Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.

One of the bizarre side-effects of the Internet’s existence is that we all have constant access to a bevy of nerds overthinking everything and turning unimportant minutiae into anal-retentive infographics. One such case is a recent graphic posted to Reddit by Stephen Van Worley that depicts the explosion of Crayola’s crayon color lineup over the last 110 years, in timeline form. You can follow the chart from left to right as the original eight colors (black, brown, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, red) in the crayon company’s first box splinter and splinter again, until your eyes are assaulted by the rainbow-vomit of the 120 distinct colors they sell today, including things that totally aren’t even colors like “outer space” and “macaroni and cheese.” It’s fascinating, in the same way a crash between a semi-truck full of paint and a freight train full of markers might be fascinating.

And it’s enough to make you contemplate your own mortality. Here I am, almost thirty years old, and what have I accomplished? Meanwhile, Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith, the founders of Crayola, built an empire that’s lasted more than a century, simply by convincing kids that more than eight colors existed and they had to have them all. It was Pokémon before Pokémon was a I was once concerned that Crayola’s nearly infinite color lineup would stifle the creativity of lazy, entitled Millennials, but now I wonder if the exact opposite is actually true.thing, and just as Nintendo can convince kids that the zillionth variation on a weasel merits yet another $50 cartridge purchase, Crayola can keep you buying new assortments of crayons by making you think there’s a significant difference between “laser lemon” and “unmellow yellow.”

If I sound cynical, it’s probably because I’m a cynic. I still remember twenty years ago when my parents bought me the every-color-ever assortment of Crayola crayons for Christmas. I was thankful for it, of course, and used it to make plenty of pretty-good-for-a-twelve-year-old art, but because I’m better at thinking than drawing, I actually spent much more of my time sitting with the collection in my bedroom, reading the rediculous names on the crayons and pondering whether it was “right” for those crayon people to just make colors up like that. Manatee” is not a color, Crayola. Stop pretending that “manatee” is the name of a color. I see right through you. The emperor has no clothes.

I’m, uh, starting to see why I had so few friends back then.

I even wrote a poem for sixth-grade English, mercilessly mocking the whole farce. Said poem has been lost to the mists of time, but I do remember one stanza:

Cornflower, burnt sienna—
Straight from Vienna!
Navy-blue, navy-pink, navy-green!
This one has no name…
Wait! It looks the same
As my purple-magenta-marine!

Ha! Consider yourselves thoroughly skewered, Crayon-Industrial Complex!

Yet, despite my fearless attempt to #OccupyCrayola, said Complex marched on. I’m always amazed, when I glance down the children’s art aisle at the local big-box store, at how much yellow I see—they may as well call it the Crayola Aisle. And there’s good reason for that: there’s just no real competition for Binney, Smith & co. The closest thing is RoseArt, and everyone knows their crayons are pallid, waxy garbage—an insult to the word “crayon” itself. You’d be better off saving your money and coloring with used birthday candles. No, for crayons, there really only is one name.

You’d think a good set of crayons would be an easy product for competitors to duplicate, but you’d be wrong.

And whatever else you may say about Crayola, they really are one of American capitalism’s greatest success stories. Their art supply empire is built not on greed or a lust for power, but on a genuine passion for pigments and art supplies. Before Mssrs. Binney and Smith even launched their iconic crayons, they were winning international awards for for making darker blacks and less-dusty chalk. They actually earned every inch of their big-box shelf space by working tirelessly to make a peerless product.

It’s a common saying that human creativity mirrors (or ought to mirror) God’s, and God’s creation contains either three or infinite colors, depending on how you want to count. Every color is made of varying mixes of red, green, and blue, and yet the universe contains infinite hues, saturations, tints, textures, and glosses. Every color that can possibly exist is already somewhere in the universe.

And yet, there’s still so much art to be made.

I was once concerned that Crayola’s nearly infinite color lineup would stifle the creativity of lazy, entitled Millennials, but now I wonder if the exact opposite is actually true. After all, the Creator’s creativity precedes the creature’s. Placed into a universe that may be literally infinite, we still find infinite ways to rearrange it into works that glorify God. In a world of infinite colors, there are still infinite pictures to be colored. In a world of infinite words, there are still infinite books to be written.

A few months ago, I strapped my one-year-old daughter to my back and we walked to the Target store a block away from our apartment. We were wandering aimlessly, but we eventually found our way to the Yellow Aisle, where she latched onto a Crayola crayon assortment with a purple unicorn on the box. Initially, I scoffed at the floor-to-ceiling assortment of assortments (how many variations on the old box-of-eight-crayons do we really need, guys?), but the thing was only 99 cents, so I bought it for her.

All the way home, she clung to the box, giggling and excited.

When I put her into her highchair with the crayons and some paper, she immediately grabbed the sparkly purple one like a dagger and began to scribble, laughing and smiling at her first taste of creativity. And I had to smile as well, because my creation was creating. A creation of God was creating for God. And Binney and Smith’s legacy lived on, not just as a crassly commercial moneymaking enterprise, but as a means for a child to brush her tiny hand against her Father’s face.

Image by Stephen Van Worley.


3 Comments

  1. “Every color is made of varying mixes of red, green, and blue, and yet the universe contains infinite hues, saturations, tints, textures, and glosses.”

    Not to be too picky, but actually the 3 primary colors are red, >>yellow<< and blue. Green is made by mixing blue and yellow. Sorry. Pet peeve. Drives me nuts when people list the primaries as red, yellow, blue "and green." Nope. (Which you didn't, I realize, thank you very much by the way, and my guess is that the above was just a typo. I'll leave it at that.) :o)

  2. Actually, I was referring to additive color theory, where different wavelengths of light are mixed to produce the entire visible spectrum — and the primary additive colors are red, blue, and green. What you’re thinking of is subtractive color theory, where different pigments are mixed to absorb light, and the primary subtractive colors are magenta (not red), cyan (not blue), and yellow.

    1. Well, your article is about crayons, which would imply pigments, I would think, more than light, and if you’re going to be mixing colors for a work of art, (which would mostly involve pigments for us humans) you are typically going to be using red rather than magenta – and red is what you will find on most color charts. As for cyan and blue, cyan is a specific shade of blue.
      No need to get bristly.

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