Last week, I discovered a blog I hadn't previously seen called 'Finding Simplicity', after Sharon - the author - left a comment on this blog. Her blog has been running for about the same length of time as mine and she writes some very well-researched, thought-provoking stuff about her endeavours to live a more simple life. One of the posts that particularly caught my eye is called Six years of change, where she examines a list of things she felt she couldn't live without six years ago to see whether they still hold true today. I've added Finding Simplicity to my typelist of Sites to Inform, Inspire and Delight if you'd like to catch up with Sharon yourself.
Reading Sharon's list prompted me to consider what might have been on my own list of things, that I felt were really vital to my life, as recently as twelve months ago. At that time any list of mine - had I written one - would have been bound to include 'retail therapy trips' and 'my credit card' in the top ten. Given that my family (including my dogs), a roof over my head and enough money to live on would have been on both lists, my new list would abandon the retail therapy and credit card and in their place would be 'our allotment' and 'time to do things properly'. Above both of these, though, would be 'colour'!
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that colour is such a vital ingredient in my life, given that this entire blog is such a visual feast of it. In fact, my appreciation of colour has developed further as a direct result of taking photographs for Being Creative. How the eye - and subsequently the brain - interprets colour depends on the changing light levels throughout the day and even the sun's changing position in the sky as we pass through the seasons. Depending upon when you photograph flowers, for instance - with their intoxicating combination of colour and scent - their brightness can scorch your retina at one extreme or look totally washed out at the other. My love of colour has become so profound, that I like to think that if I were cut in half, it would reveal a rainbow of colours running through my body, rather like the lettering in a stick of rock! I feel it has become part of the very fibre of my being.
One of the most wonderful things about colour - from the point of view of this blog - is that it is free to everyone who has the gift of sight; that is to say, almost all of us, yet it is a potential source of joy that is frequently overlooked. Our society encourages us to provide lots of bright and stimulating colours for babies and young children - just look at the colours of Playmobil - but similarly expects those children to abandon them in favour of more muted, serious tones as they become adults. Most of the paint and furnishing fabrics that are sold in this country are in subtle 'neutral' tones. I am going to stick my neck out here, though - like the child who announced the emperor to be devoid of clothing - and suggest that they are just dull. Where is the joy in waking up to a bedroom full of beige? My particular bete noir is magnolia. I imagine this is a highly popular shade, since all new buildings seem to be painted with it but for me, it's blend of pink, blue and yellow tones emulate the skin colour of someone who is very poorly indeed. How relaxing is that to live with?
My faith in both IKEA - through its catalogue - and Country Living magazine rose a notch this week after they both encouraged readers to embrace colour in their lives. IKEA's war cry of "Be brave not beige" mirrors my own maxim that 'life is too short for beige' and Suzy Smith has stuck her neck out -long overdue in my opinion - by writing, "Enough of quietly tasteful interiors and gardens: what everyone needs is an injection of colour to mark the last days of summer with a flourish". Here, here!!! To be honest, colour has only become so enjoyable to me, on a conscious level, in the last ten years. Before that I probably regarded it like most other people; nice in small doses but a minefield of possible expensive mistakes. Strangely, what changed my mind was going to work in a school. When I first started there, the library was a very small, under-used room which was painted in a shade which was possibly related to lilac but looked for all the world like something that had run in the wash. Everytime I came into the room my heart sank when I saw it. I persuaded the then head to let me re-paint it and selected a warm shade, the colour of vanilla ice cream. As the library increased in popularity I asked for, and was granted, a much bigger room at roughly the same time as the old head decided the whole school should be painted in the school colours of blue and yellow. Instead of primrose and navy, I bought turquoise for the walls and golden yellow for the noticeboards and painted it all myself. The room faced south and east and caught the sun for the entire day. The tranquility of the turquoise made for a most relaxing environment and even the Ofsted inspectors chose to write their reports in there in preference to the rooms they had been allocated!
