I was never good at coloring. Far from prompting nostalgia, this renaissance of coloring as a legitimate pastime for grown folks has provoked all kinds of emotions since I was more than happy to leave crayons and coloring in the far distant past. Mostly, because I was awful at it.
The Twin and our younger brother — who was basically our Triplet– would excel at something far beyond simply “coloring” the picture. They could outline in a strong darker color and would use different angles of the crayons to create shading and shadows.Their pictures — though having the same Donald Duck or cartoon theme — were individual expressions of artistry that my own pictures never displayed.
I always came in last place in coloring contests. I never managed to stay in the lines and would have stray marks, or spilled food, all over the page. I could render nothing beautiful or evocative with crayons or markers. The Twin would sit upright at the kitchen table making something that would be proudly displayed on the refrigerator while I sprawled, long-legged and gangly-footed, across the floor of the Den. Though my mother would just as proudly hang my efforts on the refrigerator, they never looked quite right next to the neat artistry The Twin and Triplet produced. “I bet Jada drew this one,” someone would say (always with a chuckle) pointing to the picture that looked as if it had been folded, sent through a shredder once, peed on by the dog and then colored before making it to the refrigerator door.
What I never experienced during these coloring periods was what pioneering psychologist Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi calls “flow,” the essential element to all creative tasks.Being “in the zone” is another name to describe the flow phenomenon,
He defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Cskikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.4)
My active, critical brain was always engaged during the process of coloring. Maybe it was thinking about the judging (and subsequent losing) that would follow or what my picture would look like alongside the other, neater ones, but it never really let go and enjoyed coloring as a process. At least not pre-fabbed pictures.
Recently, I came across this adult coloring book and it brought back an interesting memory:
I would often take a long roll of white, butcher block paper and starting at the edge, I would choose a geometric shape and then make an interconnecting pattern by repeating this particular shape in various sizes, with no gaps. And I would spend hours patiently coloring in each repetition with a different color.
I was in the zone in those moments. I was relaxed and invaded by calm, and I was happy — I was in the “flow” of things.. I was always satisfied and proud of the colorful, patterned end result. A result that I had created with my own hands from some design only available in my own mind, using the very same colored pencils that always proved unwieldy when used on pref-fab pictures. And when it was time to eat dinner, or wage war against the neighborhood boys, I would fold this piece of paper with the utmost care- care that I showed to no other material possessions save books –and hide it in the back of my closet until I was ready to pull it out again.
I learned just a few years ago (in an Adult re-read of Wrinkle in Time) that the patterns that I couldn’t stop making are called “tessellations”
While I have very little nostalgia for coloring Santa Claus, Barbie or Mickey Mouse, I think back upon all of my free form tessellations with incredible fondness.In fact, I maintain a roll (or 3) of Butcher block paper in the house for all kinds of free-form creativity.