Learning to See Color in Light

I can remember the first time that as a child I realized that without light there is no color. My mother was a talented seamstress and sewed matching bedspreads and curtains for my sister and my bedroom. The fabric had orchid colored flowers scattered all over it. I was awake before dawn one morning and it was light enough to see the outline of the flowers but I thought it unusual that the flowers were grey, for I knew them to always be orchid in my mind. Then, as if by magic, the faintest tint of color came into the flowers. It grew in intensity in coordination with the sun coming up until at last, the flowers were the color that I always saw them to be- in the light of day. I don’t remember if I popped up in bed like a jack-in-the-box, so shocked was I to realize in my young mind, “That without light- there is no color,” but it was monumental. I was too young to know about the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and a material object and how it absorbs and reflects certain wavelengths, but I knew that this discovery was BIG. I remember marveling at the fact that if this was a truth that I just discovered as a child, how many more mysteries of the universe was there to discover! It prompted me into being an artist.

As I evolved into a painter, I continued to discover the magic of light. Painting shadows on the snow forced me to see how dark blue the white snow shadows were when they reflected the intensely blue sky. I noticed that ponds and lakes were like the eyes of the planet, reflecting the color of the sky back to us, depending on the sky’s mood and tone. I  marveled at my world, seeing things through different eyes than most of my peers.

When I was a teenager, I remember driving with my father in the mountains as the setting sun bathed the interior of the car with pumpkin-colored light. I asked him if he knew what color light was and he said, ‘no color.” I told him to hold his hand up and it turned orange and he was amazed. How did my father get to this age and not know about light?

When I became a parent, our family frequently took full moon walks while the kids were growing up. One particular evening, the moonlight was so bright that the red bandanna that we used to blow our noses on was clearly red. It was a perfect opportunity to talk to my kids about this phenomenon of needing light in order to see color,  that it didn’t have to be sunlight or even artificial light. It could be coming from the moon.

Learning to see and appreciate a colorful, light-filled world has personally brought me so much happiness in life, I wanted to pass this on to my children. They say, if you want your children to read, you need to read. If you want them to play music, you need to play music. If you want them to have a creative mind, you need to show them how.

I asked my friend the other day on a hike when we were looking at color in snow shadows, it his parents actually taught him this fact about needing light in order to see color. Of course not, he said. Our parents were too busy working at making a living in order for us to have a more comfortable and secure life. They were Depression babies and felt compelled to strive for monetary security.

I made a conscious choice to NOT instill the desire and love of making money and creating financial security in my children’s lives but taught them things like appreciating and seeing light and color and magic in the natural world.  I was cultivating sensitivity and an interest in the beauty and magic of light. This way of showing my children the world helped nudge them into being creative. It taught them to look at things in the natural world and have a sense of wonder. It is one more tool towards preventing a boring life. If they have a sense of wonder and clear eyes to see, they will be forever entertained.

2 thoughts on “Learning to See Color in Light

  1. I’m reading your essay tonight in perfect sequence after having stood in cold awe of the colors of this wintry night. Later, the deep white of moonbeams will light up my bedroom casting grayish shadows here and there.

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