Rainbow Fence

I’ve just painted the fence to my garden to look like the end of a rainbow.

It’s been attracting considerable admiration – kids are drawn to it like bees to honey – running their hands along it and smiling. Pedestrians bump into one another for staring. It’s even calmed the local traffic with motorists driving slowly past with cricked necks – and sometimes even stopping to look. Indeed it’s so well appreciated that I thought I’d write about how I made it, and why.

The pickets (57 in all) are made from re-cycled pallets – using wood purchased cheaply from the truly wonderful Oxford Wood Recycling which does a splendid job saving excess wood from building sites and recycling it cheaply (no they are not paying me to say all this).

I cut the planks to length , rounded the tops using a jigsaw and attached them to a frame supported by six posts sunk in concrete with a gate made to blend into the fence as a whole. Once erected the whole structure was given a white undercoat.

white fence full

white fence other angle

For the rainbow colours I had to first dispel a myth: rainbows don’t have 7 colours. Newton may have been influenced to say that they do because 7 was a magical number at the time he was around – but actually there are an infinite number. They are made up from the three primary colours mixed together in varying combinations, each colour paired with each of the other two – red into yellow, yellow into blue, blue back to red. I decided therefore to purchase the primary colours and do the mixing myself. I went for the brightest blue, red and yellow that I could find – no mean task when it seems that most people only want external paint in pastel shades – so in the end I had to get them mixed up specially. (Quite what primary colours are mixed up from is a whole other subject too complex to address here but I fear it may have paradoxical implications with respect to the structure of light and perhaps even the universe).

Once I’d acquired the primary colours I then had to decide how to mix them. Three of the pickets, numbers 1, 19 and 38 were easy – they could be one pure colour alone. This left three tins each with enough paint to mix together to contribute to two thirds of the remaining pickets. I divided each into two: red to mix with yellow, red to mix with blue and so on. But the question remained – at what rate should colour B be introduced to colour A in order to get a uniform rate of gradation? Lets take red as an example. For the first mix you add a little yellow and get a very slightly orange red. Then you paint your picket with the newly mixed combo and the volume of paint left goes down. So, with the next picket, how much yellow should be added – should it be less now that the volume of paint has gone down? Or more? Or what? The answer seemed difficult to figure out.

I eventually resolved the dilemma using a spreadsheet and discovered that the amount to be added each time to the diminishing quantity of paint is exactly the same – something I find sublimely reassuring though you may think it banal, or obvious from the start.

The precise amount to add each time is generated by the following algorithm:


A = Amount of paint to be added to each new mix.
N = Number of pickets.
Q = Quantity of paint of each colour (in my case one litre)

This equation instructed me to measure out 26.3 ccs of paint each time – and in order to do this I purchased three ‘cow’ syringes from Hong Kong.

There was one final complicating factor – each picket required a second coat – which necessitated throwing our tiny kitchen into disarray by keeping a long row of waiting bowls – each containing a shift along the colour spectrum from the one behind. I swear that sandwiches made in the midst of this tasted of paint as a result.

I waited for the first warm, dry, spring day to paint the fence and to do so was a great pleasure. Particularly the final few in which the sequence comes a full circle completing where it started – as red. Again, this felt reassuring: the colours that make up light go through a repetitive cycle like an underlying code – a bit like DNA.

So here is the final result:

red through green
Red to green

green back to red
And back to red

full of colour
The whole thing

And as seen from the sides:

colour from up hill

colour from down hill

I hope you like it as much as I do!

And, finally, in answer to the question but why?
…. no reason really except just the joy of doing. But also they do say that there’s gold at the end of the rainbow and forgive my sentimentality but I now believe that this is actually true. A rainbow ends on the fence into my garden. It marks the the gold that is here – my home, and garden, and family.


4 thoughts on “Rainbow Fence

  1. It is so very you Wyon, and is mighty impressive, both the end result and the execution. Congratulations, I love it. I look forward to the time when I shall be one of the admiring gawkers. I wonder if you will start an involuntary rainbow fence movement! That would also be exciting. By the way your explanation makes a good read. I wonder if the primary colors have to be “mixed” for the same reason that printers don’t call for primary colors. Something to do with white light having all the colors in it? By the way, this is totally irrelevant, but did you know that butterfly wings don’t have pigments but achieve the impression of color by the way that they refract light?

    • I didnt know that Jane (about the butterflies). Re printers and primary colours – i read somewhere that printers work by removing colours from white rather than adding to it and that is why they dont use primary colours – except for yellow which is used whether you add or subtract. There is certainly something extra bright about yellow as if it is a primary primary….

  2. Hi Wyon, I love your fence! I’ve seen it many times walking pass the Lye Valley and I’ve decided that I have to bring the rainbow in my own garden! My project will involve to paint my shed and table/chair following your recipe. I looked into buying outdoors paint, the three primary colours, in Homebase, but they don’t seem to sell the right colours :-(. Did you use ordinary paints and then protected your fence with a outdoor varnish? Any advice you could give me would be very much appreciated. Best wishes, Karine

    • Hi Karine, Glad you like the fence. I have spent quite a lot of time scratching my head in homebase but have been unable to get the primary colours off the shelf. One time I commissioned them to be mixed specially (very expensive). Another time I got them mixed at a paint shop opposite Johnsons past BMW (cheaper – though it is still expensive.). It is important to have an undercoat, and, yes, I varnished the paint after I had finished. Drop in some time if you want to discuss it further – we are in the house opposite the fence (number 4).

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