Color Outside the Lines by Joan Reeves

CrayonBoxBack to school time is always a delight for me because of the stacks of Crayon® boxes in so many stores. I love the distinctive smell of those pieces of colored wax. I don’t know how Craola® infuses that distinctive aroma in its products, but one sniff and I’m carried back to school and to my kids’ school days.

There are moments when I am overcome with emotion and wish my kids were little again so we could all sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures or open a coloring book and create a masterpiece.

Sure, there are all kinds of “bells and whistle” Crayons now. Markers of every description. Magic Crayons that only work on special surfaces. (If they’d had those when my youngest was a toddler, it would have saved several sets of sheets. More about that later.) Multicultural Crayons, triangular Crayons, Studio Design Crayons, and so many more. I’m a purist. I like the original ones best because they’re the ones with that smell.

That Special Smell

When I said that the Crayon smell carries me back to my school days, I wasn’t joking. Smell, the most primitive of our senses, isn’t like our other senses. When you smell something, the brain is not needed to “run interference” the way it does with our other senses. What you smell creates an immediate effect that needs no translation, thought, interpretation, or anything.

Smell Is Primitive

You inhale and odor molecules float into the nose, travel back to the nasal cavity behind the bridge of the the nose, and get absorbed by the mucosa containing receptor cells. On the receptor cells, there are microscopic hairs called cilia. They wave like sea anemones, wafting the odors onto the receptor cells. About 5 million of these receptor cells fire impulses faster than you can read this to the olfactory bulb — the smell center — located in the brain.

When the olfactory bulb — the smell center — detects something, it signals your cerebral cortex and sends a message straight into your limbic system — that’s the primitive, emotional part of the brain that houses your feelings and your desires. Boom! A memory is instantly called up by the brain.

So Crayon smell gets picked up, sent to the limbic system, and triggers the memories of those good feelings of being a kid and coloring pictures.

Smell is linked to feelings, to emotions, and the link is so strong that the memory is clearer than other memories. I’ve always thought smell was like a time machine. You smell, and bam! You’re transported back to a specific moment in time, experiencing the emotions of that event. Smell calls forth a sharp, in-focus memory.

Crayons Inspired An Artist

You may know that my daughter Adina Mayo is an artist. Her first artistic efforts were drawing designs on the sheets in her bed with a purple crayon. As she explained to me, the purple flowers she drew looked better than the pink flowers on the sheets. She was about 2 1/2 years old at the time and was supposed to be taking a nap.

When she was in 5th grade, she brought me the shavings from her Crayon sharpener and spread them out on a piece of paper and asked me to tell her what I saw. I looked at the colorful fragments and said I didn’t see anything, but that all the shavings together were pretty. She nodded, looked at me, and said, “That’s because it’s art.” That very moment, I knew she had some special aesthetic sense. So the Crayon smell has special significance for me and calls up those memories so clearly.

Cover Art

Those school days have passed. Adina and all our other kids are grown. Adina has created a volume of work using many different media. Her art created for the Master’s Degree program she completed this summer was on display the last few weeks at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Part of her art from that project is going to be in a traveling exhibition that makes a stop in Houston next spring. She teaches art in a local high school and freelances as a graphic artist with video trailers, book covers, and also as a photographer whose work is amazing.

Scents and Sensuality by Joan Reeves

Scents and Sensuality by Joan Reeves

Adina still picks up a Crayon every now and then and colors, but most of her “coloring” is now done with a computer. Even with her graphic art, she always “colors outside the lines,” creating something unique every time. Here is the new book cover she just created for my last book Scents and Sensuality.

Even though this romantic comedy was published in March, I was never happy with the cover — not because it was a bad cover, but because it wasn’t the picture I wanted: a beautiful blond woman holding a perfume bottle and spraying it on the pulse point on her neck. You see the heroine in Scents and Sensuality is a perfumer, and she knows all about the Science of Smell and Sexual Attraction. (Yes, those two go hand in hand. Read the book and learn what makes a person appeal to the opposite sex!)

Finally, last week, I found the photograph and Adina did a new cover that is now “live” at most ebook sellers. What do you think about the new cover? I think it’s perfect. It depicts the passion of the book and the scent that goes along with sensuality.

Post Script

Enjoy your children while they’re young. It’s a total cliché, but they really do grow up too fast.

Joan Reeves is a world-class sentimentalist who gets all misty-eyed in the Crayon aisle at Office Depot each fall. Visit Joan at her website and SlingWords, her blog.


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About Joan Reeves

Joan Reeves is a NY Times and a USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance. She lives her happily-ever-after with her hero, her husband, in the Lone Star State. Sign up for Joan's mailing list: and visit her at and her blog
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15 Responses to Color Outside the Lines by Joan Reeves

  1. leighmorgan1 says:

    Joan, you hit an elemental truth…the scent of Crayola Crayons smacks of memory every year at back to school time for me and I bet everyone who has ever colored. I love that scent and often find myself smiling at all the wonderful memories it elicits.

    Your daughter is so talented. The cover she designed is striking and sensual, not to mention visually appealing! Thanks for posting the link to her site. The story about the sheets and the shavings is so real and so touching it has to find its way into a book. That’s a lot of creative talent for one family!

    Fantastic post!


  2. Joan Reeves says:

    Good morning, Leigh! Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’ve got a mother’s journal where I’ve written all the special memories and the things the kids said when they were little. One of these days I’m going to put all of that together in a book just for them.


  3. Jill James says:

    Joan, I loved the magic of crayons. Still do. All I ever wanted as a kid was to grow up to be the person who got to name the colors.


  4. susanrhughes says:

    The smell of burning candles always transports me to my childhood birthday parties. Not to mention that I love the scent of the aftershave my husband wore when we first met.


    • Joan Reeves says:

      Childhood birthdays were fun, weren’t they? What I miss most of all are the birthday cakes my mom made when we were kids. Now, I rarely get a cake unless I buy it or make it myself. Kind of takes the fun out of the experience.


  5. I enjoyed today’s delightful post. Not only was it fun to read about the scent of crayons and the memories that evokes for you (me, too!) you also reminded me to be sure to use scent in my writing. That’s such a powerful sense! By the way, I love the cover your daughter created for your book. She’s a talented young woman.


    • Joan Reeves says:

      I’m always going back in edits and putting in more sensory description. I have a little sign on my monitor: see, hear, smell, touch, taste to remind me. Thank you for the compliment on the book cover and on my wonderful daughter.

      Btw, she has pre-made covers at a low price if you need an inexpensive option. Some are displayed on the ebook page of her website.


  6. Carol says:

    I enjoyed your post, Joan. Yes, the scent of crayons transports me back to school days and days with my son and grandchildren. It’s important to allow kids to color outside the lines. You never know when you have an artist, such as your daughter, lying in wait. Beautiful cover. Your daughter is very talented!


  7. bellastreet says:

    Smell is a tremendously powerful thing! Great post and your book looks awesome 🙂


  8. monarisk says:

    Joan, your cover is gorgeous. Your daughter is so talented. After reading your post I’ll start watching my granddaughters carefully when they use their crayons. Maybe we could be lucky and have a little artist too.


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