Saturday, September 22, 2012

The dependability of Crayola colors

Yesterday John and I went to our favorite taco place for some happy-hour margaritas and snacks with our friend Katie and her baby Zoe. We accepted the nice waiter's offer of a coloring book and some crayons for Zoe, and he brought back a big handful of brand new Crayolas, and I was completely overjoyed to find that most of the color names hadn't changed since my childhood. Is there anything else that hasn't been redesigned, updated, reformulated and probably cheapened? Very little. The reds, especially the red violet and a new, orangey red called scarlet, were as visually satisfying and seemingly edible as lipstick. Holding them and, yes, coloring with them (I was much more interested in coloring than Zoe) brought back a flood of memories:

  • I remember having an intense argument with some girls in first grade over which was more blue, blue green or green blue. They argued that obviously blue green was more blue because the blue came first. No, I insisted, green blue is like "greenish blue," so it's more blue with just a little green. I WAS RIGHT.
  • Green blue was retired, along with seven other shades, in 1990. One of the replacement shades was called "Jungle Green" and I remember that was very popular, all the girls thought it was very cool. 
  • I remember thinking "magenta" was pronounced "magneta" with a hard g.
  • The gray and carnation pink crayons held together always make me think of a mouse. Carnation pink is a disappointing crayon, though; it looks super pigmented but comes out pale on the page. 
  • I always felt there were too many brownish orange and orangey yellow colors; I hated those colors then and I still kind of hate them now. (Raw umber and orange yellow have been retired.) They remind me of the sand art that the Mystics are making at the beginning of The Dark Crystal, as well as that throaty sound they make when one of them dies.
  • I'm fascinated by the minute differences between certain shades, like thistle, lavender and orchid, and all the blues (robin's egg, sky, cadet, aquamarine, turquoise, etc.). I remember one of my teachers (in second grade, I think?) teaching us that the sky got lighter toward the horizon, and for the rest of the year all our drawings had this variegated sky, though almost everyone overdid it so it was blue as night at the top of the sky and almost white at the bottom. 
  • What on earth are you supposed to do with the white crayon? I didn't know then and I don't know now. Though I guess maybe it shows up on manila paper? Incidentally I absolutely hate the way manila paper feels. I also hate the feel of particle board, and I guess they're basically the same material.
  • In first grade my teacher taught me to do the coolest thing with crayons. Basically you totally cover a white sheet of paper with random bursts of color, then you color all over the whole thing with the black crayon. Then you can scrape off the black (what did we use to do the scraping? the round end of safety scissors maybe? not a credit card, but that would work) and the color shows through. You can trace your name, for example, and it shows up in color under the black. I want to do this right now.
Bottom line, I've gotta buy a box of crayons.

Image via laffy4k


  1. My absolutely favorite was always Crayola's cerulean blue. And the one we couldn't figure out to pronounce was fuschia. We always pronounced it "fuhs-chee-ah."

    I remember two big drama-stories happening around Crayola in the second grade. First, my best friend's mother thought it would be cool to buy her ONLY the global skin color tones (a special edition box that came out that year)- which was worthless from day one. Second, MY mother tried to save money and bought me the "Rose Art" box version of the 16 colors- equally worthless. As an eight year-old, I vowed to never buy my child cheap crayons, no matter how poor I was!

    1. Also, Crayola crayons just smells really good.

    2. I think Demeter might make a perfume that smells like crayons -- they definitely make a Play-Doh one! And yeah, fuchsia was unpronounceable for sure.

  2. I was a little disappointed when I heard, years back, that some of the colors were being retired and that others with fancy new names were being introduced. I can't imagine, for instance, that I would need a color called "purple mountain's majesty." "Wild strawberry" sounds intriguing, though.

    For many years I had a kind of surrealist crayon picture that I did (during my adult years), that was mounted on one of the doors in my apartment. I moved earlier this year, and I can't remember offhand if I packed the picture to take along, or if I decided it was time to toss it.

    In my cubicle at work I have several crayon pictures that I've done -- a couple of bright psychedelic kind of things, and a colorful one of a primitive-looking (and maybe slightly menacing) robot called "Attack of the Robot People."

    When I was in third grade, one of the girls in the class was a wonderful artist -- she would do pictures of nature scenes with crayons, that had remarkable subtlety in color shading (multiple shades color in a waterfall, tree trunks, rocks along a river shore, etc.) -- her pictures had depths and perspective. I always wished I knew how to draw and color as well as she could.

    (She also had really good handwriting -- what's now called cursive writing. I learned to handwrite/cursive write by copying her writing.)

    One of my favorite colors was magenta, though I thought it was pronounced "mag-enta" (with a hard G.) I liked most of the colors in the rose-to-lavender range. That's still my favorite part of the color spectrum.

    You maybe recall that while the three primary colors of pigment are red, yellow and blue, the three primary colors of light are red, green and blue. Magenta is (approximately) the color that results when red light and blue light are mixed.

    1. Yeah, some of the new color names are pretty cheesy. I'm just so glad they haven't changed some of the old classics, but mostly added in new colors, that I can forgive them their "Jazzberry Jam" and whatnot.

    2. Jazzbery Jam -- sounds like it could be the name of the next Katy Perry CD.

  3. I stopped trying to name colors, simply referring to them by their Pantone numbers or their CMYK composition.

    1. Pantone has been doing a collaboration with Sephora where they name a color of the year and then do a bunch of makeup in the color. This is awesome because it points to the fact that the paint aisles in hardware stores and art supplies and makeup and satisfy this basic need I have to look at rainbows. In fact when I was a kid I always arranged my books on the shelf in rainbow order by the spines.

  4. I was SOOO into the replacement shades in 1990, I think I decided they were all my favorite colors and personified them and wrote stories about them. I wish I remembered what they were, now I can't remember anything except jungle green, fuscia... and maybe there was an electric blue?

    1. Doh! I meant to link to the page on the Crayola site that details the chronology over the years (it's here). The new colors added in 1990 were:

      Vivid Tangerine
      Jungle Green
      Teal Blue
      Royal Purple
      Wild Strawberry

      So hot!

  5. Cerulean IS really beautiful, though.

    1. All the colors they added that year were pretty great! My current box (my mom just sent me a box of crayons! She is the best!) has some really weird ones, like "Asparagus" and "Tumbleweed"

  6. a small wooden dowel or chopstick works for scraping the black off the page. i have done this very recently and with no apologies.

  7. Hi Elisa,
    I just found this on facebook, an adult coloring book, and thought of you and your joy of coloring. Here's the link. Have fun! Carol