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Why children are painting blue clouds in a white sky

John William Lee

A simple Fairy Tale of colors

“Once upon a time, log ago, Eden had been created as a colorless garden. It was
filled with adults who were gray, gloomy and dissatisfied for the lack of bright colors
and they merely observed the flowers, the birds and the other animals in black, white
and gray. In their depressive mood some had started fighting with each other and
there were rumors of people being hurt...
Eden's Great Mother said to herself: “It is not good for man to to live in a world
without colors. Let us bring colors into the world”. But she did not want to paint the
world herself and decided to let the children chose the colors they wished for all the
objects in the garden.
And She created children, who were able to see the colors. Then She created a
rainbow and some large brushes and told them to name the rainbow's colors and to
take the paint from the rainbow to color all of Eden's objects with the large brushes.
And the children did not hesitate to start painting the fruits and the plants, the trees,
the birds and the other animals. At the first day they had used most of the green for
the grasses and the majority of the leafs, a huge lot of yellow for the ripening corn.
They had chosen red for the sweet apples and green for the unripe apples to make
sure none of the children would eat too many of the unripe fruits. They painted the
ripe bananas yellow, the ripened oranges orange and the sweet plums violet-blue.
And after so much of work they each ate one of the big red apples and felt satisfied
over what they had been coloring for this day...
The next day they started coloring the flowers and they decided to take some more of
the bright colors at both borders of the rainbow as the most of the colors green and
yellow already had been used. They painted some of the roses red like the apples, but
they left some of them white or took some of the other colors. They painted the irises
At noon they scratched all the rests of the colors they had used for the flowers and
mixed a huge mass of paint to an undefined color, which could not be found in the
rainbow. They named it brown and used this hue to paint all the wooden parts of the
trees and the plants. It had been a lot of work to paint all of these small flowers and
at the end of the day the children felt tired and hungry. In the evening they each ate
one of the red, sweet apples and felt satisfied over what they had been coloring for
this day.
The next day they started painting the animals. First of all they used the rest of the
brown to color some animals such as the horses they found in the garden. But some
of these horses did not allow the children to come near and ran away as soon as they
saw the children approaching with their big brushes. That's why some of the horses
are brown and others are white. The biggest of all animals was a gray elephant, but it
was too high for the children to be painted – so they left the giant elephant as gray as
it had been at the day of creation.
For the birds they used all colors they could find in the rainbow. Especially the Bird-
of-paradise with its gorgeous tail had to be painted with the brightest of all colors.
At the end of the third day all of the rainbow's colors had been used except for a
small amount of red and a huge amount of blue, which in the painting of the plants
and the animals had not been used in large quantities.
Eden's Great Mother visited the children at dawn of the fourth day. Wearing a white
robe she praised the children for their work. Then she looked up to the sky and
suddenly noticed an unpainted area above the garden of Eden.
“Now please look up to the sky, my children, and see what still needs to be colored”,
she said.
And the children looked up and saw the bright, colorless sky which they had
overseen and left unpainted. The children felt embarrassed. The huge sky was so
much taller and bigger than the elephant. Did the rainbow provide them with enough
paint for the sky?
The only color left was an enormous amount of blue. The children felt at a loss, but
they needed to finish the job. What could be done to paint the sky with the rest of the
rainbow's paint?
Then one of the girls named Lisa said: “The sky itself is too far away, but the clouds
seem to be nearer. Let's just paint the clouds with remains of the color blue”.
That seemed to be a very good idea. Still there were so many clouds, that the
children needed three days to complete the job. They painted the clouds blue and left
the sky unpainted. At the evening of the sixth say they saw it was very good. The sky
had been unpainted, but at the far distance it somehow seemed to be blue anyway...
Eden's Great Mother visited the children at dawn of the seventh day. She saw that it
was good and praised the children for their good work. Now she found some red and
blue paint left. And she used it to paint the boys' clothes red and the girls' garments
Then she mixed up the rest of the red and blue hues and colored her own clothes
purple as a mixture of red & blue. That's why the archaic royals always have been
wearing purple or red & blue.
Now, that's how the children painted the world. Then, in the course of time, Eden's
gloomy and dissatisfied adults died out and the children grew up to be adults
themselves. In contrast to their ancestors however they felt happy and free amidst of
a colorful world. And Eden's Great Mother saw it was good and felt satisfied with
them. And the children named it the golden Age...”
My daughter Lisa clapped her hands: “That's a great story, Dad, but you did not explain why
the Great Mother chose purple for her own clothes!”
“Oh”, I said. “I forgot. The Great Mother chose purple as a mixture of equal amounts of red
and blue. Just try that mixture with your color box tomorrow morning. You will see...”
A white sky with blue clouds
Of course a fairy tale like this might have been told in archaic eras, in the Middle Age or even today
to explain the archaic symbolism of colors and the creation legends that may have existed. Some
mechanisms of this symbolism may still be traced back in the childish drawings which have been
painted in all eras and in all countries of the world.
In growing up children observe objects and things, which need to be categorized. Children will
identify and store the observed parameters in their mind and the childish minds will develop similar
filters at a global scale. One of these filters has been described in the previous fairy tale. In 2011 I
investigated one of these filters, which will be described in this report.
In a painting course for 7- up to 10-years old children I noticed that children do not really inspect
the objects they are painting. Instead of inspecting an available sample they normally choose to
paint an object from memory respectively by heart. Therefore the object will not represent their
visual impression, but a memorized idea which previously had been stored in the mind. For this
reason the childish paintings will contain some deviations from realistic depictions such as
Although the painting course provided the children with a large amount of realistic samples
depicting blue skies with white clouds all children unanimously started by painting white skies with
blue clouds as demonstrated in the next sample:

