I recently read a thought-provoking post from Lisa Mitchell at Inner Canvas, Warning, adult coloring books could do more harm than good. I’ve been grappling with my thoughts and feelings about adult coloring books, paint nights, and other “scripted,” art activities for some time. While I agree with her on many points, I’d like to add my thoughts to this discussion.
I Don’t Like Coloring Books, But…
I don’t buy coloring books for my kids. “Paint nite” images make me cringe. There’s so little originality and expressiveness in these images, what you have to say is so much more interesting, even if it’s not “pretty.”
But I know that for many people the artistic freedom of early childhood has been long forgotten. Trying to speak through art again takes practice. I also know that coloring pages offer well-defined expectations and a structure within which folks feel safe. Because there’s not a lot of thought or input required, it can also be a mindful or meditative practice.
Lisa Mitchell makes the excellent point that coloring pages can be just as “empty” as watching television. While I wholeheartedly agree they are not expressive, or even hugely creative, I would encourage you to do a coloring page before you channel surf or troll social media.
Are Adult Coloring Books Art?
I see coloring pages as a way of bringing a very small, but creative experience to the masses. There’s a great deal of curiosity in our culture at the moment about the healing powers of art, and the intersections of art and mindfulness.
Coloring pages can be relaxing and mindful. There is value in that. I believe strongly though that each of us has creative and artistic power. Perhaps if you enjoy coloring pages, you will try your hand at doodling, art journaling, or a painting class.
So attend your local paint nite, buy a coloring book and indulge in it. And then let yourself take the next step. Try out a tutorial for some doodles. See how to turn paint splotches into animals. Imitate the random mark making of a toddler. Play. You might be surprised at what you find. Or try following the steps I’ve outlined below.
What’s the worst that could happen? Someone sees you playing with crayons?
Let Your Art Take You on a Journey
What coloring books don’t offer that an image does is a journey. Mystery. Transformation.
In a coloring book, you can make choices about colors, or perhaps experiment with blending, but there’s a lack of flexibility, risk-taking, and creative self-expression. This, in my opinion, takes the soul out of the art.
Just like in life, there are a lot of unknowns in art. Each new color you add to a canvas changes all the others. Paying attention to these parallels can be profound. When you color in someone else’s lines, you miss the opportunity to explore your feelings and contemplate the metaphors as you watch the image emerge.
Art Requires Attention
There is no step by step process I can give you for making a beautiful or expressive art piece. It’s about paying attention. Listening, head cocked and ears strained, you step quietly until the next footfall becomes clear. It takes attention, patience, and courage to uncover our images. That’s a mindful practice.
Coloring Outside the Lines: My Artistic Process
I wanted to share my artistic process for this journal page because it shows how winding, unplanned, and healing art can be.
I painted the red and pink background a few weeks ago for this post, and set it aside.
Recently, I cut tracing paper into large tear drop shapes. I wrote all over these about an issue that has weighed heavy on my heart.
After writing for some time, I found resolution in a phrase: “The gift is focusing on the good.” I highlighted it in glitter.
Next I sewed the pieces on the page. I’ve been wanting to do a more extensively sewn page, so this was my chance.
To add color, I colored over most of the tear shapes, smudging the colors together with my finger.
I stood back from my piece numerous times to see what it needed, and added color, fabric, and ribbon edging.
I sewed over the whole page, “drawing” leaf-like shapes with the sewing machine in a random pattern.
I love this piece. It feels satisfying to create something beautiful out of my pain. It also reminds me of what’s important – and I need that.
If you are looking for forum for support around art and self-care, join our private Facebook community, Creative Self-Care.
What’s your experience of making art? Do you enjoy coloring pages as an adult? Is your art making highly structured and planned, or open and meandering?
Title Image: 123rf.com: karakotsya
Update 11/2015: I’ve created a DIY Adult Coloring Book free for download. It will give you enough structure to get your own designs going, if that interests you. I hope you enjoy!
You can find another thoughtful article about both sides of this debate here.