love note no. 23: dear colours.

Dear Colours,

After the last couple of days, I have come to the conclusion that we take you all for granted.  In fact, I am quite sure that this love letter will seem silly and even trivial to some who read it. But you have a depth that intrigues me.

In a sense, one could speak of the secret life of colour. Despite its outward beckoning, like true beauty, colour is immensely hesitant in giving away its secrets. Painters learn to respect the hesitancy of colour and endeavour to refine their skill to become worthy of its revelations. A painter learns the language of colour slowly. As with any language, you struggle for a long time outside the language. There is a willed deliberateness to how you sequence the strange words to make a sentence.Then one day the language lets you in to where the words dance to your thoughts with ease and fluency. Perhaps for the painter there is a day when colour lets him in, when his palette sings with synergy and delight.

― John O’Donohue

Yesterday we painted.  And painted.  And painted.

And today we are painting again.

I asked a simple question:

If you could choose any colour for a palette that would surround you everyday, what would it look like?

This turned into this question:

How many different colours can you actually paint?

And this started an epic project in the exploration of YOU.

They all began painting and mixing swatches of all shades and tones of you to see which combinations made their heart flutter:

They mixed.  They diluted.  They layered.  They experimented.

Some were attracted to more neutrals that reminded me of desert and sky:

Or a symphony of turquoise. This child left a clue in this pile for you to guess whose it belongs to…

One of the kids had a great idea.  She started to cut up all the swatches so that she could group her favourites on a board.

Here is their confetti of colour…

The final palettes.  One reminds me of sherbets and sorbets and the other reminds me of sunrises and sunsets on the ocean…

We took the rest of the confetti and placed them in a container.  We took turns picking one of you and finding a sample of you in nature:

And then we reversed the process and picked an item in nature and tried to match it to one of the confetti pieces we had painted already.  We wanted to see if we actually did create most colours found in nature!

I even got in on the action and painted too.  I call this palette “Shades of Happy”:

I ask them if every colour we create with these paints can be found in nature.  They immediately say YES but then stop and think about neon.  I tell them of those fluorescent gems that glow-in-the-dark that we saw at the museum and the vibrant corals and tropical fish stripes we have seen.  They wonder about black and white – and is there really an absolute black and white? (I think that question worked a little deeper on the older two.)

In terms of place, how do the colours differ in a tropical climate versus a temperate climate – how are the greens different, the browns, the sunlight?  City colours vs nature colours – what colour do you see more of?

We talked about why colour makes us happy and what if one day, one particular colour was gone forever.  Their favourite one perhaps.  How would that make them feel?  What if we lived in black and white or shades of grey, what would they miss most? And why are we gravitated to certain colours depending on our mood? And are we all attracted to the same colours when we are in a certain mood?

To answer this last question, the younger kids built a store, La Tienda de Colores, to “advise” on colour.  If I came in feeling a certain way, they both tried to find just the right colour to describe it and possibly a different colour to change the mood.  Or maybe I was in the mood for a certain type of food that would make me feel energized, what colour food would that be? It was interesting to discover each child’s language of colour.

When I was young, I learned about you very mechanically – colour by number books, what colours make up the rainbow, what colours do you mix together to make what colour on the colour wheel.  But it’s so much more fun to watch them discover all of this by themselves, to go deeper into the idea of you and your connection to emotion and temperament.  It’s a beautiful experiment for me too as it helps me take a moment and look, I mean, to REALLY look.

“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ”
― Oscar Wilde

At their tienda, I asked each of them to pick one colour that would make me happy. Just ONE.  This was pretty hard for them because they said that part of what makes them happy is finding unexpected combinations of colour that make them smile and some colours are just better suited to have a partner.

After some agonizing deliberation, here is what they chose for me:

It’s interesting how they chose the samples where you could see a rich mix of other colours – like gemstones with layers of different growth seen from the surface.  I was happy to use some fake money and pay for their advice.  Their choices made me happy.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

I think she is also referring to you, dear colours.

Playing with you is also the beginning of our future Physics lessons in Colour and Light.  I will be beginning this block soon with my soon to be 12-year old.  She is still learning through feeling.  Through these few days of curious play, she is feeling colour without too much critical thought of how and why.  She can just appreciate it for what it is and how it makes her feel.  Once she feels this, she can learn more in-depth about it with a joyful awareness.  She is also warming up her observational skills which we focus a lot on in our science/nature/art blocks.

Our last activity was a fun game of show-and-tell with colours.

Each of us would pick a handful of colours and show another person each colour and they would have to quickly say how it made them feel or of what it reminded them.

Here are some of their answers to what a colour meant for them:

“That colour makes me want to explore the earth.”

“That colour makes me warm inside.”

“That colour is just like the trunk of an oak tree. It makes me feel safe.”

“That is the colour of the days that are strange.”

I am pretty sure that for the next few days there will be further questioning and wondering and a little more noticing of the world around us.

Thank you again, colours, for introducing us to your mysteries and letting us in on your secrets.  You give us an opportunity to stop and SEE.  And of course, like all the the best things in life, you encourage us to take our time.

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe








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