The smell of colour

It was the first time I had shared a piece of writing with my bi-weekly writing group.

Even though the other members always offer fair and constructive criticism, I had to work to keep my voice strong from behind my laptop screen.

I read out a piece I wrote for this blog last year, about working backstage at the theatre. And the others said some great things. For example, that they felt they were really there. That the nature of the piece was cinematic. A couple of people picked up on some turn of phrases I'd used that they liked.

But one thing I'd forgotten to add in was a description of smell. It's true that I usually think very visually. And sound is always a big part of working at an opera house, obviously. But smell... I tend to forget about that one.

The next night while I was at work, I kept checking in to see what things smelt like.

Hot dust around the stage lanterns. The waxy, floral perfume of make-up. The thick and cloying, boiled-sugar smell of stage blood. Hair spray and deodorant in the dressing rooms. Freshly laundered costumes. Instant coffee in the kitchen. The slightly mouldering scent of an old parasol prop.

It was a fun experiment, which led me to wonder if smell is something that can be ascribed to colour.

I love the smell of my paints – they have rich, slightly chalky, oily scents. But does cadmium red smell slightly spicy? Does Prussian blue bring to mind the earthy, water-lily smells of a moonlit lake? Does chrome yellow smell like a zesty, sun-bleached afternoon? Magenta, like a massive bowl of curling rose petals?

Probably not, but in my mind they do, and it's been interesting to take note of how much a smell can influence a mood. Maybe one day, they really will make scented paints.


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