One day in first grade we had to do something with crayons. One kid came up short so the teacher handed him a purple crayon to work with. It didn’t matter for the assignment what the color was, we just had to do something. It took about a minute before that kid was in tears. When the teacher asked him what was wrong he yelled out “Purple is a girl’s color!” I remember being six years old and thinking you’ve got to be kidding me. What’s more girly, drawing with a purple crayon or crying like a baby in the middle of class? Pull yourself together man.
Fast forward to this week. I’m taking Color Theory again. The first time was almost eight years ago (way to make a guy feel young). Let me just get this out of the way. That purple crayon BS speaks volumes, not just about gender identity but about what I think is a serious disadvantage to guys. Girls are better at color than guys. There. I said it. Now why is that? First of all its the clothes. I grew up as a Khaki Scout. Everything was beige, jeans, chamois shirts, flannel, black t-shirts, or my dad’s old army fatigues. Did not give a shit about fashion at all. There’s no room for fashion when you’re sleeping outside in New England in February. Girls get to wear all sorts of crazy colors and they have to MATCH! Say what you will about Mean Girls, but the fashion police keep the human race going. Its all about plumage.
I took that picture this summer. I was teaching Design Foundations at RISD Pre-College and had everyone pair up and try to match their partner’s skin by painting directly on their arms. This poor girl got covered by the guy she was paired up with. I wish I had video, not of this mess getting made, but of some stopwatches for each kid. The girls nailed it so much faster. Why? Makeup. When I get a zit I have to walk around town with a zit. When girls get zits they get concealer, or at least I think its called concealer. They can paint over it. They’re taught to match skin tones from a very young age.
First grade to eighth grade. I remember at the first dance in eighth grade wondering why all the girls looked like clowns. It wasn’t until I realized, eighth grade, everyone’s pretty much 13, parents are letting their kids out of the house with makeup for the first time, and the results are nothing but hysterical. 4 years later, prom and its a different story. What a difference 4 years of practice makes.
Color Theory this week. The instructor handed us two stacks of ColorAid paper and had us pick colors we didn’t like. At this point I’m relatively indifferent to all colors. Actually I’m partial to cyan, but whenever I get asked what my favorite color is I always answer orange. No one ever says orange. So how did I arrive at the above colors? Its completely subective. Starting on the left, that pale yellow-beige reminded me of the institutional yellow walls of the group home I used to work at. The interview to get the job went well enough until we walked down a hallway and that yellow was basically a warning. My first day I got bit so badly I got an ambulance ride. A year later I got punched in the face five times, so that was my last day. I should have heeded the warning of the institutional yellow walls.
The next one, the muted green reminded me of the Chamber of Commerce when I was a kid. Early 80s, Wickford RI. My mom used to drag us there, I don’t know why. But being too little to see over the counter was awesome. So all that was left to look at were the government walls painted pretty close to that color. Maybe they were slightly more blue.
That lavender purple… I think it reminded me of a bratty kid from first grade who hated purple crayons and made everyone uncomfortable.
So what do I have against that green on the end? James Gurney warned against green along with a lot of other artists. I couldn’t agree more. Too much of that green is a terrible painting. Maybe its like looking out a window at overripe vegetation or that no landscape will ever actually be that color under normal conditions. Whatever it is I don’t like it. I guess I’m not so unbiased after all.
And this is what I ended up with in class. This 6 3/4″ x 4 7/8″ masterpiece, gouache on bristol, can be yours for $50 plus S&H. Isn’t it awesome? Our instructions for the first month were to keep all compositions in a 6″ x 6″ square. I have a really hard time designing within a perfect square. I think most people do. My solution was then to embrace the uniformity and explore what Loomis called Formal Design.
“It may be used to great advantage in symbolical subjects, appeals for charity, heroic subjects, or to suggest peace and serenity.” ~ Andrew Loomis
I also have an overpriced compass I’m trying to get my money’s worth out of.
Individually those colors remind me of certain events and places in my life. The combination and arrangement right now remind me of a yoga studio. And that’s a peaceful easy feeling:)