Secondly, wherever I've lived and whatever I've been doing, I have always participated in fundraising of one kind or another and I gravitated towards this in my library role, playing an active part on the College Council. Quite early on in my time there, a Year 7 girl came to me and asked if we could raise money towards finding a cure for breast cancer, as her mum's best friend was suffering from the disease. Noting that pink was the colour chosen to represent the relevant charities, we held a Think Pink day throughout the school. I liked to play my part on such days and felt I should be suitably attired, though I had always associated pink with being an insipid shade knitted up for baby girls by doting grandmothers. Once I started wearing it - in several of it's many hues - I found it both suited my colouring and lifted my spirits. To the children - and my fellow staff - I became synonymous with pink!
One of the greatest influences on me - in terms of deepening my passion for colour - has undoubtedly been the work of the designer, Tricia Guild. She takes her inspiration from nature and as such combines colours that are traditionally seen as conflicting, such as blue with green or red with pink and orange. As she quite rightly - in my view - points out, there are no clashes in nature! Her only UK shop - on the King's Road in Chelsea - is a colourist's paradise and a joy to behold even if you don't buy anything. It does, however, sell fabrics, cushions, bedlinen, etc, of exceptional quality and their sales are legendary for their reductions, particularly towards the end of the sale period. Occasionally, some of it ends up in TK Maxx which saves you the expense of a rail ticket to London. The more frugal - or financially-challenged - amongst us can order her books from the library. I particularly recommend the titles Think Pink, which is about the power of colour to transform our environment and Private View, a collection of images and impressions that inspire her as a designer. While you're placing your library order, another book to whet your appetite for colour is The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket. Jane has a blog called Yarnstorm, which started out as a blog about knitting but soon encompassed other crafts as well as her love of baking and gardening. She also illustrates both the blog and her book with her own beautiful photographs. In addition to the wonderful colour there are a handful of recipes, one of which - Oaty Vanilla Biscuits - provides the perfect base for Nigel Slater's Strawberry Mascarpone Tart.
As I said earlier, I think a lot of people are scared of introducing colour into their lives for fear of making expensive mistakes.If you have never thought of yourself as someone who enjoys colour but would like to give it a whirl, try starting with a bunch of flowers - or even a single flower - in a shade that really appeals to you and keep looking at it now and again throughout the day to see how it makes you feel. Flowers are relatively cheap - or you can pick them from your garden, if you have one - and either way they don't last, so you won't have to live with something you hate. The next step is to replace things you use regularly - once they wear out - with a colourful version. This could be anything from a tea towel to a dog lead or even a 'bag for life' from the supermarket. One of the best and cheapest ways to enjoy colour is by sowing a packet of seeds or bulbs. If you don't have a garden you could grow them in pots on your windowsill. If you want to go the whole hog and start re-decorating, paint is one of the cheapest mediums and can easily be painted over if you dislike the result. Better still is to paint a piece of lining piper with a matchpot of your chosen shade to see if you still like it over the space of a few days.
Our own house faces south, so gets plenty of light throughout the day, while the back can be quite dark, especially in winter. To maximise the available light, all the walls are painted white and colour has been added with soft furnishings - such as the rug above - and certain pieces of woodwork, like the doors or our kitchen cupboards. The impact that colour has on us will be different for everyone and discovering your own favourite combinations can be exciting in itself. Some time ago I banished black from my wardrobe, as even in the summer months it makes me look pale and drawn. Instead, I've discovered that both of my favourite colours to wear - most pinks and turquoise blue - combine much better with shades of brown, from caramel to chocolate. So I urge everyone who reads this - at a time of year when nature is at her most bold and brilliant - to embrace a little colour in your lives. As Tricia Guild so aptly states, "One of the joys of developing your sensitivity to colour is that every day offers an opportunity to savour the satisfaction of what colour can do; a shaft of sunlight illuminating the petals of a rose; the dusty sheen of black grapes on a blue ceramic plate. And life is always the richer for such moments."