Fig. 1: White skies with a series of blue clouds

Identifying these blue clouds I asked myself:

• “Is there a global, platonic idea of a white sky and blue clouds, stored in a childish brain ?”
• “Are we to use a Socratic dialogue in a training to learn an observation of the real world ?”
Fig. 2: White skies with blue clouds

A blue sky with white clouds

I observed the group of 6 children and decided to ask one individual child (the slowest painter of the
group) to inspect a sample of the sky and the clouds before painting the sky and the clouds he
already had drawn with his pencil.
It took him a few seconds to identify the sky and the clouds outside the windows and at the samples.
Then he correctly painted a blue sky with white clouds.
Of course the neighboring children heard the discussion and after the first child had painted a blue
sky with white clouds one of his neighbors tried to correct the cloudy sky in his own painting.
All childish drawings and paintings are quite similar as if children have been provided with a set of
standard images and color standards.
I considered the idea of platonic original images in a childish brain, which may also include white
skies with blue clouds. It may have been comparable with the archaic idea that all children will start
to speak Hebraic, whenever they have to grow up without any sample of speech1.

1 Of course these cruel experiments have been reported in the history books. In the Language deprivation experiment
young infants were raised without human interaction in an attempt to determine if there was a natural language that they
might demonstrate once their voices matured. It is claimed he was seeking to discover what language would have been
imparted unto Adam and Eve by God. In his Chronicles Salimbene wrote that Frederick bade "foster-mothers and
nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt
whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance
the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born. But he labored in vain, for the children could not live without
clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments."
Fig.. 3: A blue sky with a white cloud (and a blue boy and a red girl)

When will the children learn to paint white clouds?

A teacher told me generally all children will paint blue clouds in white skies. Unfortunately I felt
unable to identify the insight age, at which children learn to paint white clouds. They may even
need a hint from a teacher to learn the correct way of painting. But is this observation a
confirmation for Plato's contributions to Epistemology respectively the Theory of knowledge.
Insight in a second course
In the second course, which had been given 5 weeks later, the situation dramatically changed. The
children had been very attentive and remembered the previous discussion over the clouds' colors. In
the second course some children used a light blue or blueish gray hue to paint the clouds. They were
more careful in their choice for the color of the clouds:

Fig. 4: Light blue clouds Fig. 5: Light blue clouds

A seven year old girl, which had joined the group, immediately painted a dark blue sky with white

Fig. 6: Dark blue skies with white clouds

In the second course one of the boys now painted a blue sky straightaway:

Fig. 7: A straight blue sky

The boy who correctly had been painting the sky at the first course (fig. 8) painted a similar
(equally correct) image at the second course (fig. 9). This may have been influenced by an example,
because he was allowed to use the previously painted image as a sample to create the second

Fig.. 8: A blue sky with white clouds (1) Fig. 9: A blue sky with white clouds (2)
Why children are painting blue clouds at a white sky
The mechanism leading to childish drawings with blue clouds at a white sky, seems to be solved
after two painting courses.
In childish drawings white will be a seldom color, which normally might be reserved for the clouds.
All other objects will normally be painted in other colors. White however may often be absent in a
pencil-box or color boxes and in drawing classes the pupils are using white sheets of paper which
suggest to consider white as the symbolic absence of objects or colors.
Children may observe the sky as an empty area and may prefer to ignore the void space for their
paintings. However they feel they cannot ignore the blue hue, which needs to be applied somewhere
in the sky. In such situations they simply choose the clouds, which are available to be painted blue.
Of course this application of blue is not a platonic ideal image. It is a best-fit solution, which may
have been chosen automatically.
A confirmation for this theory may be found if we would provide the children with blue paper
sheets to paint their images. I expect the children to draw the clouds in a correct way on blue
papers. This experiment however is still waiting to be carried out...