I try to make sure that a print of my drawing Paint Brushes sits near the front of my display at art shows, with a sign attached that asks, ‘What Color Is The Paint?’ This subtle ploy draws a small audience of curiosity seekers throughout the day, some of whom, it is hoped, will stick around to see the rest of my work, and maybe take some home with them.
The answer is Burgundy, but I’d accept any of the wine colors from rose´ to claret, including purple, maroon, scarlet, sanguine, or just plain red.
When first planning this harmless ruse, I expected people to puzzle over the black & white design for a while, and, once they were convinced they'd missed the hidden clues, either give up or say “Black.” I’d hoped so, anyway, purely for entertainment purposes.
Mine as much as theirs, to be honest. One quickly grows accustomed to the view from inside an artist's booth. Diversion of any kind is welcome. After they realized the futility of their efforts, they would ask for assistance in finding the answer, and I would be able to engage them in the kind of conversation that leads to a sale.
That was the plan, anyway, and in real life the scenario often unfolds according to script.
I was not prepared however for the percentage of people who glance at the drawing, then suddenly smile and look over at me in triumph.
“Red,” they say, with complete confidence.
“How did you know?” I ask, though it has been a long time since I was surprised by their answer. “How did you figure it out so quickly?”
It’s not an impossible task, of course. I’m not trying to fool these people. After staring at the picture for a little while, an attentive few will figure out what’s going on, and arrive at the proper solution.
Paint Brushes is a type of design called a linear tessellation, made up of a series of shapes that repeat themselves along a row. In this drawing, each pair of brushes outlines the shape of a wine glass. The stripe of paint on the wall behind them gives the illusion of deep red wine in the cups. (The same trick is at work in Long-Stem Rose´s.)
Unless you know what you're looking for ahead of time, it usually does require a small investment of time and study to discover the stemware in this optical illusion, and come up with the correct answer. The fact that so many were finding it in moments was a real surprise.
“How did you figure it out so quickly?” I ask.
“Because of the little valentine sitting on the shelf.”
Valentine? I didn't know there was a valentine in this picture. They are kind enough to point it out to me.
“See? It’s right here.”
Oh. That. I have to agree, it does look kind of like a valentine. After drawing the outlines of the paint brush design on paper, I decided it looked rather bland. So I added a small drop of paint to one side of the board, to suggest a hint of action. That helped.
Somehow a single oval paint drop wasn’t good enough, though. The picture demanded … another drop? No, not another separate drop. Blend them together, so it looks like a little artist’s palette. Yeah, that works.
It never occurred to me that these drips would be interpreted as a heart.
The joke’s on me, I suppose, but that doesn’t get them out of the woods as far as the puzzle is concerned.
“Red!” they say.
“Show me you work,” I reply, doing my best to mimic my high school math teacher, and together we examine the drawing, until the whole picture comes into focus.