1,200 Names for Yellow

My friend said his shirt is blue. I said, it’s cobalt. He said, that means blue, right? And I’m all, yeah, but it’s specific. And he’s all, ok, you keep busy being specific about my shirt and I’ll keep busy eating this here fish sandwich. And then I go, it’s pecan crusted catfish on black olive foccacia. And he’s all, like I said, fish sandwich.

You know what this art piece is? It’s 1,200 fish sandwiches.

Interesting Fact: The Dani people in Southern Indonesia have only two words used for color, roughly translating to day/light and night/dark.

Another Interesting Fact: Research indicates most American children, on average, learn 11 standard color terms by the age of five; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, black, white, and grey. Eleven. That’s a lot more than the peeps in Indonesia, but eleven is surely sub sufficient. People, I ask you: WHO WILL TEACH OUR CHILDREN MAGENTA?

So the question is; why must creative types like us always divide and conquer our colors? Why must we label and compartmentalize something as delicate and wonderful as the petal of a flower, or the color of the sky before the storm? Of course, some product pushing sales departments do it to describe their wares and maybe even boost sales (would you rather buy a lipstick called 45605C, or Juniper Sunrise?)…but I tend to think there is something bigger underneath it all.

Of all the colors that intrigue and perplex, yellow is the top of my list. Our associations are so extreme and contradictory; it’s the color of sunshine and happiness in our culture, while in many parts of Asia, yellow is the color illness and grief. To me, yellow means school buses and rubber duckies and buckets of buttery popcorn. It means tennis balls and taxi cabs and the convertible sports cars of men in a mid-life-crisis. It’s the cautious color of street signs and crime scenes. Watch an old Western Movie and you can’t go five minutes without someone getting called a cowardly “yellow belly.”  It’s even an ethnic slur. We have so many interpretations of this color, I thought it would be interesting to see if our perceptions carried through in our names.  Internet, meet 1,200 names for yellow.

They say Eskimos have 18 names for snow. This is 1,200 names for yellow. Every single swatch falls within “yellow” on the color spectrum, as defined by Maerz Paul’s “A Dictionary of Color1930| McGraw-Hill| New York

She’s rather old. Born 2003, just as I was finishing up at Le Super Pretentious Art School. At the time, I thought it was right to give her an equally pretentious name; Ekphrasis: Yellow: Nomenclature. Seriously, I just buried my face in my hands after typing that.  I can’t believe I was ever so full of myself to name a piece with not only one but TWO colons! And not only one but TWO words that don’t even appear in standard dictionaries. From Wiki:

Ekphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

Nomenclature is a term that applies to either a list of names and/or terms, or to the system of principles, procedures and terms related to naming – which is the assigning of a word or phrase to a particular object or property.

So, really, I should have named her Bigass List of Names for Yellow.

And while I scoff at the idea of it now, it seemed a pretty good idea back then.  Half the swatches came from typical sources like paint manufacturers, apparel catalogs, botanical guides, cosmetic companies, etc. The other half came from myself and a group of friends who made our own color identities (“ooo! this yellow is the color of my friend Karen’s Labrador, let’s name it after him” and suddenly Duncan 878 was born)….they were all recorded and referenced in a 42 page catalog no one will ever find interesting but me. But that’s Ok. I’m cool with that. I know the ‘real art’ is the catalog and not the thing on the wall. I like my catfish sandwich, no matter what you call it.

I love the center swatch on the bottom right image, named “The Thin Squealing Noises of Children on a Play Ground Making Fun of Life” courtesy of Iona O.
Notice lower left square contains three colors containing the term Saffrom, but they are nothing alike. 

The colors came from all sources, including a number of anonymous visitors who saw it in a gallery in 2004. Some really interesting stuff came out of the wood work… Golf Leaf, Nacho Cheese, Julie Andrew’s Underwear, French Pink, Forsythia, Yosemite, Pigskin, Polar Bear, Moon Dance, Murmur, Chicken Liver, Liberia, Little Dipper, Yellow Matter Custard Dripping From a Dead Dog’s Eye, Butter Finger, Ugly Deposits of Nicotine On Fingers And Teeth, That 70’s Color, Forbidding Skies…

 It was fun. I have enjoyed her for many years. Now the time has come to say goodbye.

My office is moving. Sigh. As much as I love it here, nestled on a perch above the train tracks, we are moving offices a few blocks down.  Upside: I’ll swap my view of the train tracks for a gorgeous Chagall mosaic. Downside: less wall space.  This means my gigantic art piece will be coming down.  I have no space for her at home, so before banish her to a box in the dark, I thought I would share her with you and give her one last day in the sun. Thanks for looking 🙂

New Project: Starting on September 21st (my birthday) I’m starting something new! Over the next couple weeks I’ll be painting my own color swatches and sticking them into a drawer next to my bed. Every night I plan take a new swatch card out and give it a name. Perhaps on the back I’ll write the date and what inspired me to give it that name. Or maybe not.  I don’t know. This isn’t a manifesto, just an exercise in creativity and a way to eventually look back and survey a year through bits and pieces of color. Anyone else who feels like joining in the party, feel free. This could be the start of something interesting….


