Paint Chip Poetry: Colorful Wordplay

For the last decade I’ve attended an annual writer’s retreat by the ocean in Northern California where I gather with friends for inspiration, laughs, and writing. Each year, a friend, author, and artist I admire hosts a Paint Chip Poetry session. We dig into a pile of paint chips (you know those paper strips of paint colors from the hardware store) and write a poem in ten minutes based on a given prompt and the names of the chosen colors (unseen until timer starts).

It’s great fun to see the variety of poems written by the group from the same words! Some poems are funny, some sad, some thoughtful. I always feel a bit of pressure to write a poem when I’m racing against the clock, but it’s all in fun and it’s okay if you come up blank once in a while. Here’s a couple of my poems from past Paint Chip Poetry sessions.

Paint chip color names

  1. yarrow
  2. pansy petal
  3. brushed orange
  4. Seine
  5. palooza
  6. shrinking violet
  7. great grape
  8. sea mist
  9. state court
  10. good luck charm


The first minute or so, you read the colors, gather your thoughts, and start writing, so you only have maybe eight minutes to write the poem. It’s fast-paced and fun! Go ahead and adjust the time limit to your group’s preference. You can’t use part of a color name, but you can split the words if you use them side by side (for example, if your color is Great Grape, you can write: The ice cream was great. Grape is my favorite flavor). Try to use as many of the color words as you can in the time allowed.

My poem

I was able to write this poem before the timer went off using nine of the ten colors. No prompt was given this time around. I’ve put the paint chip colors in all CAPS:

SHRINKING VIOLET stood on the STATE COURT steps. The SEINE was not GREAT. GRAPE BRUSHED ORANGE hues streaked across the sky.  She drew a deep breath and climbed toward her destiny. The wilted PANSY PETAL tucked inside her sweaty palm—it was her GOOD LUCK CHARM. YARROW vs. PALOOZA, she was going to need all the luck she could get!

©Danna Smith at

Here’s one more

For this poem, we were given the prompt, my life has changed since, which we were required to use within the poem. I used eight of my ten color words.

  1. meadow view
  2. bayside
  3. My valentine
  4. winter sunshine
  5. seagrove
  6. brandy cream
  7. hillside green
  8. pan for gold
  9. mother earth
  10. sassy lilac
My love and I spent our first year in MEADOW VIEW in the WINTER SUNSHINE. We would dig through MOTHER EARTH, PAN FOR GOLD, and be the richest couple this side of SEAGROVE.  Every morning before we went to work, we'd sit on the HILLSIDE. GREEN tea in our cups laced with BRANDY CREAM and we'd share our dreams.  But that was last year. I'm digging alone now. My life has changed since MY VALENTINE was buried in the mine, crushed by our dreams.

©Danna Smith at

now in stores

Poets and teachers worldwide have used this creative technique in their writing for decades, so I wasn’t surprised to find a new game that Chronical Books had released called…you guessed it, Paint Chip Poetry. It’s the same game we’ve played forever. Only it’s in a colorful, compact kit with everything you need, including paint chips and prompts. As a friend said, “I can hear the hardware stores sighing with relief,” with this game on the market, perhaps their paint chip supply will not need to be replenished as often. 🙂

Buy the game here

thanks for popping in

Feel free to comment below or use my lists of paint chip colors to write a poem and share it with us (scroll way down past the share buttons). Poetry is better when shared! You can also find paint chip colors online at most paint or home improvement store websites. For those of you who would like to share or comment anonymously, I’ve created settings to allow you to do so. Simply reply without signing into your WordPress account.

Join the blog for a weekly pop of poetry. Next week we will be talking about FOUND poems and I will share poem I wrote from words found in a book about flowers— a poem for your creative souls. Stay tuned!

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5 thoughts on “Paint Chip Poetry: Colorful Wordplay

  1. Okay, I played the game. Here’s what I wrote:
    The sea mist covered the Palooza State Court in shades of great grape like a good luck charm. An ethereal figure stepped out of the mist wearing pansy petals and a shy expression like a shrinking violet. In fact, her name was Violet, and was shrinking into the yarrow-hued Seine River, smaller and smaller, until Shrinking Violet literally shrank out of existence. The End.

  2. I did this activity with some students today! We only selected 9 paint chips. Here’s my poem (paint colors marked with *):
    Title: *Siesta by Amy Klein
    Can I rest and let a *Guardian Angel watch my little *Sonora Rose?
    She’s a fairy princess
    floating through the garden in her
    *Pleasing Pink and *Frosted Lilac tulle.
    A baby *Ballerina playing *Peekaboo.
    She flits lightly across the inside of my eyelid.
    Still *Adorbs, she demands food.
    A very specific food.
    Am I asleep?
    Only this will satisfy: *Crisp Won Ton.

    1. Oh, my goodness, this is so beautiful (and the last line is hilarious!) Thank you for sharing with us! It’s amazing to think that this poem would not have happened had it not been for those little paint chips and the words they gifted to you. 🙂

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