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Holten: Color is the key

What state has better sunsets than North Dakota? There is none. North Dakota is the king of sunsets, or at least the prince in waiting.

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I saw one of those sunsets Monday night while driving in the countryside, while I was spooning a marshmallow sundae and breathing in fresh post-rain air. The bright pink accent that shot across the sky made me think about colors.

Do you have a favorite color? Is it red, blue, green or yellow?

Mine is none of the above. My favorite color is a mixture of colors.

Do you know who invented color? It was Sir Isaac Newton in the 1660s.

Well, he didn’t actually invent color. He simply invented the color wheel and he did it by placing the colors that were refracted through a prism into a segmented circle, based on the calculations of their wavelengths. Ultimately, that wheel also illustrated how combining the primary colors in different proportions could create all colors. So, in a way, that’s like inventing color.

Did you know that your choice of colors may actually reveal a whole lot more about you than you think? And that the colors in the clothes you wear might even affect your mood that day? Pretty weird huh?

Advertising executives know all too well that a product can have a completely different success level if the color of the packaging is changed. In addition, psychologists have found that specific colors in our immediate environment can help us to do a better job at performing certain tasks. For example, it is best to exercise in an environment that features warm colors, such as reds and oranges, whereas tranquil colors, like blue and green, are ideal for mental concentration.

Black is a popular non-color, but did you know that it is often worn to suppress and protect the emotions? Gray, which is the combination of black and white, symbolizes the diversity of the two, creating a state of caution. Pretty complicated isn’t it?

Speaking of color, in 1903, cousins Edwin Binney and Harold Smith invented something that was a big part of our youth and might still be today. That was the coloring stick that came to be called a crayon, which is actually a French word that means pencil.

Alice Stead Binney, Ed’s wife, is the one that named the crayons Crayola, which is a word that is a combination of the French words craie (chalk) and oleaginous (oily).

They first launched the Crayola’s in a box of eight brilliant colors, which included the primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and secondary colors (green, orange and purple) plus black and brown.

Now today, there are hundreds of different types of coloring sticks made by Crayola and they are still exploring new innovations, like crayons that glow in the dark, sparkle with tiny glitter particles, smell like flowers, change colors, wash off walls and others that are water based.

But do you know which color is the most popular one in the world? It’s blue.

That’s right. From denim blue jeans to corporate logos, the color blue is consistently ranked as the world’s favorite color, according to And the color blue has different meanings depending on the shade. For example, dark blue signifies trust, dignity, intelligence and authority, bright blue indicates cleanliness, strength, dependability and coolness, and light blue suggests peace, serenity and infinity.

Leigh Hunt, the English critic, essayist, poet and writer said that, “Colors are the smiles of nature.”

I remember watching the leaves pop out of tree branches from my upstairs bedroom window when I was a kid and thinking how those bright green colors represented new life, energy and a new beginning.

Then again, maybe color isn’t everything and perhaps there is a time and a place for color just like there is a time and a place for everything else.

After all, as Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer, once said, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.”

Holten is the editor of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at