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Using All the Crayons in the Box

If you remember anything about your elementary school years, I bet you remember Crayola crayons. If you were lucky, you got a brand new box of 64 colors at the beginning of the school year. I was not always so lucky, but I loved my box of crayons anyway—the smell in particular and choosing my favorite colors.

Browns and greens were always worn down to a nub because they were so useful, and in my collection, my other favorites were just as small with their paper unpeeled. Cornflower blue was the most beautiful color I had ever seen; and goldenrod, Indian red, and pine green were almost as beloved. I would have to really push myself to use the other colors, the brighter ones that didn’t appeal to me quite as much.

It’s the same with my wardrobe—wearing bright colors makes me feel as though I have raided someone else’s closet.

So, to painting—I have a wide variety of oil paints on my table, and I find myself picking up comfortable colors. I would marry Payne’s Grey, if I could. After that, Titanium Buff, Olive Green, Blush, a lighter blue, and leafy green (almost all in the Gamblin line) seem to have a magnetic pull.

All of those colors can be part of absolutely beautiful work, but I occasionally feel stagnate with the combinations, and I then remind myself to reach for some of the other colors. Just like with the crayon box of my childhood, when I would rifle through for something bright and sunny, I now am making an effort to choose some brighter colors. Just now and then and just in a way that doesn’t deny my first color loves.

I’m adding brighter reds and yellows, turquoise here and there and shocking orange. What a bright orange does to faithful Indian red is kind of magical, I have learned.

The results have not surprised me, because obviously you will create brighter paintings when you work with brighter paint. But the work has taken on a different personality, more festive, less self-important, largely whimsical. At least this is what happens when I play with these colors, which, if Crayola had created them, would have great names like carnation pink, macaroni and cheese, or granny smith.

Case in point:

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