Random Musing: on colors

graphic: John English

graphic: John English

I was melting broken Crayolas together earlier this month to make new shades and looked closely at what happened when the hot wax combined. The colors slowly pooled on top of each other in oil slicks and started to swirl in the heat. Suddenly, there was a new, solid color: a slightly lighter purple. Later, a green with a hint of pink in it.

What do you call a color without a name? That light orange-brown was definitely “Carrot.” The deep magenta was “Beetroot.” But what happens if I run out of vegetables?

And despite the lovely feeling of creating a color I haven’t seen before, sometimes I don’t want subtleties. I want colors I can name and recognize.

That’s when I turn to primary colors. Red, yellow, and blue. And it’s not “Scarlet” and “Cornflower” that I’m looking for, but just plain red, yellow, and blue. I like making art with them, I like looking at them together, and (this is a new discovery!) I like wearing all three of them at the same time.

I’m not sure if I have any real justification for this besides nostalgia. Primary colors take me back to using finger paints in preschool and seeing what happened when colors mixed (and how disappointing it always was when all three primary colors mixed to make brown). They take me to every art classroom I’ve ever been in. They remind me of the smell of huge jars of acrylics and warnings about staining my clothes.

There’s something so comforting about realizing I’m wearing a red shirt and a yellow sweater and blue jeans before I set out on my walk to school. Primary colors are where everything starts. My teacher says, “You can mix these three colors to make every other color.”  The day is even fuller of possibilities than it already was.