A story about the impact of colour in my life

From the first moment I cracked open a new box Crayola crayons as a kid and gently skimmed my fingers over the 64 different colours with almost spiritual reverence, I have seriously loved colour.

I used to spend hours taking the crayons out of the box and then putting them back in, in chromatic rainbow order.  It gave me far more pleasure than actually using them.  Although I loved to draw, crayons are quite imprecise and you don’t always get the vibrancy you can see in the crayon, to translate onto the paper.  Also there’s the big issue that if you “over-use” a colour it would be shorter and then the accumulative effect of all those crayons, creating that many shaded spectrum, might be ruined.

My dedication to colour causes issues too.  A particular issue from my childhood, came back to me recently...

Around the age of 5, I was getting my room redecorated and was taken one Saturday to Wicks to choose some wallpaper.  There wasn’t a huge range of kids wallpaper and, as a little girl in the 80s, I obediently followed what was expected of me and loved baby pink.  There was one wallpaper with pink and white clouds. 

On first glance I thought it beautiful.  I was also giddy with excitement so I didn’t really look properly.  I just took in those almost watercolour shades of pink to white fluffy clouds and decided that was the one.

When it was up on the wall at home, my heart sank.  I wasn’t entirely sure why until I’d slept next to it for a week, and then I realised: on top of those perfect clouds, were little bunches of red flowers with green stalks.  They were pretty.  But… and this is a big but, which niggled at me for the 7 years that wallpaper was on my wall, the red of the petals clashed with the pink fluffy clouds.  The colours jarred against each other.

Not long after the wallpaper was up, I mentioned to my mum that I didn’t really like it.  You can imagine how that went down, so I never brought it up again.  It wasn’t a massive problem.  Like I say, just a little niggle but one that came back to me with crystal clarity when recently reading Karen Haller’s Little Book of Colour.  Specifically the section on colour blocks and why we instinctively don’t like or avoid some colours. 

I had blamed red all those years for making that giddy, rash decision in Wicks that Saturday morning.  I’ve never liked red.  Always felt strangely resentful of it’s bold and sometimes brashness.  And now I realise this is why!

Time, I think, to bury the hachet.

But how?  Red isn’t a colour that suits me to wear.  I’m too rosy cheeked to cope with red’s confidence.  Maybe when I’m fully grey haired I’ll be able to wear it, but not now.  I also don’t really like red things.  Although I did buy a red car last summer: it was too good a bargain not to just because of the colour; a decision I’m in equal part proud of myself for being so pragmatic and devastated that I didn’t let colour have bigger priority in my car search.  But, alas, time was tight as my old car was rapidly dying and budget was even tighter.  

I don’t think the pragmatic, despite-its-redness car buying helps me forgive red.

So what will? 

I think connecting it to positive happy stuff might help.  For example, I wouldn’t be opposed to having some red flowers in the garden.  Currently, by chance rather than design, there’s a lot of pink, but none of the pale fluffy baby pink of those wallpaper clouds, so no danger of history repeating itself.  The pink flowers in my garden are confident bold magenta, cerise and bubble gum pinks.  They’d be able to hold their own against a sumptuous scarlet, carmine or ruby.  Also, red is at home in the garden as it is the opposite of green on the colour wheel.  It’s perfect!

Those lovely pink and red names leads me to my other colour love.  As well as taking in the wonderful sight of gorgeous colours, I am totally enamoured with their names.  I could talk for hours about what a particular shade might be called and finding out about the history of that shade, the pigments used and how it’s name came about.

Periwinkle was my favourite Crayola colour name.  Also Fern, Melon, Hot Magenta, Burnt Sienna.  I was always a bit miffed that periwinkle, so delicately bluey grey with a tiny hint of pink, was so glorious as a crayon but virtually invisible on the page, but still the magic of that name filled me with so much joy.

And, alongside a need to play shops for a bit in my adult life, it was this love of colour and it's names that led me to set up a pop up bead shop in 2005, which has evolved into the micro social enterprise, Mrs Magooty.  The colours of the Miyuki Japanese seed beads are glorious, only just surpassed by the (now discontinued) Swarovski crystals.  Wonderful, exotic, emotion evoking names like Metallic Sunshine, Volcano, Heliotrope, Siam and Aquamarine.

Names which take your imagination to far flung adventures and sumptuous worlds. 

The miyuki names for just a sub section of light green are a perfect example of their detailed colour naming: lime, chartreuse, jade, olive, moss green… all distinct but part of a spectrum.   

There is nothing I love more than pairing colours of beads together, although my pop up shop is too small for that to be truly satisfactory.  Miyuki delicas come in 1100 different colours and within each colour there’s a variety of different coatings and surfaces.  Thousands!  So my little shop doesn’t feel like it has enough colours and it never seems to have THE colour I need for a particular project, but still, it is a very peaceful joy to sort a big bag of one colour of beads into little tubes for retail, and then rummage through a box of different tubes finding one to match for a customer.

As an aside, the issue with red even filtered through to my bead shop when I realised one Autumn (when most beaders want green and red for Christmas themed makes) that I had a distinct lack of red beads for sale.  Loads of teals and greens and blues though.  And several hot pinks.  At that point, it confirmed in my mind I would never make a decent profit selling beads.  I wasn’t restocking those most universally popular, but the ones I loved the most.  Bad business, but oh, it does bring me joy!

It’s not all bad business though:  I’ve found getting the colours right in my branding and website really motivates to use them.  The colour scheme is the perfect balance, for me, between calming and exciting so it’s a joy to spend time updating my website. 

For someone who finds processes and consistency hard, anything that makes me more motivated to do things like update the website is a great thing.  If that takes the psychological power of colour, then that’ll do me!

And it’s not just the business.  My yoga mat is also a mix of colours I love: teals, greens and yellows.  So it puts a spring in my step when I’m heading out the door to go to a class… which, of course, makes me more likely to go.  My kitchen tiles are a gorgeous pale duck egg blue, which makes me enjoy time at the hob or counter preparing fresh food.

I’m now exploring how I can take this further… what am I resisting that I want to do but am lacking the motivation to get on with it?  Where can I bring in a little more of my favourite colours to make me more likely to develop good habits?

Leaning in to what you love and finding a way to make it work for you is key.  I’ll report back on the progress I make on how colour can help motivate in other parts of my life.  And now over to you, how can colour work for you in your life just now?

February 2022