Coloring Inside the Lines
I can’t remember exactly what my friend’s Facebook status was; I think it was something about coloring or creativity or fighting the urge to be too controlling with her daughter’s craft projects, wanting the outcome to be just so. What I do remember was that someone responded with a bit of a rant about how they don’t believe in coloring books. It conveyed a bit of a snobby, “aren’t I more advanced in my philosophy” tone, but I’ll admit that I, feeling indignant, could have imagined that.
I have no insecurities about my own creativity, and I consider myself a free spirit in many ways. I love the very feel of a blank canvas awaiting my touch. I believe in unfettered art. But I like to color; in fact, a couple of years ago, my mother-in-law bought a grown-up coloring book for my sisters-in-law and I (and herself), and I thought it was awesome! I believe in coloring books, and I’m happy to tell you why:
A pattern is helpful for beginners
I like to cook, and I consider myself a good cook. When I first started cooking as a preteen, I rigidly followed the recipe. I don’t need to now, but I did need to then. It was following recipes for many years that gave me a feel for what things work well, what proportions are right. Now I can eyeball some amounts, and I know which other ones need absolute precision. I have a good idea of what things taste good together.
I started sewing around the same time, and I stopped cold when I was about 18. I was taught to take a lot of shortcuts, to disregard the instruction sheet. I quit sewing because I wasn’t happy with the things I made. When I took it up again about 15 years later, I learned that those instructions really do matter. I’m much happier with the things I know now, and I’m also more free to improvise because I know what I’m doing.
I think of a coloring book the same way; it teaches early artists how to move their medium in certain ways, how to shade, how to control their crayon, skills they will need when they face a blank page.
Success is important
It can’t be only the children in my family that toss aside their crayons with a sigh when the person they are trying to draw ends up looking like a jellyfish. Sometimes they are very reluctant to pick those crayons up again; they think they are a failure at art. To me, a coloring book offers them the incentive and reward of a good result (although not always, of course.) They can create a person that looks like a person before their skills are ready to draw a person on their own. (I’m still stuck on coloring book horses, if I’m honest.)
I don’t think it’s a necessity that kids use coloring books–the non-believer’s child may be a perfectly magnificent artist for all I know–but I do think that they are a great teaching tool. Some kid’s don’t like to color; fine. I have one of those myself. But I encourage you to think of a coloring book as a tool to open a gate, rather than a fence to keep creativity in. It doesn’t need to be that at all!