My wife and I walked our dog a little while ago. She has since gotten back to coloring, a practice she’s taken up with some consistency and considerable joy since her mother and I both gave her coloring books for her birthday.
She’s currently filling in a full-page line drawing of parrots in flight over a sea of blossoms. The birds she’s rendering in reds, pinks, and purples; the blossoms await the colorful life she’ll give them. I imagine yellows, oranges, and greens will complement the bold ruddiness of the birds.
At first she used colored pencils; now, she works in Sharpie marker, in part because she doesn’t have to press as hard as she had to press with pencil to produce the desired shade and thickness of color, but also because markers produce much brighter, more vivid colors than even the hardest pressed pencils could produce on the page.
Using markers means she often has to skip over coloring the back sides of the pages she already colored. But when I give these passed-over pages a look I find a kind of beauty in the ways the colors have bled through the paper, laying a new pattern overtop the precise fractal structures the book’s artist has created.
The images are of a tropical theme. Sea turtles and swirling snakes and exotic aquatic plants twist and corruscate across each page of the book. I chose this particular book from among several adult coloring books because of our shared affinity for the ocean. I wanted to give my wife the chance to collect her efforts at coloring.
I also wanted to give her a gift that gave back to her the chance to do and feel things she needed to do and feel; I wanted to offer her the opportunity to recuperate, recharge, and create. I noticed how frequently she lost herself in such work over the past few months, filling in the lines of superhero drawings she’d downloaded from the internet and printed off on our home computer. While she commented that such work often made her feel guilty for having wasted an afternoon, it was clear to me that working on a coloring project was hardly wasteful — in fact, as I suggested above, it was restorative. Is restorative.
It helps her satisfy the need to order and organise. It’s a chance to play with ideas of color theory, value, contrast, shading — the tools of her art teacher’s trade. And finishing something, no matter how small the task, brings with it the satisfaction of accomplishment.
In the introduction to the book, the artist writes about letters she has received from men and women who bought her previous book. These individuals were deeply grateful to the artist for all the same reasons and more. Several even claimed to have found in coloring the chance to express themselves in ways they hadn’t realized before. The artist herself expressed some surprise at receiving such gratitude; she hadn’t realized how many would appreciate the chance to cocreate with her such richly imagined tapestries as those she committed to the pages of her books.
“I know what you’re thinking,” my wife says, pausing briefly after filling in the last spear-shaped feather on a parrot’s wing. “You can’t wait for me to finish coloring so we can get our shopping done.”
“Not at all,” I tell her, leaving it at that.
I’ll tell her later I was thinking that the marks we make are expressions of what’s going on inside us; moreover, they’re reflections of our inner worlds. Little prayers meant to bring into being the world as we would like it. I see a little more clearly my wife’s vision of the world in each coloring she completes. That’s the gift giving something back to me.