Why I Have 12 Different Colored Pens for Every Mood

Why I Have 12 Different Colored Pens for Every Mood

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

For years, I’ve held onto this vague idea that writing things down has made them come true. It started with my “magic notebook,” which was an incredibly ordinary thin pink Moleskine I used to track all my tasks, notes, and hopes right after college. Somehow everything I wrote down — whether it was something I could control or not — actually happened. I noticed as this technique continued to produce results, over time, across notebooks. The practice felt like a healthy balance of organized and witchy behaviors, and I liked it.

Recently, though, I realized I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see. The fallout of the pandemic left me largely discouraged, and if I’m being honest, pretty depressed. I wasn’t getting things done, and things weren’t getting done. I couldn’t access my magic.

Then, I started listening to a podcast called “Your Magic,” courtesy of my Spotify algorithm. On each episode of the podcast, host Michelle Tea talks to a celebrity — people like Phoebe Bridgers, Busy Philipps, and Roxane Gay — about their magical practices and experiences, and through the conversation, reveals how simple and adaptable magical practices can be.

In March, it inspired me to create a practice of my own: Guided by color magic, which uses colors to guide spell-casting, I started using colored pens to help evoke results from my daily journaling and to-do lists. On days when I wasn’t sure what color to use, I’d ask the universe to supply me with what I needed and blindly pick one or two of my 12 MUJI pens. Even though my pen practice was entirely made up, it felt good to be doing something that might generate results. And then I started getting more productive.

Recently, I asked Tea, a modern tarot reader and author, if my practice felt like a valid form of magic. “The kind of magic that I really like and try to work with and that we like to put into the world via ‘Your Magic’ is this respect for traditions, but at the same time, understanding that those traditions just came about because regular people like you and me created them, and we can continue as human beings in 2021 to create new magical practices,” she says. She adds that my pen practice feels “intuitively true” based on its marriage of traditional color magic with modern intention. 

And in fact, on a psychological level, using color to spark moods and outcomes is intuitively true. “There are many studies that show, both from a physiological and psychological standpoint, how color influence starts very, very early in our lives,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and author of “The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition.” In daily life, your interpretation of colors helps you recognize signals, express creativity, and even convey emotions.

In using colored pens, I’m drawing from the emotional signals of the colors, affirms Karen Haller, an applied color and design psychology expert and author of “The Little Book of Colour: How to Use the Psychology of Colour to Transform Your Life.” You can try it, too, to “[use] color to support your intention,” she says. It might even make less exciting tasks more enticing. Writing a to-do list in a color associated with joy, like orange for many people, could make that to-do list seem more fun. “Cleaning the toilet, cleaning the bathroom, having to do your tax file — if that was written in your happy color, see if that would give you a different mindset,” Haller suggests. Looking back at your list, “you’ll connect to the color before you connect to the words,” she explains.

Despite using just a small amount of color for the colored ink concept compared to the grand scheme of your surroundings, this approach can still be impactful thanks to the amount of emphasis placed on each color. “If you’re journaling, you are really focused on what you’re doing,” Eiseman says. “Your surroundings become secondary and you’re focused on the page or on your computer. So, that focus means that that color takes on even more significance because you are zoomed in on it.”

Want to try a similar ink (or digital ink) practice yourself? Here are the most common emotions associated with each color, according to color psychology experts.

Keep in mind that specific color associations for an individual might veer off the collective path. “There are psychological traits that are positive and adverse for all colors, but we also pick colors because of a personal association we might have to it,” Haller says. Associations can also be culturally influenced (the breakdowns below skew Western), and a traumatic incident could bring about a negative connotation with a dominant color that was present at the time.

Red is physically stimulating and associated with energy and excitement. Of course, it’s the color of lust and passionate love, and it highlights urgency. “Color is actually wavelengths of light that comes into our eyes, and red is the wavelength that advances towards us the quickest, so therefore we see it the quickest,” Haller explains.

Pink is physically soothing. It signals compassion, nurture, care, and a more romantic or friendly love. It’s a good color for self-care.

Orange “is the color of fun, playfulness, and joy,” Haller says. It can also add a hint of mischief.

Yellow simulates sunshine. It represents cheer, happiness, optimism, and illumination. “It opens you up to new thoughts,” Eiseman says.

