Colour Theory

Redesigning the blog and the newsletter with the help of a professional was a wonderful decision. For me, it’s added the splash of colour I’ve wanted for a while. Doing so was such a privilege, and such a fascinating experience. It was the first time I actually expressed the design that I wanted for something, and I’m thrilled with the way it’s turned out.

When I was younger and we relocated houses in Dubai, I was given the chance to select the colour I wanted the walls of my room painted. We had split up the house to give each member of the family the opportunity to select what a room should feel like. My mother picked out the colours for the hall and the corridors, cream-yellow and red. My father picked out an olive green for a single wall in the master bedroom, and I picked out a sky blue for my own room. I spent hours looking at all of these colour palettes available at ACE Hardware, and when the paint consultants visited the house as well, and I struggled to pick between specific shades of blue. Ultimately it was my mother who suggested that I pick a sky blue, given that I had dark blue furniture. I remember her saying it would provide excellent contrast. I agreed, without completely understanding what contrast meant. All I knew was that I liked the colour blue.

My sense of colour was very off when I was young. There are tales in the family of how I dressed up like a multicoloured rainbow, with some shorts that didn’t go with the shirt I was wearing, and different coloured socks that didn’t pair with the shoes I wore. I don’t think I did it deliberately, but I’ve always been the kind of person who wears the clothes that are the most comfortable rather than worrying about whether they combined well together – something that irked my mom for several years. I think she began to gain some faith in me when I went off to University and didn’t look terrible there – mostly just lounging around with different kinds of jeans on T-shirts, but ensuring no clashes of colour.

Picking a colour for my room in Bangalore was easy – it was sky blue once more, this time because of the contrast offered by my dark blue felt board, chair, and beanbag. We had decided, as a family, to have one wall per room with textured paint, just to highlight the wall and bring it to life – so to speak. I picked this spatula like effect, and wanted a dark blue background with a light blue accent, but the painters overruled us and convinced us that two light blue shades would go better. They didn’t. Of the multiple things in my room I may change someday, opting for a different paint scheme for that wall would be the first.

Given this checkered history, the opportunity to express my ideas of colour to somebody who would be able to transform it into something aesthetically pleasing was something I relished. Over the past couple of months I had thought about what I desired, and it was delightful to be able to communicate that to someone else. Through the process I understood how difficult graphic design and digital art actually is, but also the multiple opportunities for editing it offers. Mokshada, whom I worked with, made these incredible iterations of every design idea she had, and made the most minor tweaks to ensure it looked exactly like what I wanted. I loved how I could see the detailing come to life – it gave me a lot of joy.

More crucially though, through the process, I discovered my own biases. I realized I have a heavy bias toward bold pastel colours and watercolours. I have a huge bias toward anything that stands out on white – which I found very strange, given my recent affection toward using Dark Mode on pretty much every application I use on my laptop. I also realized that I’m not a fan of too much colour. Just a splash. It almost felt as though these biases were literal reflections of my own personality. There are some moments where I feel like I can be shades of whatever I choose to be, but for the most part, I prefer the monochrome. I also understood how incredible Pinterest and Coolors are, for inspiration. There are so many tools out there – and I know that one day, I’d like to be able to design everything my heart desires. It’s a very satisfying feeling.

The last thing I remembered while doing all this was something I discussed with my mom when I was in Grade 9. I had just started attending Model UN conferences and wearing formal clothing outside of school. One of the things that stood out to me when I was younger was how boring the boys’ wardrobes were. I told my mom then, that I really wanted to have an expressive, colourful formal wardrobe. The irony of going to law school and becoming a lawyer is not lost on me. Hopefully academia is more accepting of colours.

This is why I’m glad ties and lapel pins exist. And funky socks.

Anyway, the redesign is now done – and I am so pleased with it all. Long may this blog continue documenting parts of my life.

The Astonishing Colour of After | Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Colour of After,
by Emily X.R. Pan
Published by Little, Brown Books (2018)
Rating: ***** 

Don’t let the number of chapters or pages in this book fool you. It’s a fast-read. Page-turning, emotionally engaging, and gripping, you’ll find yourself wondering where the time went as you finish. If you’re looking to get out of a reading slump, and fall in love with good writing again, this is a great starting point.

