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Akron artist Althea Jones wants to reframe implicit bias through her work

Brittany Moseley

Mar 1, 2024

Signal Akron

Althea Jones stood in front of a room of people at the University of Akron’s Cummings Center and asked a seemingly simple question: How do you make brown?

Only one person knew the answer. You mix the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. That question led to a broader interactive discussion about skin color, identity and self-love. Before the event, billed as “My Skin Color is My Superpower,” ended, Jones asked for a volunteer. She then mixed paint to create a color that matched the skin tone of the guest.

Jones, a local artist studying painting and drawing at the university, is on a mission to color match 1,000 people within the next three to five years. She came up with the project, known as “Skin Color,” early last year after coming across a jar of peach-colored ink that was labeled “skin color.” 

“It made me feel some type of way,” she said. “I wasn’t exactly sure what that feeling was, but I definitely felt outside of [it]. And even though I had come all this way, and I’m going after my dream … that moment made me stop in my tracks.”

She decided to find a way to use her art to address this feeling. The first step to that was figuring out how to make brown. Conceptually, she thought she knew how to make the color. But to actually sit down and create the shade she wanted? That took time.

Just the right mix of colors

Eventually she landed on a perfect formula: 15 grams of red paint, 15 grams of yellow and 3.5 grams of blue. The result was a milk chocolate color that resembled Jell-O pudding, or something you’d want to dip a strawberry in. 

When Jones matches someone’s skin color, she always starts with this base brown, regardless of their race or ethnicity. There are two reasons for that, she said. One is that none of us are as light as we think we are. When Jones matched the skin color of the guest at the aforementioned event, several people (myself included) commented on the fact that we thought the paint looked too dark in the bowl, until we saw Jones paint it on the guest’s hand and watched it blend in perfectly. (I had a similar reaction when Jones matched my skin color earlier this week.)

Changing the way people think about race

The second reason is the crux of Jones’ project. By talking about skin color with people and teaching them how to make brown, she hopes to change how people think about race.

“I [believe], and this is just more research that I’m doing, that even simply learning, intentionally learning how to make brown could then also be a way to reframe implicit bias. Because if a thing is not even important enough to learn, then how important is it in my life?” she said. 

She continued, “The reality is, we are all that color, just different shades of it. But not all of us identify that way. But if you identify with that color that was never given space and given importance, then how does that affect you as a person?”

So far, Jones has color matched about 50 people. Each paint is placed in a glass jar and labeled “skin color.” She wants to have 250 jars by the end of the year. Jones is planning an art show in October as an end-of-year wrap-up. The ultimate goal is to create a traveling exhibit when she’s finished. She freely admitted her goal of 1,000 jars is a bit crazy. “I just wanted it to be something … that you could not deny the substantiality of,” she said.

Jones connects with people one to one

Sometimes Jones sets up shop with her paints and supplies at a community event like last weekend’s Grown-Up Book Fair at The Well CDC in Middlebury where she color-matched six people. Other times she meets people one-on-one. But the crux of “Skin Color” is the community events she hosts around town. 

Jones aims to keep the events positive and light-hearted, but sometimes things get heavy. She recounted meeting one woman at an event who talked about growing up and feeling “Chinese but not like other Chinese,” and about getting teased by children for her skin color.

At the event, guests were given a piece of paper that said, “My skin is…” and were asked to fill it in with something positive. “It was just very difficult for her to say something positive about herself,” Jones said.

Finally, Jones looked at the woman’s 7-year-old daughter and asked the girl to describe her mom’s skin color. The girl looked up at her mom, and said, “Unique.” 

The mom smiled and wrote it down on her paper.

To see Althea Jones’ upcoming events, visit

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