Green is the color of life, safety, growth, and health. Perceptions of green are tied to nature. (Magic takes the idea of green’s prosperity one step further — Tea calls it “abundance magic,” explaining that you can use it for an “abundance of cash or opportunity.”)

Blue is the color of the mind, Haller describes, ranging from soothing and calming light blues to focused and concentrated dark blues. We align blue with the ocean and the sky, always vast and waiting for us, ascribing a sense of loyalty and constancy, Eiseman says.

Purple “is about connection to your inner self and connection to your higher self, so it’s tapping into your own personal beliefs and connecting to who you are,” Haller says. (Personally, I often use a purple pen for new moon journaling or when I’m trying to access deeper thoughts.)

Black is tied to power, elegance, sophistication, and authority. It can also create barriers. “There’s no mucking around with black,” Haller says. But big caveat: When it comes to writing with black ink, achieving those emotions can be tricky, Eiseman warns. “Because we’re so accustomed to black or blue ink in pens, it’s really not as much of a presence as it is in other applications,” she says. So if you aren’t regularly using other colors, black’s perpetual sameness will dominate over any other potential emotional powers.

White is a sanitary and clean color, particularly after we’ve spent so much time thinking about germs and bacteria during the pandemic, Eiseman points out. It’s not the easiest color to write with (personally, I don’t), but when it comes to your workspace, “if you have too much white, it can cause eye strain,” she says, so it’s good to cut pure white surroundings with off-whites or pops of color.

Complex Colors Bring Complex Emotions

A complex color is one that is made up of two different colors. So secondary colors orange, green, and purple are all complex colors, and they spark some combination of the emotions of the primary colors (the “mother colors,” Eiseman calls them) that mix to make them.

For example, purple is made of red and blue, and because warm red and cool blue are opposites in color temperature, it can generate high activity on the one hand and tranquility on the other, potentially sparking the most complex emotions. “People that like purple are usually people that are a bit more creative and complex in their thinking,” Eiseman says. “They don’t like things that are too straightforward; they like things that are just a little bit running contrary to each other.” 

Taking this idea of complex colors one step further, if a complex color scales closer to one mother color, it will take on more of the characteristics of that dominant mother color. Consider lime green: Green is made up of blue and yellow, of course, but Haller refers to lime green as “green’s alter ego,” because “if greens are normally very soothing and calming,” then “lime green is on steroids…because of all the yellow in it.” I use a yellow-green pen when I’m trying to tick through my to-do list, and I use a blue-green pen for more serene productivity.

Different Shades Spark Different Emotions

Adding white to any color is going to essentially turn down the volume on the associated emotions, making them gentler and less stimulating. (This is why people tend to decorate baby nurseries using colors low in chroma — to create a soothing environment.)

For example, look at the difference in emotions associated with red and pink. Pink, as we know, is red with white mixed in, so while red may create feelings of passion and arousal, pink tones it down to compassion or even friendship, depending on the shade.

“There are the softer, lighter pinks, but there’s also the hot pinks, and the hot pinks get closer to the mother color of red, so the hot pinks take on the same characteristics as the mother color red has,” Eiseman says. 

Darkening a color by adding black, on the other hand, will “add depth,” Haller says. “The color will no longer be light or reflect, but heavier, making a space look darker, more somber, for people more serious.”

Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to recognize how colors make you feel and lean into those specialized interpretations. There’s no definitively right or wrong way to use color, but paying attention to the colors dominating your line of vision and how they impact you can help to guide emotional well-being and generate positive outcomes.

Alissa Schulman


Alissa Schulman is a freelance writer, covering products, home, lifestyle, and entertainment. She has written for Good Housekeeping Institute, Architectural Digest, MTV News, and more.

Before & After: This Front Entry Door Went From “Blah to Tada” With 29 Colors

Before & After: This Front Entry Door Went From “Blah to Tada” With 29 Colors

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

There are color lovers, and then there are color lovers with a capital “C” and in all rainbow letters, of course. Jenna Pilant of Room Bloom Design definitely falls into the latter category. Everything this upholstery artist, designer, YouTuber, and blogger touches turns to technicolor, and it was about time the exterior of her California home started to look a little bit more like the rest of her bold, joyous interior. “It was an absolute taupe tragedy — completely uninviting with its brown-on-tan-on-beige exterior,” says Pilant of the front entry. “My entire aesthetic goal with this design project was to give a morsel of the house’s interiors on the exterior, a visual ‘glimpse’ of the rainbow delight that awaits all who walk through this front door.”