The story follows Leigh Sanders, a half-Taiwanese, half-American girl, as she struggles to cope with loss. On the same day she kisses the boy she’s pined over for years, her mother, Dory, commits suicide. At first the grief is overwhelming. She feels trapped in her childhood home with her distant father and the bloodstain marking her mother’s demise haunting her thoughts. Then, the night before the funeral, Leigh is roused from her nightmares by a huge crimson bird calling her name. She knows immediately the bird is her mother, the whys and hows brushed aside in the face a daughter’s longing for her mom. The plot then takes us to Leigh’s discovery of family she never knew, and her journey of “moving on” from an event she struggles to talk about or understand. All the while, her desperation to make contact with her mother once more drives her between the fantastical and the real, making this a journey unlike any other.

There’s a lot of plot depth to the book, which deserves a bit of analysis.

The first is the theme of identity. Leigh’s identity is clearly complex – she’s half-Asian and half-white, and Pan brings this out by describing how society views her. The Americans call her “exotic”, while the Taiwanese call her “hunxie”/”mixed blood”. Through these individual instances, Pan is able to portray the otherization that mixed-race people usually feel, without a strong connection to either cultural group. This conflict is also given a new layer by the presence of Axel, who is half-Filipino, and half-Puerto Rican. Their friendship and understanding, and their journey of family discovery points to the fact that both characters find comfort in each other – because there’s no other place they fit in.

The second, is how Pan tackles mental health. Now, the conversation on mental health has improved drastically – people are now more comfortable to discuss it in society, but Asian countries are notorious for their inability to accept diagnosed mental health illnesses as being real. There’s an ignorance in Asian society, which Pan is able to describe very realistically. Leigh struggles to use the word “depression”, unable to admit to herself that her mother suffers from the same. The suicide that takes place is without a note, and is committed by OD-ing on antidepressants, and several episodes are described in great detail in the novel. Pan is able to explain depression as it really is – difficult to understand, tough to explain and articulate. The biggest thing Pan achieves is that she doesn’t display “continuous sadness” as equal to depression, something I admired after I finished the book. Another achievement lies in steering away from psychonalysis or patient-blaming/patient-shaming. There’s no sugarcoating of the condition, or of death. It’s difficult, but the truth of depression is just that, and Pan’s judicious use of words deserves credit.

The third is art. Now, I wasn’t sure whether to highlight this as a theme within the book, but there’s layers to this which deserves some amount of description. Leigh, Axel, Caro, and Dory, are all artists. Each, unique, and each, with a different connection to their art. Leigh’s father, is an American academic. Stereotypes lead us to believe that strict Asian parents undermine art, viewing it as being a gateway to University, or a skill that deserves mastering purely for the purpose of mastery. What Pan does is flip the stereotype, by showing a large majority of Leigh’s social circle being pleased with art as a career choice, while Leigh’s father attempts to track her to become more “serious” and asks her questions about her future. That narrative was one I found incredibly interesting to read. It creates a tension in the familial relationship that persists throughout the novel, right until the very end. Why I believe art is a theme is also because of how well Pan is able to use colour throughout the entire book. Just like shades on a palette, I learnt about emotions I didn’t know I could ever feel – and the correlation between colour and emotion will strike a chord with any reader. It’s use as a device for me was not distracting, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Finally, the fantastic imagery and fantasy elements deserve a lot of praise. The plot is very tight, and the fantasy weaves very smoothly with plot developments taking place in reality. Pan’s conclusion hits the heart hard, describing the truth of experience and memory unlike anyone else I’ve read. Reading the book reminded me a lot of the Disney movie Coco. It incited similar emotions in me, I guess.

My only qualm with the book was the romantic side of the story. Romance sells, but in parts, the romantic uneasiness felt out of place. The conclusion to the romantic arc within the book was predictable and well built-up. It’s pace at the end, however, was rushed, and artificial. No natural love story progresses like that. There’s a lot more conversation – one that I would have loved to see the protagonists engage in. The book leaves a few things unsaid, which might annoy some readers.

All in all, a must-read, quick-read. Will make you feel things. Would recommend.