published in Volume 5, Issue 2 on June 1st, 1998The painter Ferdinand Leger once wrote, "Man needs color to live. It's just as necessary an element as fire and water." Of course it goes nearly without saying that those who are sightless would place a much higher premium on fire and water, but for the rest of us, color wields immeasurable power in our lives. It influences our every waking moment. It is everywhere we look and often where we are not looking at all, spilling into our dreams, stimulating our mind's eye.
Interesting then that so many of us feel so apprehensive about choosing colors for ourselves and our most intimate spaces. One looks at the colors of the natural world as at a husband of fifty years . . . always with a tinge of romantic wonder, but never without complete acceptance and familiarity. As lifestyle and decorating guru Martha Stewart has noted, "In nature every color goes together easily." But left to our own devices, we gravitate toward navy suits, white walls and the Estee Lauder counter for fear that we will not "do our colors" correctly.
We put a lot of stock in color. We each, I feel, hunger for a personal space (our bedrooms, offices, bodies) colored to connect us to the easy beauty of the natural world while reflecting who we are. We recognize those around us who have found and identified with a particular hue, saying, "That color is you." The ultimate compliment. But coloring our surroundings often leaves us feeling uneasy. Color is overwhelmingly arbitrary . . . risky. Facing a limitless palette, we crumplt. And then, while we are down there on our knees, we thank God for Martha Stewart.
Martha's (those of us who spent last December just trying to make her cranberry encrusted holiday wreath have earned the right to be familiar) latest commercial adventure, dubbed "Everyday Colors," is a collection of over 250 original paint colors, developed specifically for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and available at Kmarts nationwide. The colors are all beautiful, and above all, they come pre-mixed and matched. The Colors and Combination Display found near the paint was created to "demystify the art of combining colors." It does, and therefore you cannot go wrong.
To some, this "system," which promises creative inspiration, seems to have as its ultimate goal the delivery of a significant reduction in your checking account balance. Yes its guided creativity (an oxymoron, unless you see that the goal of the paint guides is just to get you thinking about color in ways previously dismissed as too daring). And yes it costs. Martha's a business woman, but she also knows a lot about color, and we could all use a bit of her bravery.
More important than the colo combination charts, however, if Martha's apparent understanding of the anxiety we feel when faced with having to choose colors at all, let alone determine the ways in which they go together. We seek color, but go numb when presented with shades . . . upon shades, upon shades . . . from which to choose.
And so Martha offers an array of colors labeled as, for lack of a better description, "things" we find comforting and likeable. To help us accept an unusual, yet stunning light yellow, blue and brown combination, the colors are marketed as Heirloom Rose, Lamb's Ear and Dill Flower. Another shade of blue in her collection is simply Siamese Eyes. Light Brown, green, and bright yellow are "safe" and appealing when dubbed Sandcastle, Fresh Hay and Lemonade.
Of course, these labels do much to help the manufacturer identify different shades, but "Blue 1, "Blue 2," "Blue 3," etc. would have worked just as well (and probably would have been easier to track). The labels, I believe, are meant for us. Packing strong psychological and emotional punch, "Everyday Colors" succeed because they bear names that reflect the natural world and all things reassuring and good. The labels remind us that the colors from which we struggle to choose all appear "easily" in nature and therfore should not cause us such worry.
It should be mentioned that the master of this color labeling technique is the J. Crew clothing company of Lynchburg, Virginia. They sell blouses and pants and jackets and tees (items we use to color our bodies) in all kinds of shades all named with the color-wary consumer in mind. In the J. Crew catalog, red is Guava, Tomato, Paprika, Chili, Citrus and Poppy. Atlantic, Ink, Surf, Royal, Aloe and Quilt are blue. Shades of brown are offered as Caramel, Chocolate, Java, Cognac, Cocoa, Espresso, Tea, Malt, Tobacco, Bark, Saddle and Mahogany. Yellow is Corn, Citron or Chamois. Gray is Graphite, Stone, Putty, Peat, Fog, Storm and Haze.
I'm all for it. Anything to gently remind us anxious ones that the colors of our paint and our pants are inspired by a natural world where almost anything goes. Don't be afraid to color away, just as you like. The fiction editor of this Ezine, who happens to be my boyfriend, happens to have an extraordinary aunt who, like Martha, is not afraid. Purple is "her color" and purple it is . . . everywhere . . . in ways you never even dreamed possible. She uses color 100% as she wishes and the result is space that reflects her energy and bright disposition. Her use of color is true, and she does it without guidelines or anxiety-easing labels. She just knows what she likes and isn't afraid to go with it. We should all have as much confidence and style.