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Color Walking

Friday, June 29, 2012 - 03:30 PM

Last month, we ran across a delightful experiment while working on the Colors show, and we decided to try it out.

Back in the day, William Burroughs dreamed up a tool to inspire his students: color walks. It's a pretty simple idea. Just walk out your door, pick a color that catches your eye, and watch your surroundings pop as you follow the color from object to object. While you walk, you'll be struck by the red of a bicyclist's shorts, the sunburn on a woman's shoulders, the pealing paint on the fire hydrant.

We decided to give it whirl, and allow ourselves the flexibility to switch from color to color: a woman’s lavender handbag might draw us to the right; a yellow cab could pull us down a side street; a green pistachio ice cream cone could shove us into the park.

We started our walk at WNYC, in lower Manhattan, one Sunday afternoon. Stepping out the revolving door, we followed blues which led us to pinks, which pulled us toward violets:

At the end of the afternoon, the colors hung in our brains and eyes. We walked away seeing a world brimming over with colors: the rusty orange of a rooftop water tower in the sun, a bright blue mohawk, and the humble yellowy greens of a new leaf all jumped into our eyes.

If you’d like to try a color walk yourself, here's our advice:

  • Give yourself an hour of uninterrupted time, no commutes, no errands, just eye time.
  • Pick a color, or let a color pick you--follow the one that makes your heart go thump-thump.
  • If you get lost, pick another color. If you get really lost, you're on the right track.

We first ran across color walks in this blog post from Sal Randolph, which features two great quotes from Burroughs: "Color: William Burroughs Walking on Color". The timeline feature above was created with Timeline JS. Map tiles by Stamen Design, under CC BY 3.0. Data by OpenStreetMap, under CC BY SA.


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Comments [12]


takes forever to load pictures, timeline must have been sucked into a wormhole

Sep. 14 2017 10:41 AM

Hello! Sorry to dig this post but your photos aren't showing in the timelinejs :(

Aug. 30 2014 09:27 PM

Sorry to be nitpicky, but did the author mean "peeling" paint - those darn homonyms!

Aug. 03 2013 03:27 PM

I did this in photography class once, we were each assigned a color to take pictures of. I was sort of astonished at how much blue my town had, especially of the interesting, electric variety.

Nov. 18 2012 10:52 PM
Barbara Fox from Shenandoah Valley VA

Fall is so beautiful with all the natural color it brings. I really get in the mood to paint. Have found it very challenging to reproduce nature' s colors but this tool makes me think in another way about painting from man's use of colors. GREAT ideas you guys share.

Nov. 03 2012 02:08 AM
Jane Neuharth from Olympia, WA

How is this different from the game that children play "I spy with my little eye...something colored YELLOW"? An oldie but a goodie to keep kids engaged on a walk.

Sep. 20 2012 04:42 PM
Aaron from Sebastopol, CA

I tried this this morning -- I was in jail by noon!

Aug. 20 2012 01:12 AM
Thonas Blaney from Oklahoma City

I have a rare eye disorder called keratoconus that makes my corneas warp asymmetrically over time. Eventually I needed cornea transplants. The first two transplants on the left eye failed and I developed a cataract after the first. During the next attempt, they also removed the clouded lens, but they kept my iris dilated too long and it became paralyzed wide open. This was before artificial lenses so they did not implant one to replace it. Next, the membrane behind the lens became clouded, so they made an incision that allowed it to separate so I had a clear path to the retina. I still got severe headaches when I tried to use both eyes together with corrective lenses because they did not develop together.

The most interesting thing was that I then saw colors differently with each eye. The left eye was much more sensitive to the ultraviolet region. So much so that the sky at sunset appeared very magenta with the left eye. It was also painful to go into bars with a black light. I also had much better night vision with one iris paralyzed open. The third cornea transplant on the left eye was finally successful, as was the first one on my right eye, the good one. That was nearly forty years ago.

I am a photographer and also had difficulty deciding the proper color balance when printing in my darkroom. Over the years, apparently my brain either adapted or the cones burned out and I no longer notice much difference in colors with each eye.

Jul. 29 2012 02:10 PM
Rob Kutch from North Carolina

Excellent show!!

First time listener. I dreamed of being a shrimp and going down the rabbit hole and colorizing with Johnny Depp.

I want to be on your show! My background is in pharmacology and nutrition. My insanity level is on par with both of you.

Graduate of LIU in New York and UH Manoa in Hawaii.

Keep up the superb quality of showmanship.

Rob Kutch

Jul. 08 2012 08:14 PM
Lauren from Japan

You should have a color walk challenge, and get readers to send in their own photo files. this would be great to do around the streets of Tokyo.

Jul. 06 2012 11:28 AM
Heather Stafford from Missouri

Color is fascinating. Great job!

Jul. 05 2012 09:29 PM
Rupert from Paris, France

Love this experiment : simple and so powerful. Good daily hack and wonderful skill to develop. Bravo!

Jul. 03 2012 08:31 AM

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