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A Dash of Color


I paint my bee hives in the winter. It gives me something to do in nasty weather and I feel I'm in the most need for color on these short, dark, gray days. Sometimes you don't realize how much your eyes crave actual color until you feast on it -- when I started with the yellow paint first, it was so bright and lovely that I smiled. It made me a believer of color therapy.


Recently I've read a few books on color that were fascinating as well as beautifully written: Color by Victoria Finlay and The Anthropology of Turquoise by Ellen Meloy. Meloy's book in particular is more a literary celebration of blue hues and filled with gems like:

"Clear water made blue-green in a pool is a fairly simply optical event. The white surface absorbs yellow, red, and other low-energy waves; the more energetic blue waves scatter and remain visible. Blue has enough energy to escape complete absorption by water, snow, and glacial ice. Its short wavelengths undergo the most scattering by atmospheric motes. It fills the sky with itself."

Blues and green are my favorite colors and I had to consciously pick some pinks and yellows for hives this winter over the multiple blues and greens that we already have. But I couldn't refuse the teal "Stained Glass" that you can see in the photo above. Guilty as charged.


Another joy of painting bee hives is the act of picking out the colors. What a wonderful overwhelming feeling to stand in front of the wall of color swatches at the hardware store, contemplating whether to choose "Elizabethan Yellow" over "Sunset Glow". And their names!


Sometimes, the most fun when starting an art project is testing all the colors first. Sort of like how sometimes the most fun in starting a novel is the research part. But beware: it can also be a distraction. See the time spent below on color tests of colored pencils. What did I draw that afternoon, you ask? Don't ask. But the swatch part was fun.


It can be argued that color is a language in and of itself. Think of art. Think of nature. Think of this fun word: aposematism, which is a noun meaning "warning coloration". See poison dart frogs, monarch butterflies, Gila monsters.


But no matter how much I want to curl up on the couch and stare at my paint swatches without any intent to actually paint, Meloy offers another consideration:

"But colors are not possessions; they are the intimate revelations of an energy field. . . They are light waves with mathematically precise lengths, and they are deep, resonant mysteries with boundless objectivity."

We can't really own a color, really. We see light reflected; we hold objects in our hands that paradoxically, really aren't the color they look to be. Finlay helps me out here:

"When light shines on a leaf, or a daub of paint, or a lump of butter, it actually causes it to rearrange its electrons, in a process called "transition." There the electrons are ,floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them. Imagine a soprano singing a high C and shattering a wineglass, because she catches its natural vibration. Something similar happens with the electrons, if a portion of the light happens to catch their natural vibration. It shoots them to another energy level and that relevant bit of light, that glass-shattering "note," is used up and absorbed. The rest is reflected out, and our brains read it as "color." . . The best way I've found of understanding this is to think not so much of something "being" a color but of it "doing" a color."

The example she uses is a red tomato: when light falls on the atoms of the tomato, they absorb mostly blue and yellow light and reject the red. The red tomato actually contains every wavelength of light except red.


In some ways, this makes me value color even more. It's like something you can't tame or cage. No matter what, you can't hold it in your hand. Instead, you hold what's left behind. It makes you think in reverse. What you have is what you not-have. And now I feel like we've stepped through the looking glass and are talking with the Cheshire Cat.


I'll finish painting my hives this weekend; I apply three coats. Running away from the whites and grays outside, I may get lost in the "So Charming" pink or the "Quite Lilac." And blissfully so.





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