Coloring Outside the Lines
Coloring books are everywhere!
In case you haven’t yet discovered this, step into your local craft store, big chain book store, or even the local drug store, and you’ll see coloring books in all shapes and sizes. You’ll see colored pencils in more colors than you ever knew existed, markers with ultra-ultra-fine tips and not-so-fine tips, along with crayons in boxes of 108 or more.
Coloring is a “moving meditation,” a phrase The Coloring Well has used for their unique line of coloring products.
And it’s easy to see why. Just pick out a page, pick up a colored pencil, marker or crayon, and begin. It’s so easy. And calming. Coloring slows our breathing down. It shifts our focus from the day’s struggles to just making strokes on the page. Even the sound of pencil against paper is soothing. It can be mesmerizing to watch a crayon or marker lay down color.
Plus, the coloring lines tell us how far to go, when to stop, and turn the pencil in a different direction, or pick up a new color.
There’s little mess. We don’t have to think to hard. When we’re done, we close the book until next time, or move on to another page.
And this is good. The lines in coloring books offer us boundaries as well as spaces to play within, to make something unique and lovely.
But I also believe there is a time for coloring outside those lines and spaces. Purposefully, playfully, imaginatively.
Why? For many reasons, but here’s one with a story.
Recently I attended a paint ‘n sip night, you know, where you drink wine and then attempt to paint the featured painting done by an artist who is there to instruct you. That night, there were probably 20 of us, gathered around our easels and paper plates with globs of paint, brushes, and beverages of choice. And the instructor was wonderful. Very encouraging and goodhearted.
The problem arose when my sky didn’t look as pinkish as his, and I liked his better. Then there were the background trees. Mine looked like purple Bigfoots, but the trees painted by the woman sitting next to me actually looked like trees. And then there was the water, and the moon reflecting on the water, and the moon itself. All OK, just not great as someone else’s.
And soon I found myself comparing my canvas to 20 others, and in every case, mine had a flaw. Which made me feel….well….kind of flawed, too. Even though going in I knew we would all walk out with the same image done in 20 different ways. It didn’t matter. I still felt like my painting didn’t measure up to the instructor’s or the woman next to me. And that whole cascade of emotions of not-enoughness, embarrassment, shame tumbled down.
I realized I was judging myself–me, my whole self, my very soul–based on what I produced–a $5 canvas covered in paint.
What does this little story have to do with coloring? Two words: Perfection and Product.
In both coloring and any other creative outlet, too often we strive for perfection. We strive to keep the color inside the lines. We want our trees to be just like the instructor’s. We want a piece of art that makes us feel good, one we can be proud of, hang on the wall, share with someone who will oooo and ahhh and make us continue to feel good about it.
And if we’re professional artists there may be a place for all of this.
But more often than not, we just need to create. Without boundaries. Without expectations of perfection or a product that anyone else except us will ever get excited over. Especially as women who’ve experienced trauma, who doubt ourselves and our abilities, who struggle with perfection, who need a place to discover who we are on the inside.
We need to make art without judgment, comparison, fear of rejection.
We need to freely color outside the lines. To listen to what attracts us. To ask questions of what our creation has to tell us. To make a mess with abandon. To experiment with what we have around us. To purposely play. To freely imagine… what if I add this color here, or that leaf stamp over there? What if I use these orchids I’m so attracted to? What might happen?
At a recent WONDER COMPASS Story Art Page Workshop, I told the women gathered that as we began to color, we would be silent, just working on our own page. Of course, this also meant that there was to be no commenting on your neighbor’s page, or your own. There was to be no: I like what you did there. Mine seems to be a mess. Yours looks better. And so on.
We were not to assign any “good” or “bad” judgments today on our work, or in comparing ours to anyone else’s. And I followed it up with this:
None of you will be taking home a work of art worthy of eBay or a museum. So relax. You’re creating just for you.
And the most wonderful thing was these women did relax. They created, journaled, reflected, and had fun. There was a sense of a sisterhood, of new friendships being made, of stories being shared.
And it was glorious to behold.
There is a place for coloring. I still enjoy coloring as a way to unwind at the end of a busy day. I still color inside the lines on printed postcards to send to friends who are going through rough times. But I also know that giving myself permission to use my raw creativity to create is a gift I give to myself, one that helps me strengthen my child-like curiosity. It lessens my quickness to judge and criticize. It gives me a place to practice non-attachment to outcomes. And it’s not just about what’s happening on the page, but most importantly about what is happening in my life. In fact, I believe creating and art-making have helped me (just as much as yoga, journaling, meditation have) to be less reactive, and perhaps just a bit more compassionate with myself and with others.
And this, too, is a glorious thing to behold.
How are you creating these days? Are you coloring? What are your thoughts on all this? I’d love to hear them. Feel to share here in the comments. And if you like what you read here, I hope you’ll share this post on your favorite social media stream.
May you be wildly creative!
PS: WONDER COMPASS Story Art Pages like those completed above in the Workshop are coming soon! There will be a special discount for those of you who sign up through this website to receive in Weekly Wonder in your inbox! See the sign-up box up on the right of this page or at the bottom. Weekly Wonder is a great way to stay close!