  into the bowl and awaken him. He says, "He would reset the arrangement continuously and thus float along-not quite asleep and not quite awake-while his imagination would churn out the images."

Carl Jung, the famous dream psychologist in the 1930’s said that colours represent the following: yellow represents our intuition, black is connected to our unconscious, red our feelings, white our conscious mind and blue our thinking. Green represents our sensations. Sensitivity to colour relates to our emotions: green with envy or feeling blue.

Artwork to inspire you.

At Skylark Galleries we have 32 artists who work in different ways: some work directly from life, and some use their imagination to create pieces full of colour that have been inspired by the subconscious, imagination and dreams.

Wilf Frost’s rhythmic and funky compositions are a riot of colour that are inspired by graffiti, urban art, social media, current affairs and bizarre dreams.

When he goes into his studio he likes to have fun. He likes to collage together ideas on the canvas and create a story; scenarios that make him smile or which can have dark undertones.

The tree of life original artwork by Wilf Frost


The tree of life by Wilf Frost

Dodo in a kimono by illustrator and British figurative artist Helen Trevisiol Duff

Dodo in a kimono by Helen Trevisiol Duff 

Landscape by narrative artist Nicolette CarterLandscape by Nicolette Carter

Argia oil on canvas by British figurative artist Stella ToothArgia oil on canvas 80x105x4cms framed £520 by Stella Tooth

An original artwork from the imagination, with a life model, inspired by the thought "and if you put your ear to the ground, you could hear the doors closing."
Purchase enquiries:

*Posted February 9, 2010 In Art & Gallery News, Artists & Special Collections, Exhibits, Salvador Dali

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