Coloring in the Details

Coloring in the Details

My daughter and I have come outside to color, sitting in lawn chairs on our deck on a warm summer morning. A red-tail hawk loops overhead, performing on a pale backdrop. “Look,” I point upwards, and we stall our art to watch the bird swim in the pool of the sky.

As if on cue, a small, white butterfly flits by, pausing in the bougainvillea; its light wings contrast with the dark magenta flowers. Actually, they’re more fuchsia, or closer yet to purple pizzazz—we find its crayon counterpart from the big box of 96, so many flavors to choose from.

There’s so much color outside today. The sky seems enormous, the Bay below shimmers. And it surprises me that I’m noticing it. I’ve been indoors so much, tied to my computer with writing deadlines, and I’ve forgotten how bright it is outside.

Our chocolate Labrador retriever lies nearby on the sun-warmed deck and gives a big, contented dog snort sigh. “Can you find the crayon color that matches her?” I challenge my art partner. On her first try, she plucks the right one from the box. What’s it called? Not sepia or burnt sienna, but simply brown. We laugh at the simplicity of perfection.

Sky-blue shavings melt onto the green plastic side table we’re coloring on, leaving an oily outline. It feels good to notice this, to witness the sun’s energy, to not be thinking about my to-do list that does not include: “watch sky-blue crayon shavings melt in the sun.” I envy my child, lost in her art but able to pull away from it to chase a lizard and follow it home, where it disappears under a shady brick.

I think: try, notice this moment, let go of what’s to come. I take in the crayon’s smell, roll the slim stick of waxy color between my fingers. I listen to the muffled wood saw coming from the neighbor’s closed garage and notice the feel of the chair’s starchy canvas fabric on my bare legs.

Then, I put my crayon down and watch as my daughter finishes her picture, creating bold designs that come from nowhere.

She’s chosen—or maybe it’s chosen her—a solitary pursuit. Like mother, like daughter. I’m compelled to lay down words; she’s driven to draw and paint and craft, at her happiest within the world of art. Ironically, both of us prefer to do our work in the presence of others, finding comfort in connection, even if collaboration isn’t always part of the process.

Not wanting this moment to end, I continue our matching game. The red-orange crayon she plucks from the box is the color of the red-tail hawk; the sky, a combination of periwinkle, cornflower, and timberwolf. We hold crayons up to the sky, then make swirls on the paper and confer: which comes closest? The arsenal of water balloons scattered on the deck are bladders of carnation pink and scarlet, laser lemon and razzmatazz.

The butterfly (buckeye? monarch?) lands on the brilliant bush of purple flowers. I’m no botanist—I don’t know what the flowers are called—but I do know that we can find the crayon that matches it perfectly. I reach over to the purple hues to begin the hunt. “Purple mountain majesty,” my daughter says, not even looking. She’s right, the precise equivalent. I explain that this crayon is a stranger, one I’ve met just now for the very first time. The crayons of my youth weren’t so descriptive, simply lilac or mauve.

Some of the color names—the ones I don’t recall from my childhood—I find sort of silly. “Please pass the macaroni and cheese,” I say, talking about a crayon. But when I try to explain this to my daughter, my sarcasm—“Really now, what kind of color is magic mint, or atomic tangerine?”—upsets her.

“I love those colors,” she tells me.

Maybe she knows something I don’t. Perhaps her future career will involve being able to discern the difference between cerise and mulberry or blue violet and royal purple, which, to me, look exactly the same. I ask her to show me. She marks the shades side by side. “See?” I peer more closely, but don’t perceive the subtleties the same way she does. We color together on the same paper, fill the sheet until whiteness evaporates.

Later that evening, as my husband tackles bedtime duty, chasing the artist upstairs to see who can reach the top step first, I can’t help but notice the intense square of blue framed in our window at dusk. It’s not navy yet, or my childhood favorite, midnight blue, and I find myself wandering toward the crayon box to look for the match. Indigo, denim? I pull them out and hold them up to the window to see.

Joanne Catz Hartman lives a colorful life with her husband and daughter in Oakland. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications and several anthologies.

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A Different Light | by Cynthia Overbeck Bix

Taste Summer | by Joyce Thompson

The Water’s Fine | by Rachel Trachten

Finer Than Frog Hair | by Wichita Sims

Coloring in the Details | by Joanne Catz Hartman

Flavor of the Moment | by Nancy McKay

Faces of the East Bay