Mark Ballard

Attraction to color seems to be innate

Do you ever wonder what attracts people to certain colors and designs? What makes one person comfortable surrounded by very little color while others enjoy bright colors all around them? In other words, what determines our attraction to color? I think we are born with it.

It all seems to start as children, when we were handed a box full of crayons filled with every color from Sky Blue to Apple Green. As soon as our box was opened, we all grabbed certain colors to which we were attracted. You could always tell which colors one liked most because those particular crayons would be very short, with their surrounding paper all torn away. Other crayons remained in pristine condition, with their points completely intact.

As we grow up, mature and start to develop our tastes, we are able to showcase our personalities by the clothes we wear and how we choose to decorate our private spaces. For a long time, I felt like everyone had to like the exact same things I did, but now I realize it is OK to like different things. Our choices make a statement about who we are.

The other night this fact was clearly illustrated at an impromptu gathering of friends at my home. We had gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of our longtime friends. How we met years ago involved the decorating of her home. And, yes, color was definitely involved.

As many of you well know, I love color. I have the interior walls in my home painted with bright colors, complete with matching fabrics. Being an artist, it is no surprise to me that I like color so much. Take my word for it. I have colored with many a crayon until I could barely hold the wax nub that was left.

Years ago, a friend called me one day to tell me she had given my name to one of her newest neighbors so I could talk to her about helping her pick out colors for her house. I called the lady, and we chatted on the phone. It didn’t take me long at all to realize that her favorite color was brown. That was usually the one color that was left untouched in my crayon box.

So, before we went any further in the decorating process, I decided it might be a good idea for her to drop by my house to see the kinds of things and colors I liked. She came over immediately. As she walked into my living room, I could see the color leaving her face. I didn’t have to take her blood pressure to see she was visibly shaken. In fact, I think she gasped for breath more than once.

Much to my surprise, she still wanted me to help her. Standing in my living room, she said something very interesting that I have never forgotten. She said, “I like this for you, but it is not for me.” I assured her I could work with more neutral colors. And with that, our decorating relationship began.

Oil and water come to mind when I think of our decorating sessions. There was simply no way we were going to mix. Every time I would try and sneak in some “faint” color, she would quickly remove it from the room. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I liked it, it was probably not for her.

Something very surprising and unlikely happened on the road to decorating her home. There among the earth tones and muted browns, we became friends. That’s right, friends that didn’t like the same colors and things, but friends that related on other levels.

As the years passed, it has been an ongoing joke that to buy her a gift, it had to meet certain criteria. First, it had to be something that I would never buy for myself. Second, it had to be somewhere in the color range between “mud” and “clay.”

Finally, it had to be rusty and worn. I often kidded her that if I saw something I thought she might like but it appeared to be too new or unblemished, I would be forced to drag it behind my car before I gave it to her.

All of her close friends know how difficult it is to buy a gift for her. Some of us have used the method of trial and error to get to where we are today. As we all sat in my living room the other night, it became time for her to open her gifts. You could tell everyone was a little apprehensive. Keeping with the theme, I wrapped the gift my wife and I were giving her in plain brown paper with masking tape and a chocolate-colored bow. She opened it and almost cried, so I knew we had once again passed the “brown” gift test. But then again, I have had a lot of practice.

As each gift was opened, we anxiously awaited her response. Everything was fine until a new friend and her husband gave a beautiful pink, tropical paradise scented candle. When she took it out of the gift bag, we all gasped. It was doomed from the start. One, it was pink and two, it had a fragrance.

We all laughed. I knew deep down inside that the pink candle was not going home with our friend. She didn’t want to hurt any feelings, but it simply wasn’t going to happen. Several of us in the room wanted it. I even tried to trade one of my brown unscented candles for it, but the person who gave it offered to take it back and exchange it. I’m quite sure that mistake will never be made again.

As the last person left and I began to turn off the lights in the living room, I smiled. What a wonderful thing to have such a variety of people who like such a variety of things. My mother always told me, “If we all liked the same things, it would be a very boring world!” That is so true. We had just had a room full of people where every color of crayon in the box was used. Including brown! Go out and create something beautiful with your favorite colors this week.

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Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478) 74-4390; or call (478) 757-6877.

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