Coloring at 74; But no Mickey Mouse or airplanes
By Charles Austin
I am at in my home office, colored pencil in hand, filling in the bright twisted border and shaded triangles of an intricate design. Beside that paper is another, where a small rose waits for me to apply a green pencil to its leaves. A pile of coloring books is on the floor, one art deco drawings, others with varied patterns or pictures waiting for the hues of my pencils and crayons.
So why am I –a 74-year old guy – doing what I did (quite badly) 60+ years ago with pictures of Mickey Mouse and airplanes?
It started with a magazine article and a gift for my granddaughter. My granddaughter has electronic “toys” and my wife and I thought colored pencils would lead to some non-techie creativity. The article also said adults found that coloring lowered stress, created good feelings, and brought relief from some of the aches of aging.
Skeptical, I nonetheless sat with Isabelle when we opened the pencils and colored pens. Time passed as I colored. Soon I realized that a lot of time had passed.
My next session lasted about an hour, as I had picked a design I wanted to complete with complementary colors, carefully staying within the lines, something I was not good at when I was doing Mickey Mouse.
That was months ago. Now I have more than 200 pencils and pens, some “color sticks,” pencil sharpeners, a pile of coloring books, and a crowded table in my home office. I also have a lot of completed projects, none of them great “art,” but most of them attractive and interesting.
Adult coloring has become a phenomenon, with hundreds of books published, groups on social media sites and clubs where people color. For me, coloring is something that I do alone. When coloring, I often find myself in a “zone” where everything else fades into the deep background and all that exists is the color I put on the page.
I was not feeling overly “stressed” when my coloring began, but from the start I have found it a calm, easy-going activity. There are no “demands.” I decide what kind of design or picture I begin and the choice of colors is mine. There are some “techniques” to learn, such as how to apply the right kind of pressure to get a deeper color, but coloring at this level doesn’t require sophisticated “artistic skill” (which I don’t have).
Coloring does require a certain mental focus and there is the level of concentration needed to pay proper attention to lines and nearby colors. Perhaps this is the stress-relieving aspect of the craft. Some designs require me to carefully fill in a hundred small shapes. If too many “go wrong” (it happens), the end result looks strange. So I must pay attention and not think about what’s for dinner.
But – more stress relief here – mistakes don’t matter. I never let myself get caught up in thinking whether what I am coloring is “good.” I need not show a coloring to anyone. I can throw it away and start something else. And when things go well, as they usually do, there is a feeling of satisfaction and completion.
Coloring is low-cost and low tech. You need some “quality” pencils or gel-pens; dollar store cheapies don’t work very well. A few best-selling coloring books for adults, the ones that apparently started the phenomenon, are costly, but none of mine set me back more than twelve bucks.
I do show some of my “work” – it seems wrong to call it “work” – to others. A few projects made small Christmas gifts for friends. Some of us share our colorings in a Facebook forum, but it’s very casual; we aren’t going for razzle-dazzle or things that look like Monet’s water lilies. There are those among us whose coloring is indeed worthy of a place on a museum wall; but for most of us that’s not the point. It’s the experience, not the result, that counts.
“I would not have thought of you doing this,” said a friend who heard me talk of coloring. Nor would I – remembering the messy and at the time boring Mickey Mouse coloring books of the 1940s – have imagined spending an hour applying colors to complex mandalas or flowers.
But I do. And it feels good.