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Color Your World

Ever try the Facebook application, “What Color Crayola Crayon Are You?”. Periwinkle?  Blue-Green?  Red-Orange?  For Baby Boomers, who make up a good segment of the Facebook demographic, the quiz immediately conjures images of the coveted yellow and green box of 64 crayons with the built in sharpener.  I still remember getting my first box and how I almost didn ‘t want to use the crayons so that they would stay sharp and new.  

For most of us, our first introduction to any of the visual arts was through crayons.  Scribbles on paper or walls, the enchanting sticks gave flight to our imaginations and allowed us to express, in color, our interpretation of the world around us.  Thanks to Binney and Smith, Crayola ‘s developers, children have been creating technicolor magic since 1903.  Prior to that, crayons were a tool used primarily by artists.  

Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith were cousins who owned a small, 21 year old business called Peekskill Chemical Co. which dealt primarily with red oxides and black pigments used in barn paint. The cousins also manufactured chalk and were the first to introduce “dustless” blackboard chalk to the world in 1902 which won them a gold medal at the 1904 Worlds Fair. In addition to chalk, they also produced slate pencils for classrooms, but up until 1903, artist crayons were too expensive for schools to purchase.  Using pigments from natural resources and wax paraffins, Binney and Smith developed an inexpensive method for producing color crayons. The newly named “Crayola” ( a combination of the french word “craie” for chalk and “ola” derived from the word “oleaginous” meaning oily) crayons were first shipped to schools on Indian reservations by the United States government.  The 1903 crayon boxes sold for a nickel and contained eight colors; black, brown, blue, red, purple, green, orange and yellow.  Today, Crayola boxes contain up to 120 crayons with names like Jazzberry Jam, Caribbean Green, Sunset Orange and Mountain Meadow. There are glitter crayons, crayons that smell like fruit or flowers, glow in the dark colors and wash off the walls washables.  Crayola, which is now owned by Hallmark, has diversified to encompass a universal selection of childrens ‘ art products that goes far beyond the mere crayon.  

But it is the crayon that brings us back to our childhood roots.  Look around in any restaurant that provides white place mats and crayons for kids, and you are sure to see an impressive amount of adults coloring as well.  Why?  Because when we pick up a crayon we lay down our burdens of adulthood and allow ourselves to indulge, even if for a little while, in the freedom to just be. to live in the moment, like when we were children, free from responsibilities, deadlines, financial woes, relationship problems.  The biggest decision we have to make when faced with that box of 64 is whether to choose Magenta or Carnation Pink to color with. Crayon lines are a little irregular, not exact and precise like a pencil line. So crayons also teach us to relinquish our desire for control which, as adults, we often have such a problem with.  The actual act of coloring is relaxing and provides a vent for emotional release. It calms us, and centers us. A therapeutic break for the price of a box of crayons.  

I would like to proclaim that in our busy lives, each day, we take an hour, a lunchtime, a coffee break or ten minutes, and pick up a box of crayons and just COLOR!  Inside the lines, outside the lines, something beautiful or nothing special at all. No artistic ability required.  With each colorful stroke, allow the luxury of releasing a few frustrations, a few worries, pain, guilt or anger. Smile.Re-introduce your self to your inner child and remember back to when you were kid and crayons transformed your world.  And when you get home, be sure to hang your finished work of art on the refrigerator.

Tere Barbella is an arts educator in the East Side Union High School District of San Jose, California.

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