Monday, February 9, 2015

The Perfect Shade of Blue

My daughter is in high school pep band. Not long ago, I drove her to the school so she could play at a basketball game. It was early evening, and the sun was going down. The underneath of the plump clouds were the pinkish-orange of Ruby Red grapefruit, while the tops were a soft pewter.

My daughter didn't notice the clouds, though. Instead, she said, "the sky is the perfect shade of blue."

I asked her what she meant, and she said, "I don't know, that color of blue just makes me happy."

That got me started thinking. Is there a perfect shade of blue? Or green? Or brown? Or purple? Or any color? Or is it entirely subjective?

For her, apparently the perfect shade of blue is the baby blue of a cheesy tuxedo.

For me, when I think of blue, I remember the big crayon box from when I was a kid, and the blue I always reached for was Midnight Blue. I loved the dark, rich, mystery of it. I could imagine sinking into a world of midnight blue.

When I'm talking to my composition students about description, and trying to get them to show, not tell, one of the exercises I give them is meant to force them to practice description beyond the simple and obvious.

I tell them, it's easy to describe what someone looks like because human beings depend heavily on our sense of vision. But how do you describe what lemonade tastes like to someone who's never tasted it?

 What a headache feels like to someone who's never had one?

What a cinnamon roll smells like to someone who's never smelled one?

What a rock concert sounds like to someone who's never heard one?

Suddenly you have to reach beyond sweet, tart, painful, delicious, and loud into shared feelings, experiences, and thoughts in order to convey the essence of those things to your readers.

It's not an easy task.

Which brings me back to colors.

I'm going to give you a writing exercise now:

In the comments, write a descriptive paragraph about your favorite color. I don't mean just blue, or red, or yellow. I mean cerulean, or garnet, or goldenrod. Describe it as if your readers have never seen it, exploring what it reminds you of (things and memories), or what it makes you think or feel. Connect with readers on the level of common experience.

I can't wait to read what you come up with!



  1. Not too long ago I woke up to yet another dreary Seattle morning, and decided I needed to take action. Instead of choosing navy blue or gray or black, I put on my coral sweater. Coral, because it's citrus and berries and spring. Coral, because it's suntan oil and flipflops in the sand. Coral, because it made me smile on a day I desperately needed to.

    (Nice post, btw!)

  2. The color blue has always provided comfort to me. Not the cheesy powder-puff blue of cornflower, as it's pale and lacks fullness to me. The dark blues call to me. They swallow me in their deep colors like a darkening storm at dusk, like the mystery of the deep blue sea that beckons you to dive into its depths and explore another world. Metallic blues that sparkle with allure full of stark coolness that captures your soul when you look upon it. Royal blue, like that of my Tardis, invites you on a journey in your mind to find something hidden just beneath its surface. Definitely the blues.

  3. Her lips were painted that ghastly color of fake cherries swimming in syrup.

  4. I adore a red with a smidge of purple mixed in. That deep wine color of a woman's lipstick for a dinner date, one that speaks of love, not death.

  5. Show me a myriad of watercolor painted across the sky over a sunset, and I'll show you the happiest people watching them.

  6. The color of sunshine, warm on my face, always makes me happy.

  7. Turquoise sounds like ice cubes tinkling in a refreshing glass of water. It’s strawberry daiquiris and laughter shared with friends. It’s waves lolling into and away from the shore as you stroll barefoot through white sand. It’s sun rays kissing your face and tropical breezes teasing your hair. Turquoise is beach umbrellas and lounge chairs. It’s muscles melting and tension releasing. Turquoise is the scent of fresh mangoes and pineapples, the taste of salt on your lips as you dive into the sultry ocean. It’s the aroma of coconut as your glide suntan lotion on bronzed glistening skin. Turquoise is paradise.