When I was a child I loved coloring books, and of course I always stayed inside the lines. It was a source of great pride to my mother when our next door neighbor who was an artist commented that I had exceptional technique and control when I was only about three. Mama would repeat that compliment over and over again as evidence that I was somehow destined for greatness. Eventually society changed its mind about the art of coloring and pronounced that the ability to fill in the blank spaces of a drawing was little more creative than painting a wall. Furthermore the concept of staying within the lines was viewed as a sign of someone without any particular thinking skills. Still my mama insisted that my outstanding coloring at such a young age was indeed significant.
I soon bored of the habit of coloring as most young children do. I never developed my artistic side save for a required art class that I took at the University of Houston. I probably enjoyed that course more than anything that I ever took. The professor insisted that I should consider a change of major but since I was only one semester away from graduation that was never going to happen. I dabbled here and there in arts and crafts but never really found any reason to pursue my art. My devotion to teaching mathematics always trumped any inclinations to draw or paint. Of late my creative instincts have been mostly poured into writing although I’m not certain that the nonfictional aspect of my essays actually qualifies as inventiveness.
Not long ago I noticed a lovely coloring collection at my daughter’s house. It was a slick looking book filled with designs on high quality paper stock. I found out that it was part of a new trend called adult coloring books. Something in my psyche told me that this might be something that I would enjoy doing so when I saw a similar book at the local Barnes and Noble I purchased it along with a set of watercolor pens. Mine is called Zen Colouring Collection and it is filled with seashells, butterflies, flowers, fish and designs. It’s known as advanced art therapy for grown-ups.
I must admit that whenever I sit down to color the delightful pictures the tension that I may be feeling literally melts away. I’m not sure that I am quite as good at the process as I was when I was only three. My hand has grown a bit unsteady with age but I have a good color sense and the pens make the process almost fool proof. I find myself channeling my troubles into the art of completing the designs by giving them a colorful lift. I have since purchased an additional book of postcards called Secret Garden. I haven’t decided yet if I will one day send some of my “art work” to friends or if I will just keep my creations for myself.
I remember a time when my mother was hospitalized for her mental illness and the staff required her to spend time coloring. She thought that the whole idea was ridiculous and I suppose it was given that the nurses gave her inexpensive children’s art books to complete. She cringed and insisted that she felt like a fool. I suspect that she may have felt more inclined had she been able to work with the very nice books that my daughter and I have purchased. Sometimes when I am working in one of them I just sit looking out my bedroom window listening to calming music while filling in the spaces with my favorite colors. It’s almost impossible not to become quite relaxed. I am able to understand what the psychiatric workers were trying to achieve in giving the patients pictures to color.
Mike rolls his eyes a bit whenever he sees me laboring away on the newest image. He never liked to color even when he was a child. Perhaps the secret for me is that it did bring me great joy at one time in my life. I often feel as though I am drifting back to more innocent times when all seemed right with the world. For whatever reason I do enjoy it so.
My granddaughter has taken up the same habit. She liked my Zen collection and bought one for herself. She is a worrier like I am and she finds it helpful to concentrate on the process of coloring rather than to dwell on her concerns. I love it whenever she and I can work together. She is actually quite the artist in her own right and she does a far better job than I do. We sit wordlessly concentrating on the image at hand. It is nice just to enjoy the moment without thinking about what will come next. I can almost hear my heart beating and I find myself feeling in unison with some mystic force.
We live in such a stressed filled world. Even children have so many demands being made on them. Who knew that for some of us the childhood art of coloring would become a form of therapy and that it would work so well? I suppose that it demands a bit of free time to complete on the designs. Most people have such busy schedules that they might think of many more things that they would rather do than sit around making black and white pictures come alive. For some yoga or running or meditating calms their minds and they don’t need much else. I, on the other hand, am like a racing engine. Exercise becomes a competitive sport. I can’t seem to still my mind enough to meditate the way I am supposed to. For some reason coloring shuts down all of my tendencies to overthink and agitate my mind. I become as cool and calm as a cucumber.
I used to get the same reaction from creating greeting cards with a couple of friends who came to my house once a month for our mutual therapy. We used stamps and stamp pads and a whole lot of imagination to make handmade sentiments for birthdays, Christmas, and those occasions when someone was sick. We had quite a run together and then for some reason that I don’t really remember our meetings became farther and farther apart until they were no more. I didn’t get the same feeling from making the cards alone as I did with friends. I eventually gave all of the stamps away and searched for another outlet. It was not until my chance discovery of my daughter’s coloring book that I found something that really worked for me.
I always think very pleasant thoughts of my mother whenever I am coloring. Her adoration of me that was always so embarrassing now seems so sweet. I’d love to hear her bragging about how wonderful I am once again. She was always my biggest fan and I miss that. Somehow when I’m coloring I almost feel her presence. She is young and beautiful and healthy and happy and she is holding up one of my early efforts and predicting that I will one day be a great woman. How she managed to derive all of that from a coloring book I will never know but it sure made me feel confident over the years.
They say that as we age we return to a second childhood. Perhaps my new found love of coloring is just such a moment. I do in fact feel as though I am in a Zen-like trance as I slowly but surely fill the empty spaces with the colors that I love to see together. I am as carefree as a three year old and it feels so good. You may want to try it for yourself. It’s a really fun way to disconnect from the rat race if only for a little while and I have read that psychologists are insisting that it is actually good for our health. I know that it works for me!