  1. says

    I think it’s amazing! I’m sorry it (okay, she) has to come down. Take your face out of your hands and own the name! Nomenclature: a real word: not pretentious at all. Ekphrasis: not so much: it’s on my last nerve.

  2. Anonymous says

    Just found your lovely blog home (and wild/wacky wonderful imagination) and have enjoyed looking back on all the happiness. My sister says our kind have too much time on our hands, I say, phooey. and personally think she has oatmeal for brains!!Loved seeing your sparlking eyes in the cake sprinkle shot..just another peek of your special-ness.

  3. says

    Michelle–I know, it’s on my last nerve too. It seemed so smarty pants at the time, now it’s a term best reserved for things I find when emptying the vacuum canister, like wondrous snarls of cat hair….

    Anonymous–what a lovely compliment. Thanks for taking the time 🙂

  4. says

    Naming colors is my dream job! you’ve inspired me and I’m going to start my own wall using pink–I mean POPPY….

  5. says

    i don’t think nomenclature is a weird word at all. I didn’t know the E -word but I might add it to my list.

  6. Jillian says

    this is awesome!!!! Why don’t you do another set in green, blue, and red? that would be so cool to see together. i think i am going to try with my favorite color, which is brown :>

  7. says

    I love all the names that are created for colours, in fact when faced with a choice between two colours I will use the names to help me decide (like betting on horses.)
    One more day in the sun sounds like it could be another name for yellow.
    I found your blog through one pretty thing- the muffin patty pan light shades are cute and the name of your blog really appeals to me too.

  8. says

    I absolutely enjoyed the post. I cannot settle for just one color name and think the world would be so dull if there was just one name/hue/shade/colour of yellow!

  9. says

    I saw this picture on Made, then followed it to Flikr then here. I love it! And I thought to myself that I would love to have it on my wall. We’re big on colors here and my husband’s favorite is fushia, which brings the specific names into our house because plain ones will not do.

    But yellow is my favorite. From the muted yellow on my dining room walls to the lemons on my tree and everything in between – all 1200 shades of it. It is the happiest color to me and you’ve summed it up here. And – funny thing, too – my birthday is September 20th. We just might be on the same wave-length. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. says

    Wait a minute… Are all those yellows pinned to a large piece of corrugated plastic?? Is this where it began, or was it even earlier?

    Also, I love this. 🙂

  11. Dawn says

    Oh, I love this! This, this passion is what art is about. I adore this and am actually very sad that “1,200 Names for Yellow (Ekphrasis: Yellow: Nomenclature)” won’t be shining her light for a while. I am a pre-k teacher and I find myself longing to teach the children more than the basic colors. (I think this stems from having 3 children who have varying degrees of colorblindness – fortunately they all see color, unfortunately they can’t always distinguish shades). Thanks for you art!

  12. Anonymous says

    I really love this!

  13. Amanda says

    This is simply amazing! It’s a simple concept, but it really has a huge impact. I love that you have a color swatch called Velveeta.

    Wish I could volunteer to house-sit this for you for a while. It would make me SO happy, and it would have my husband in fits on the floor. 😀

  14. MalsDoxy says

    i want to know that color that resembles monkey vomit, you know the color I mean…not real yellow but has a tint of green….Maybe IT IS Monkey Vomit Yellow!!!


  1. […] Over 80 shades of coral and pink – her wedding colors. This concept was loosly based on this yellow art piece featuring 1,200 names for yellow I made several years back (more throwback!)…AND it harkens forward to the art piece we made […]

  2. […] diary, but a small memento to take away the sentiments of the day would be nice. Playing off my old 1,200 Names for Yellow piece, I’m going to name colors. I made myself a stack of blank swatch cards and grabbed a lot of […]

  3. […] Simple method: I painted the whole thing gray then used a 1″ brush (same width as the ticket stub) to paint each stub a different color. This could have been really slow, or really fast. I went the fast route. Sloppy painting, no long-term vision. I made lots of repeating dashes in downward lines, on-off-on-off. Then moved on to another color. Then another. Then another. The color scheme is blue or green or gray with lots of blue undertones. At one point I added red, then decided I didn’t like it and painted over the red with blue — now there are just peeps of the red here and there and it’s all the more interesting. I’d say 50% of the paints came straight out of the bottle (just inexpensive craft paint, btw), and the other 50% came from a mixture of the last paint I used but mixed with a squirt of white. Or royal blue. Or navy. Just whatever was in easy reach. That’s the nice thing about doing this sort of ‘common core color’ painting, you really can’t go wrong. Eventually it will all blend an dance, so long as there is a common thread color, which is in this case, blue. Some years back I did a quasi-similar piece with 1,200 shades of yellow. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *