Lately I’ve been doing some simple renovations at home that have entailed choosing colours for the outside window shutters.
The process has not been as straightforward and easy as it might seem, due to the peculiar challenge of getting the right shade of yellow — important because of how it will amplify and diffuse incoming light.
The idea is that the house be bathed in golden light. There are some beautiful creamy, dreamy yellows available, but they are for interior surfaces only. In short, the dreamy pigments are put in a white base and produce gorgeous shades with names like sunflowers, sunset and melted butter.
The problem is the white base doesn’t stand up well to the rigours of direct sunshine. The colour added fades fast. Hence for exteriors, pigments are put into a yellow rather than white base for durability. That all seems simple enough — but the yellow base is a lurid greenish colour, rendering the nice pigments loud and scary.
I was advised to forget yellow altogether and go for a different colour or effect. Instead, undeterred after many years of painting pictures, I went to a paint specialist and began experimenting myself, adding pigment to neutralise the green, enhance the red, soften the leer with white. Voila! After a lot of research and effort I now have the golden hues I wanted.
The reason I tell this story is because it became a metaphor for me when I was recently advising a colleague on love and life. She’s been contemplating moving in with someone she’s been dating for a while. He is unsuited to her on paper. One might say he’d be like the florid yellow base (too bright, perhaps a bit glary). She could be described as very red: full of passion and intensity. Not a great combo and she might be advised to move on. But somehow together they’ve been able to get hold of enough white and colour shades to create a relationship that’s is a lovely, burned-butter gold.
No, he isn’t right, but because of his preparedness to tone down, refine his base, and her efforts to soften her red, blend in, throw in a splash of this ’n’ that, they’ve created this fantastic, fun connection and it’s a pleasure being with them. Ultimately, it’s about the way they interact as a “colour palette”, not who each of them are separately, that is key to the relationship’s success.
It’s the same for someone I know who just accepted a less-than-perfect new job. She isn’t sure it’s going to suit her completely. But again, if the job is yellowish then it’s what she brings to it, the alchemy of her contribution and her flexibility, that can morph it into something golden. Every encounter can be like painting our metaphorical windows, be it friendships, work or play.
The problem is today the prevailing compulsion for immediate gratification: we are groomed to expect everything now. Rather than grow things, we “throw” things and try our luck again. The Aristotelian concept that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is lost. No time given to try to bake, develop or create what may end up being luminous, radiant and almost perfect.
Choices are so abundant it’s easy to just give up and say “too yellow” and go elsewhere, rather than develop the shade via our contribution; alternatively, we buy the easier pre-made option and just let it fade — then replace it. It’s all fast and furious. A lot of younger people change jobs and partners, countries and homes regularly. The alchemy of effort is a casualty in this TV-on-demand world.
I’m old-fashioned, and I like to cook and garden. So the experience of putting my energy and tastes into the mix of the colour creation was very satisfying and nourishing. And I can see the rewards, streaming into my windows on warm rays of light. A daily, literal reminder to me: effort is golden.