I am indebted to François Matarasso for this delicious joy for my 55 Joys list. Ever since he suggested it in February, it’s made me pay a little more attention to the park I often run in, walk through to work, rush through to get a bus or train, or stride through to or from the hospital, fear at bay – or not. I’ve looked at the shades of spring and summer wondering if now is the right time to gather enough tones for a paint chart. There have been many occasions where there were dozens if not hundreds of possible colours to collect – but time. So little ‘spare’ time, extra time.

Usually my spare time is taken up with more work – book writing, Fun Palaces work, reading someone else’s book that I’ve rashly agreed to read to be useful (I’m planning to stop this in 2019, as a fairly slow reader it means I read way too rarely for pleasure), fitting things in that I can’t get done in the time I hoped they’d take. And then there are meetings or gardening or running or yoga-ing or swimming or being in pain or whatever, friends, family.  Life things. All good – or at least ok.

And yet, when I was a kid I did just … make things, play. I painted, I drew, I wrote poems and songs and little plays and stories. I did them all for fun. Now, and for decades since my creativity became my work, there is little room for creative play.

This was the offer :

Go to a park or garden and make a paint chart out of all the colours you can find (leaves, petals etc.). By make a paint chart, I mean cut little squares or rectangles from the leaf and paste it onto a sheet of paper or card, but they all need to be the same size and perfectly aligned, just like Dulux do. Or you can make a colour scale from jasmine to peat just out of dead leaves. Or a mosaic from petals. Or you might have fun naming the colours you can find. The joy is in really looking at the colours you can find and how different they are, and then treating nature’s cast-offs as if they were precious. Which they are.

So today, having written the 1000+ words I promised myself I would, there was a little ‘extra’ time. I went to our park and instead of running through it for exercise or for a train, I just walked, fairly slowly. I chose different shades of browns and yellows and a touch of red. It’s more winter than autumn now, so most of the choice was in the range of brown, but such a range – rich and loamy and pale and soft and textured and smooth. It was all of the 1970s and some ’80s thrown in.

Then I made this. The colour names all mean something to me. Some of them might mean something to you too. (I hope you don’t know what all of them mean, that would be weird.) I liked how defined the task was, that helped. For those of us who don’t think of ourselves as visual artists (for people like me who grew to believe they were ‘rubbish’ at art while still a child) a defined task can be useful. In the same way I suggest to new writers that timed writing exercises and aiming to write a certain number of words or in a particular form is useful. It’s a boundary we can do our best within – ‘do anything’ is too big an offer, ‘do something a bit like this’ is useful. Especially as, being an adult and this being play, I can choose to ignore the boundaries.

Here’s my paint chart. Send me a picture if you make one too. (If you want!)