by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I cannot draw.
I never could. Maybe if I were a student today, some lovely art teacher would insist that I really can draw, and perhaps some long-buried and untapped talent would emerge.
But I doubt it.
Drawing for me is not like cooking, which I can do—and have done over the years. I can make elaborate holiday dinners and Chicken Marbella for large groups, but I just don’t like to do it anymore. Other people in my life enjoy cooking and are excellent at it, and I am very happy to be on the receiving end of their skill in the kitchen.
Drawing, to me, is more like singing, which I would love, love, love to be able to do but, alas, cannot.
People who can draw and sing (and sometimes people who are amazingly creative cooks) often tell me, “Aw, come on, you can do it—just let loose and try.” But what they don’t realize is that they have a talent that I don’t. I probably have some talents they don’t have, but I just cannot draw or sing.
Even though I knew early on that I wasn’t good at drawing, I did love to color. Back in my day, I could count on getting a set of coloring books tied up with curling ribbon and an eight-pack of Crayola crayons for at least one or two holiday presents each year.
And while I definitely colored within the lines, I loved to use all kinds of interesting color combinations.
I remember being really excited when, for some special occasion, I got a box of 64 crayons that had a crayon sharpener built into the back of it. To me, in those days, that was cool technology.
My favorite color—in Crayola crayons and in everything else—was and still is purple. My parents let me decorate my bedroom in pure purple: deep purple shag rug, purple paint on the walls, a purple bedspread. In home ec class, I made a purple skirt. I even tie-dyed my T-shirts purple (which kinda missed the point of tie-dyeing).
But not all purples worked for me. My purples could not be too light or have too much yellow in them. I gravitated toward deep purple.
I have always been very sensitive to color subtleties, like the difference between lighter and darker purple. But I didn’t really understand why I reacted this way until years later when, just before my wedding, my mother and I went to Color Me Beautiful.
Color Me Beautiful was founded by Carole Jackson in 1980 as a “color analysis” company. (Jackson’s mega-bestselling book, Color Me Beautiful, is still on sale today, and you can check out one of the original infomercials in all its ’80s glory here.)
In those pre-Internet days, my mom booked us an appointment at a Color Me Beautiful center somewhere near our home in Newton, Massachusetts. There, we spent a few hours figuring out which “season” we were, which would help us understand our color preferences. My mother and I didn’t do too many mother-daughter things like this, so our trip to Color Me Beautiful stands out in my memory.
I learned that I am a Winter, and that is why I gravitate to deep purple.
Before and after my mom and I made our trip to Color Me Beautiful, I haven’t worn too much makeup other than the subtle and easy-to-apply products by Bobbi Brown and Jane Iredale. And I wasn’t really interested in manicures or pedicures. But recently, as nail salons have sprung up everywhere and I could just drop in without an appointment, I’ve started getting my nails done when I have some downtime.
Nail polish color names are fabulous. I would love to meet the person at OPI who comes up with names like “Chick Flick Cherry,” which, even though I have no idea what that actually means, has become my preferred red.
All this thinking about color got me googling, and I spent several hours reading about Sir Isaac Newton, who, while holed up in his room trying to avoid catching the plague around 1665, figured out the color spectrum.
In another life, I would like to be a linguist—languages are fascinating reflections of culture and history—and color names and their origins (and how colors were used in history) are particularly interesting to me. For example, purple was originally reserved for royalty because the dye was so expensive and rare!
I also learned from this fascinating article that in languages where there are only two words for color, they are always forms of black and white. When languages expand to include three color-words, they are typically black, white, and red (not, for example, black, white, and green). When four words are used to describe color in a language, they tend to be black, white, red, and green or yellow.
I ran out of time because I had to get this post done, but I am also so curious—and will spend more time looking into—why certain objects are associated with certain colors: black armbands, white wedding dresses, red ink, pink ribbons, and on and on.
David Vozar, my friend and colleague at Scholastic Book Clubs, is an incredible artist. I asked him about his early memories with coloring.
“Once, when I was about six, I went out in the backyard to color in one of my coloring books. My cousin Carolanne came out to join me. I offered her one of my books and she began coloring.
“I watched in amazement as she lightly colored in the shapes and then traced each of the lines with a darker color. It looked great! It never occurred to me until that very moment that there was any other way to color than filling in between the lines.
“I think that was the very moment that my creative sparks began to fire. I realized that for every project, there are infinite directions to go as long as you can think outside the lines.
“To this day, I find drawing to be my greatest joy, because the universe is yours to create anyway you want to make it.”
Crayons themselves have made their way into some of my favorite children’s books, including my late dear friend and author Paula Danziger’s bestselling Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon. It is about a girl named Amber Brown who is teased because her name sounds like a crayon.
First published in 1955, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson is about a boy who can create an entire world with only a purple crayon. It is commonly included on lists of the best children’s books of all time, like this one by the New York Public Library.
Recent picture book bestsellers The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, tell the story of overworked crayons who give a list of demands to the young artist using them. (Fun fact—a movie may be made from this series!)
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall is about a crayon who has been told his whole life he should be red, but he’s actually blue. Once he accepts himself for who he really is, he accomplishes things he only dreamed of before—like coloring oceans! (Here’s one of our favorite book reviews of Red: A Crayon’s Story by kid reviewer Mikah.)
The Crayon Box That Talked is a perennial favorite of Scholastic Book Clubs customers, and I’m delighted to announce that it is this week’s Dollar Deal!
The Crayon Box That Talked is a deceptively simple book. It’s one of those books that I might read and say, “I could have written that.” But I didn’t, and Shane DeRolf did. And while I maybe would have thought for one minute that I should have written this book, I never would have said I could have illustrated it. But fortunately Michael Letzig did.
And because it is such an enduring and accessible title with a big message, we are offering it for just $1 this week. I hope you enjoy our posts to accompany this accessible rhyming picture book about the importance of being unique and the power of working together. As always, please send me any feedback at JNBlog@scholastic.com.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs