August 22, 2015

Color Me Calm


    Coloring. I have loved it since I was a kid. One of my fondest memories was the birthday that my grandmother gave me a big box of crayons. I had climbed the tall flight of stairs to her apartment on 11th Street in Santa Monica, Ca and found her there in her little kitchen, her quilting scraps waiting to be pressed on the Formica table. The room was sparse and bright with philodendrons gracing either side of the tiny window. My Grandma ‘Lena was a wonderful dumpling of a woman with a kind face and huge heart. That day she asked me if she were very wrinkled. She was in her mid-sixties. I looked at her and thought, yeah, she was kind of wrinkly, but until that moment I had never noticed and I never noticed again. I told her, no, she wasn’t too wrinkly. She smiled and told me she had a surprise for me and gave me a box of Crayola crayons, the big box with the sharpener in the back. I was so excited I thought I would cry. I cracked it open and neatly arranged inside were 64 colors of pure art just begging to erupt onto paper. It was heaven in a green and yellow box.

      I loved to draw. My father worked for a paper factory when I was very young and we always had rolls of paper. Yards of a slick, white sheet that would roll out to create an aisle of creativity. Later, when we purchased sheets of paper I took ideas from the kits you could buy in the supermarket. I made my own paper dolls and designed dresses with big, generous tabs to fold to keep them on. I would sketch the dolls on paper and glue them to the cardboard from cereal boxes. I remember saying I liked certain kinds of cereal because their boxes had more subtle designs that didn’t show through the glued on picture of the doll. They didn't look too unattractive if left exposed on the back of the doll either. Once, when I was able to buy a “real” paper doll set I was grimly disappointed that the cardboard used for the dolls was so flimsy.

      Of course, in a household with six children, the crayons were used up quickly, broken and sharpened into waxy nubs, shared and loved by all of us. Now and again, on special occasions, we would be gifted with a real “coloring book” and to this day I can remember the thrill.

      When my own children were young they always had crayons and all the art supplies I could afford for them. I must admit it was partly a selfish act because I needed art supplies in the house for myself as well.
      For years, after supper, my children and a few of their friends from the neighborhood would take the crayons to the dining room table and gather to listen. My husband has not only a wonderful singing voice, but he is what I have often called the best "reader out-louder" I have ever heard.  And so he read. He read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, in character, To Kill a Mockingbird and then later more contemporary books like Forrest Gump and Dances with Wolves. My daughter listened to those stories while doodling quietly. My son preferred to just listen. They and their friends sat as quiet as mice, lost in their father’s great reading voice and colored quietly. Parenting is sometimes difficult but in those moments it never was.

An image from the Angie Grace book Balance done in Bic Ultra-Fine markers

      So now, many years later, I have discovered new and amazing coloring books. Books with pen and ink roses and buildings, birds and gardens and intricate circles. Like the promise of kaleidoscopes captured on paper, the drawings beg to be brought to life. Armed with my collection of colored pencils, markers and of course, crayons, I have rediscovered coloring.

      There are books now for adult coloring everywhere, in the craft shops and bookstores, online and in person. There seems to be little information about the art other than an article here and there by a psychiatrist or two saying how coloring is good for your high blood pressure or how wonderful it is for relieving stress. Many things that children enjoy fall into those categories. Here and there are bits of information about supplies. Maybe there’s not much because it is basically pretty simple.
      Many of the new adult coloring books are much more intricate than those designed for children, especially very young children. Now you need to keep your coloring confined into much smaller spaces. I like coloring inside the lines, it requires concentration and dexterity and somehow seems to make your mind forget about everything else except putting color into a tiny little spot. The world slips away and all that matters right for that moment is getting that color into that space. Perfect concentration.

From Angie Grace's Balance done in Crayola pencils

      Some of the books have bolder drawings with backgrounds designed for another type of coloring: shading. A massive rose on the paper requires you to imagine a light source. Where does the sun fall on the petals of a rose? What color is the shadow that lies beneath the curls of those fragile petals? You must decide if you want your rose to look real, or if you want it to test the eye of the viewer when the shadows fall in unorthodox ways onto the rose.

Roses done in Copic markers

      Like many forms of art, even simple coloring can become a bit of a pricey pursuit. A good box of high quality crayons won’t set you back much, but a nice metal tin of slender colored pencils, the professionally smooth type, can get expensive. There are several brands of markers, in a wide variety of package sizes and tip widths you can buy. You can color with the markers they sell for children’s crafts and posters, but you might prefer the ultra-fine tipped markers that let you color a tiny section as big as the head of a pin. Over the years I have gathered many different types of tools for drawing and coloring and I have tried some of the most popular and easily available.

A mixture of Crayola pencils and Bic markers

     I have used not only crayons by Crayola but their colored pencils as well and liked them. They are a good, affordable medium with smooth lead and a varied range of colors. For under $5 you can still get that reliable box of 64 crayons and for something in the range of $15 Crayola now makes a giant box of 152 colors. Yum. For a nice set of Crayola wooden pencils you would have to shell out a whopping $10 and they would last you a really long time. It's plenty of relaxation and entertainment for the money.

My coloring basket

      If you want something more vivid in your coloring experience you can get bright markers with names like Bic and Sharpie, about 36 in a set for about $25. For a bonus, if the art bleeds through your paper, which you should expect it will, you get that lovely dreamlike version of your art on the back of the page. If I color pages from a coloring book I always take them out of the book first. If you don’t, you should seriously consider slipping a few sheets of scrap paper between pages to avoid bleeding. The bleed on the back is very pretty, but not if it ruins the the following page. Personally I like to use one of those lap pillows with a hard surface when I color. I like to turn the paper as I work, another advantage to tearing or cutting out the page. I also tape a small scrap of paper to my work surface. The caps on the colors, or the painted outside of colored pencils don't always represent the real color as it will appear on the paper so I scribble on the scrap piece to see what color I'll get.

The back side where the markers have bled through the paper.
From Angie Grace's Balance done in Bic Ultra-Fine markers

      If you're really artistic, and you’ve grown tired of the simpler coloring supplies, you might want to invest in professional colors. There are choices there as well. Prismacolor makes professional pencils for the real enthusiast. For about $60 you can get a lovely, tidy tin filled with 48 high quality pencils in gorgeous colors. And, if you want the crème-de-la-crème of markers take a look the Copic markers that run about three hundred bucks for a set of 36. After you catch your breath, be aware that these are the markers of master illustrators. Their colors blend into one another seamlessly and they even make a marker that will subtly take away color so that you might get the light shining off those rose petals almost as perfect as Mother Nature painted them. Almost, and if you are very good.

Lap pillow and scrap paper for testing colors.

           In whatever medium you choose to lose yourself, try the delightful art of coloring. If you have ever enjoyed a quiet moment filling in a sketched illustration or ever felt the humble pleasure of simply relaxing with crayons just for the joy of it, then enjoy it again. Maybe it is the perfect thing to put on your holiday list for yourself or someone else who might enjoy this gentle art. There are many places online you can download free adult coloring pages. With even a little box of eight crayons you can let the worries of the day slip away, just for a little while and become childlike again, quiet with your colors and a moment of contentment.

From Creative Heaven's Peacock book in Bic Ultra-Fine Markers

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