Yellow Plus Blue Paint Makes An Oddly Soothing Way To Chill Out

Welcome to the world of 60-second paint-mixing videos, the latest in a totally mesmerizing video-as-zen art form

It was only a matter of time before the internet produced a meme that turned out to contain the ultimate meaning of life, but for the uninitiated, consider this article a welcome to the wonderful world of 60-second paint-mixing videos.

Each video begins with dollops of heterogenous paint, sometimes two shades, sometimes three or four, and by the end of each video, these separate colors will be mixed together, slowly, exquisitely, into one shade, without ever witnessing the hand that rocks the mixer. It seems ridiculous to say that these simple videos represent a new art form, a breakthrough in zen philosophy, a new manifestation of the tragedy and the triumph of universal life, but the paint-mixing videos are compulsively mesmerizing, and the experience of watching them somehow evokes both deep peace and deep unrest. What is it exactly that makes these videos so psychically stimulating? Paint-mixing videos probably fall under the same feel-good umbrella as the increasingly popular slow TV movement, or even ASMR sounds, but for people who are justifiably freaked out by the prospect of watching Swedish women crinkle candy wrappers while whispering incoherently, the paint is purified of human distraction. I’ve used them as a sleep aid, friends have used them as anxiety cures, even the Twitter pages of accounts that aggregate them call them “oddly soothing.” But why odd? Are we watching the principle of quantum entanglement in action? The Taoist acceptance of elemental balance? The satisfaction that comes from sacrificing individualism for the sake of communal achievement? The dissatisfaction of achieving what was once believed to be one’s purpose? The monotonous yet inescapable loss of identity that comes from merging with another figure once seen as unique?

The secrets of paint-mixing are vast and unknowable, but if you watch enough of these paint-mixing videos, there are certain tropes that start to emerge, some of which are more soothing or more distressing than others. As rose gold has become a marketing trend, so rose gold is a trend in paint-mixing — although so far it seems difficult for mixers to get the necessary balance between red and gold that will make the final color come out to the iPhone-appropriate hue. In fact, the final color in these videos is almost always deflating when taken as its own element, even when the videos aren’t succumbing to the pressures of color fashion. There’s an abstract eroticism to watching the unresolved mix that is eradicated by the time the colors blend together entirely. In the end, gone are the multiplicity of gradient shades that seem to be created and killed with each propulsive stroke of the palette knife, and often undertones of gray that weren’t visible when the colors existed on their own seem to emerge as they come together. The final disappointment and the maybe subconscious rush to accept the middling final color might be why these videos are so compulsively consumable. To erase the momentary but lingering sadness of the final moment, the only thing left to do is move on to the next link in the Twitter feed and keep watching, forever reliving the same pleasures with minor adjustment.

Sometimes there is a different tool used for the mixing. Usually it’s a simple palette knife, but sometimes there’s a tiny paint rake, sometimes it’s a longer spatula, and after you fall into the rhythm of watching the videos, there is an incremental rush that comes from observing these teensy variations on the same theme. Is there a second or third color lying under the surface of what is immediately visible at the start of the video, which will be revealed only in the latter stages of the mix, a plot twist in 60 seconds? Will the mixer fluff the paint at the end of the video to ensure the color is entirely set, or will the mix stay smooth for its entirety? Will there be a filter applied to the video that distorts the image into waves or spirals? Will every scrap of individual color be captured by the relentless precision of the palette knife or will a single speck of color escape? If a color does escape, is the feeling produced by its survival one of relief or anxiety? So long as there’s another video to watch, does it matter whether you feel miniature agony or miniature ecstasy? At the moment, PaintVids is still just a bubbling sensation with over 200,000 Twitter followers, but it's only a matter of time before the cult births a proper religion.