As deep as you can,
even the robin, singing.
spotted with fire
like a fallen sun.
It starts with blue. Autumn skies are different from the skies of summer or spring. This is the first ingredient. Then, copper, rust, terracotta, amber and gold, streaked with green – the green of glass bottles, the turquoise of the shallow sea, and the deep blue green of the ocean.
I start to see these colours when I close my eyes and sometimes dream of them. They feel like perfume, or wine, or freshly ground coffee, or chocolate; I swear I’m absorbing them just by gazing at them. I’m drinking them in.
It’s not enough just to think of them, so I get out my palette and let two colours loose on the page. Phthalo Turquoise and Burnt Sienna spread themselves in brilliant glory and then collide, a confluence of energy swirling and merging, creating currents of soft new colours without names. I’ve stopped thinking; I think I’ve forgotten how to speak. I’m lost in colour.
What does colour mean to you?
When the ground is suddenly blanketed in a thick and glorious carpet of golden leaves and the sun is shining, what do you do? Taking photographs sometimes just isn’t enough for me; I had to soak it all up by drawing.
Other people obviously felt the same; I watched a family photo-shoot which was mostly about rolling in leaves, getting buried in leaves, throwing showers of leaves and just lying in mounds of them. And then collecting handfuls of them to take home.
This is a public park and these are not people that I know, so I wouldn’t have taken photographs of this family – but it seems nobody minds a sketcher. There’s something delightfully reassuring about this. It feels like a moment shared.
Every day a little more colour.
Every moment, change – clouds part suddenly and then close in again; the afternoon draws in. The hour before dusk is a slow gathering of shadows and a ripening of glowing colour.
I soak it all in. I stand about under the trees and look up, head back, gazing up through the canopy and the next moment I’m crouching down, with leaves rustling like paper bags and the smell of damp earth under me.
Closer and closer. To get lost in it all, to forget everything else and sink into this colour, this hour, this moment that will never come again.
Every day this week, walking through the edge of the wood that leads to the park has felt like being in the bottom of a giant salad bowl. Yesterday afternoon in warm windy sunshine I clambered up the bank and felt quite dizzy with the greenery all around, above me and below me, and the wind tossed the leaves like a salad being shaken. For a moment I almost lost my footing and felt as if I was tumbled about in a swirling world of a hundred different greens.
These days I’m often not too steady on my feet, but if I can get out there nothing’s going to stop me from climbing up a bank. I held on to the trunk of a giant lime tree and took a deep breath. Newly mown grass. Lime blossom.
Time to pick my way carefully and back down to the path.
I find myself longing for the colour blue, reaching out for it wherever and whenever I can. I want to soak it in, as if I could absorb it the way my skin can take in sunlight, and if I can’t actually see anything that’s blue enough to satisfy my thirst for it I shut my eyes and let my mind fill with the colour of a cloudless sky.
Today I didn’t have to imagine it.
Today we had sunshine as well, and although I didn’t manage to photograph it there was an enormous bumble bee burrowing headfirst into the flowers. First crocuses, and now bees and sunshine. I know it won’t last because that’s how it is; spring comes in fits and starts, but this was the first real taste of what will come and everyone feels the happier for it – every walker in the park today was quick to smile. In the lime trees a song thrush was belting out a glorious improvisation of cascading trills and melodies, and repeating each bit of song (which is what I’ve since learnt that song thrushes do) as if for the sheer enjoyment of it.
On days like this it’s better not to think, not to try to put anything into words, but just to look and listen and feel, to soak it all in and be refreshed and replenished. And I had to share these too.
This time of year is the hardest, when the skies hardly ever seem to be anything but grey, and the drab dullness of wet woods and sodden fields is only occasionally lifted into life by the sudden brief appearance of the sun. I’d been yearning for colour so badly that it had become a real sensation of emptiness, like hunger or thirst.
It had been raining for days and I hadn’t been out for more than a few minutes at a time, so when I got to the park again after almost a week I was completely taken by surprise – carpets of colour; purple and lavender and white, flashes of bright emerald green, and the tiniest punctuation of yellow. There was even a moment or two when the sun came out from behind the clouds. I got down on my knees in the wet grass and pushed my face as close in amongst them as I could, and just looked, and took great long breaths of colour.
They are not yet as beautiful as they were last year, and perhaps they won’t be – perhaps that was the result of freezing temperatures that carried on well into March, so that they arrived late, in April, whereas this year the ground has been drenched with rain and stayed unfrozen for the entire winter. But the effect on me was the same, and always will be; it’s like coming across an oasis after travelling for months in a desert. I just have no words for how grateful I am. For those of you who are still in the grip of winter, may Spring come soon, and in the meantime I send you the blessing of crocuses.
Sometimes, in order to stop thinking, I soak up a favourite colour. I’ll let myself be drawn into anything that overwhelms me with colour, whatever colour it is. I gaze at it wordlessly and marvel at what it is until I’m completely lost in the intensity of it.
There’s a Western called Billy Two Hats in which the character played by Gregory Peck is preoccupied by the colour green. Being Scottish and finding himself in the American West in a landscape with almost no green anywhere, he finds himself pining for the colours of his native land. I realise how during the course of this summer, much of the mid-west of America must have understood this obsession – while over here in Britain, until August the colour that we all fantasised about was blue, the iconic colour of a summer sky.
Here we have an abundance of green, and it’s one of the colours that I most often like to immerse myself in until I feel I’m almost swimming in it. There are times after rain, when the sun comes out and plants are still covered with water droplets – and times when the sun catches blades of grass or shines through leaves, when you can stand under a tree and be dappled by shadows and enclosed in a green world; then it’s not hard to let everything else drop away, to find words have become unimportant and irrelevant, and to be aware only of where you are standing, and the colour green….
Then there’s red. So many individual shades of it – each one with its own character like different kinds of music. When I drop into the unconsciousness of colour like this it’s rather like breathing it in – like smelling it, or even feeling it like the air in my lungs.
White is not a colour, but the absence of it – as detergent manufacturers are always fond of reminding us with their products that are supposed get our whites whiter and brighter.
Paint companies on the other hand, understand that we know that white is never, well, just white. They want us to choose from Pearl White, Oyster White, Almond White, Rose White. The whites I know and love are Bedroom Curtain White, Cloud White (there are some wonderful ones as I look out of the window right now) and Sheep White (I can see some of those too in the distance, dotted across fields of green) – but there I go again – bringing words into it, getting away from the whole point of it all…..
….it’s the curse of language. We need words to disentangle our thoughts sometimes, and to explain what we’re thinking to ourselves and others, and yes, when used creatively they too can take us into the same state of mind that sensations, like the simple pleasure of soaking up colour, can. But how badly we need to spend more time without words, doing nothing more than watching a sheep (or a picture of one) and just loving its whiteness and woolliness. I think I need to go off right now and fold some newly washed sheets, and maybe iron some pillowcases.