Thursday, September 24, 2015


Published April 2015

Sponsored by the award-winning commercial design specialists of NM Interiors Group at

Blissed out


It has such marvelous properties. It can mitigate depression, increase attention span, stimulate or relax, and induce a meditative state. Urban color in particular – the colors cultivated in an urban landscape – can be equal parts soothing and stimulating, simultaneously.

Urban color allows us to look away, to relax.

It lives in a variegated color environment filled with warm and cool, brilliant and neutral. While it can be intensely brilliant, it is rarely monotonous, uniformly cacophonous or claustrophobia-inducing, the way the colors in an indoor mall can be.

Color is generally non-toxic (in metro Phoenix) and has zero calories as long as you don’t eat it or cover yourself with the wrong form of it.

Best advice: Don’t ingest cadmium- or lead-based paints. Don’t apply them to body parts, either.

Bad news: "'Particles of any kind, even much smaller than the wavelength of visible light, will, as a rule, make the sky brighter but at the expense of its purity of color,' [Craig] Bohren [professor emeritus of meteorology, Pennsylvania State University] says, noting that the effect is more pronounced when there is a high concentration of large aerosols. So, although aerosols may make a sunset red, excess pollution will also dampen the overall sunset experience."

(Fact or Fiction? Smog creates Beautiful Sunsets. By Coco Ballantyne July 12, 2007.)

Then, too, not all that is colorful is, strictly speaking, color. Good design – whatever that may be – is a form of color. Texture, too, can be colorful and beautiful.

Light, itself, is colorful. Still, the flat, harsh light of the desert environment in the middle of the day can also be cruel to ambient color. Such flat – often blinding light – overwhelms the eye’s ability to distinguish nuances. Shade and shadows are erased. Mid-tones evaporate.

Colors fry.

Personally, I prefer to take my color much the way I take my very occasional drinks.  No jiggers or anything straight up for me. I’ll order a blended concoction every time… aside from root beer.

Put another way, I respect Mark Rothko and Yves Klein. Still, I’d rather hang (around) a Jackson Pollack. 

But I digress when I had intended to ramble. Mea culpa.
So. Following a very long, un-fun Saturday, I rose early and went for a run through nearby historic Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods. The temperature was excellent for this, maybe 60F. 

My path was unpremeditated, alternating between straight shots up and down Culver, Willetta and serpentine, “how did I get here” stretches, south of McDowell Avenue and west of 7th Avenue. 

After two hours or so, I was high.

Totally blissed out. On color.

It lasted the rest of the day.  The riot of fantastic colors and neat homes, wrapped in crisp air and covered with cloud sprinkled blue sky somehow dilated my consciousness. 

“Terrificness” seemed to surround me.

I’m not sure, but I think I had a very Zen day. 

(Kōan: Why is color like the Buddha? Student: It lives everywhere, infuses everything, and pays the attentive at no expense to the careless.)

At some point, it occurred to me that almost any structure looked better – more interesting, more inviting, with foliage and flowers, with color, than its blander neighbors. Take a simple shape, dress it in color, and like magic, it was a joy to behold.

Actually, it struck me that each of these lovely micro-environments was itself a sort of flower. A momentary monument to the joy of color, of light and of design.

I’m afraid that I looked more than a little suspicious to the neighborhood folks who paid any attention to me. 

After my run, I had come home, grabbed my camera and drove back down the streets that most impressed me.

Dressed in paint-spattered and smudged tee-shirt and shorts, wearing heavy boots, a “camera” bag slung over my shoulder with an open bottle sticking out – it was root beer – while walking from house to house taking photographs just seemed to arouse latent suspicions.

Go figure.

Asked by one lady why I was photographing her house, all I could say was “It’s so lovely.” When I eventually returned to my parked car, a vibrant yellow Toyota Matrix passed down by my spouse (now badly bruised and missing a fender), one of the neighbors stopped a van behind my car so that I couldn't pull out. I sat and waited. I imagine the van’s driver or passenger noted my license plate number… just in case.

I might have done the same. Vigilance is wise where burglary and breaking and entering are fairly common.

My original impulse to simply capture the beauty I had seen became an urge to share it. I hope that my delight in delicious spring and the blended joy of the neighbors’ individual experiments with color, architecture and design is at least slightly contagious.

A few more snapshots of neighborhood urban color follow, just for the joy of it.

The author of this post - gsmichaels - has resided in metro Phoenix since 1982; grew up in the rustbelt; and studied abroad. He has lived in the same historic district house, located in urban Phoenix, Arizona, for 17 years. His spouse is an ASID designer. His mother was an ISID designer. He has always earned a living as a writer of one type or another… but has never published a book. His Bachelor’s degree is in Creative Writing: Poetry. His dream vocation is fine artist. But, as it happens, he is fond of regular meals and aspires to retain both ears for the length of his days.

The author explains that he experiences his blog posts as form of manual labor with mood enhancing qualities and useful mental exercise. 

All errors and omissions are the sole responsibility of the author.

Your corrections and comments are welcome. 

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