So Pilant did what any one looking to make a big impact on a budget would do: She pulled out her trusty paint brush! Instead of selecting just one or two hues to highlight her door’s different sized box panels though, she embarked on a rainbow bright makeover with 29 (!!!!) different shades of Behr paint. Feast your eyes on the finished door below, which pops even more, set against the now black backdrop of her home’s exterior (that got a paint job, too).

How did she come up with her plan here? Inspiration struck one day as she was scrolling on Instagram and saw a piece of artwork hanging in artist Angela Chrusciaki Blehm’s home.”With the insides of this home being under renovation the past few years, the exterior simply was not a priority for me and my brain,” says Pilant. “Then one day — BAM! — this creative notion entered my colorful psyche and just would not quit.”

She decided to paint each of the panels as if they were different multicolored frames. Being the color lover she is, Pilant mapped out a scheme on paper where she wouldn’t use any color more than once, leading to the 29-shade strong door you see here. Naturally though, the swatching and planning process started in the paint aisle at The Home Depot.

Once she settled on her scheme, she coated the body of the door in Behr’s Proper Purple, which became her base color, then she approached each individual square with four different shades total, each appearing on either part of the trim or within the box of each panel. Not only do the vibrant colors she chose highlight the door’s pretty features, but they also create a heightened dimensionality on the door itself. Due to her expert placing of shades, the squares and rectangles appear to be hovering and jutting out in space, not unlike the effects artist Josef Albers explored in his “Homage to the Square” series.

Using this many paint colors might sound expensive or confusing, but if you plan it out first — and use sample pots and/or some leftover colors you might have lying around — you can actually complete a high impact project like this without spending a small fortune. Sure, time will be a factor, since it takes patience pick out a palette and then paint trim work in one shade let alone several. Of course, this DIY involves lots of taping, too, to get crisp, clean paint lines.

All that aside, you could always scale back on shades, maybe just painting the body, trim, and interior squares/rectangles different hues to max out at three shades total. For Pilant though, this project, in all its 29 shade glory, was worth the wait and effort.

“I delight in how the after of this entry exudes the temple of vibrancy you’re about to enter; it makes my technicolor heart skip a beat every single time I see it,” she says of the door. “There’s nothing in this world I enjoy more than taking something from BLAH to TADA!”

Danielle Blundell

Home Editor

Danielle Blundell is AT’s Home Director and covers decorating and design. She loves homes, heels, the history of art, and hockey—but not necessarily always in that order.

Follow Danielle
28 Ways to Instantly Add Color (Yes, Every Color) to Your Home

28 Ways to Instantly Add Color (Yes, Every Color) to Your Home

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Here at Apartment Therapy, it’s no secret that color is everything. Obviously, we love highlighting colorful homes and DIY projects 24/7, but, for the third year in a row, we’ve actually deemed all of July — drum roll, please — Color Month.

When it comes down to it, color’s the backbone of every decorating decision you make, from your wall finishes to your furniture picks. Should you go with the blue or gray couch? The pink or green art? Even if you prefer neutrals, you’re still making a color choice and commitment. In that way, leaning into your favorite palettes and hues is the most surefire way to add your own pop of personality at home.

In the spirit of Color Month, I browsed the home decor sphere for the best finds for every spot of the rainbow — from peach to emerald to rust. With a range of throws, vases, candles, and even clocks, there’s things here you wouldn’t necessarily think to splash with color… but that look oh-so-good with it. Not big on decorating with bright tones? No problem; you’ll still find pieces that pack a colorful punch without feeling super in-your-face (and who knows, you may think differently after seeing what’s in store right now). Whether you go straight to your go-to hues or can’t wait to see the full spectrum, celebrate Color Month in style with the 28 home decor staples ahead.

1. Lennox Valencia Cocktail Glass

Empty corner, meet versatile boho storage basket. This blue textured number can truly stash it all — in style, to boot: throws, workout gear, magazines, and even your laundry.

