Negligence of the White Crayon
As a child, I spent far too long doodling in bright splashes of colour – Reds, Yellows, Blues and greens of all sorts from my box set of 12 crayons. Though for the life of me, I don’t remember really touching the white one much. Perhaps maybe once or twice out of curiosity, just to see what new bizzare drawing I could come up with my unorthodox colour choice – though most times I just end up tossing it aside after finding my pristine white crayon “dirtied” somehow after abuse layering on top of the nonsense doodles I already had. The white crayon is always the longest to stay in that box and the first to be thrown out mind you.
Mark Making to be seen, not conceptually thought of
That bright marking of red, a joy on my plain sheet of white paper, now an eyesore on my white crayon. You couldn’t really “see” white crayon on white paper much either. The very least, the concept of mark making seemed far too difficult for me to comprehend at the time, especially since drawing was taught to me as something to be “seen” not conceptually thought of. If I couldn’t see my white butterfly on paper, what was even the point then? This is opening a whole nother can of theoretical worms that we could get into another time.
To most young children, white was not a colour, medium or concept. White was just a base for other more richer colours to shine through. White was and is easily cast as the representation of a clean and pristine canvas. Of course, as we grow and age, we find other uses for white as a drawing or painting medium, usually as a point for inciting stark contrasts or positive/negative spacing in works. Which – while not unique in anyway, gets the point across. White transforms from being just the “base” of colour, to being a colour in itself – white crayon, come back my dear friend.
This is less a discussion on colour theory and more of why we allow our thought process to perceive white as the base for clean colour choices in the first place? I’d also hate to be that chick who generalizes on the issue, but by first hand account with teaching kids on my own a couple of years back, I can’t say this has not been ingrained into them. “My brown paper is dirty”, I remember one of them saying. What would encourage them to call a perfect by all natural accounts, clean piece of brown paper “dirty”? It is because the colour that comes out from it is not as they envisioned. Is muddy blue still not blue even when layered over a brown surface?
Truthfully, we can never truly homogenize the collective experiences of humankind towards colour. Likewise we can’t really generalize the experiences each differing society has with learning colour at an elementary level as well.
But whatever it may be, just as white becomes the default colour thought of for a blank canvas, perhaps it’s time help subvert the meaning of a “clean sheet of paper” to our kids too.