Buy: Kora Basket, $78.00 from Anthropologie

3. Abstract Framed Wall Canvas

4. Savannah Round Throw Pillows

Hop on the contemporary candle bandwagon with the coveted Lex Pott two-in-one twist. In this cool lavender tone, it’s basically a wax work of art, but note that each wick can burn up to ten hours if you’re looking to actually put it to use.

Buy: Lex Pott Twist Candle, $40.00 from Nordstrom

The easiest way to up the ante on your hosting game? Just add color… and agate. Endless, brightly backlit charcuterie spreads await you with this stone board.

7. Kate Spade New York Desk Organizer

8. Linen Waffle Bed Throw

Don’t (or do) sleep on this waffle fabric lavender throw. It’s a welcome touch of texture and a pop of color, whether draped over the sofa or the end of your bed.

Buy: Linen Waffle Bed Throw, $99.00 from Verishop

9. Blush Abstract Symbols Pouf

Poufs may be small, but this one’s certainly mighty in terms of pattern, color palette, and comfort. Broaden your seating options — especially in compact rooms — with a dash of dusty rose using this versatile piece.

You really can’t ever have enough decorative vases, especially when they’re modern, sculptural, and handcrafted to peachy perfection. Buy one for a side table or cluster a few together on a shelf.

Buy: The Lotta Vase, $44.00 from Etsy

Designed to be used individually or stacked with mix-and-match sizes, this decorative tray collection runs the color gamut. The soft pink, though, makes for a subtle organizing accessory on a nightstand, table, or console.

12. Pink Current Removable Wallpaper

If you’re itching to add floor-to-ceiling color to a room, consider renter-friendly textural pink temporary wallpaper. Stock up on this kind of design for every wall in a room to go all-color-everything or just even frame a swatch as new art.

Buy: Pink Current Removable Wallpaper, $79.00 from Urban Outfitters

13. Farmhouse Ticking Stripe Red Euro Sham

Bright red, leather, and envelope-inspired, this supple basket goes to show that out-in-the-open storage should never have to be bland. Rethink your entryway, living room, or even kitchen with a few of these to store any essentials you might want organized.

Buy: Viv Leather Basket, $98.00 from Anthropologie

No matter your desk color, a little pop of red goes a long way — especially when it can, quite literally, brighten things up. This lamp’s compact footprint makes it a stunner for surfaces of any size.

Buy: Chente 19.8″ Desk Lamp, $101.99 from Wayfair

If you’re looking for eye-catching wall decor that goes beyond art and tapestries, it’s time to add this vibrant clock to your collection… get it? You can even take your pick of black or white hands.

Buy: Numbers Clock, $31.99 from Society6

17. Marimekko Oiva Unikko Stoneware Coffee Cups

18. Chloe Patchwork Gauze Curtain

What do you get when you combine airy patchwork fabric and a rich honey hue? Breezy curtains that make your room look like a sunset oasis when the light hits just right.

Buy: Chloe Patchwork Gauze Curtain, $49.00 per panel from Urban Outfitters

If you’re big on neutrals, consider rust the perfect color jumping off point. The burnt-orange tone looks totally evergreen and pops especially well against lighter hues, particularly in blanket form as seen here.

Buy: Rust Throw Blanket, $54.95 from Etsy

20. Heather Taylor Home Gingham Bath Mat

21. Voluspa Limited Edition Cut Glass Jar Candle

23. Brilliant Yellow Pillow Covers

Set a bright scene year-round wherever you put this pillow cover set. The yellow color and corduroy combo makes them all the more eye-catching (and cozy!), and you can’t argue with the price.

Buy: Brilliant Yellow Pillow Covers, $12.88 from Amazon for a set of 2

24. Sunshine Yellow Poppies Art Print

26. Jade Colored Glass Vase

Inspired by classic Chinese porcelain vases, this modern green spin can turn any plants or flowers into an artful display. The light-catching piece looks just as alluring on its own, too.

Buy: Jade Colored Glass Vase, Starting at $30.00 from West Elm

27. Mid Century Orb Pillows

It’s all about the sphere pillow right now, but set yours apart with a sleek fern shade and varied sizing (this set features one small and one large). They’ll be lasting comfy (and colorful) living room staples.

Buy: Mid-Century 2-Pc Orb Pillows, $158.00 from Kardiel

28. Emerald Green Abstract Art Wall Clock