Last Christmas my ‘Secret Santa’ gift from our staff Christmas party was one of the new adult-colouring books and a pack of coloured pencils. I was chuffed and looking forward to ‘playing’ with it over the holidays. As it turned out I started sketching again instead and never got around to even opening up my new book, so when my friend Pam told me that some of her other friends had taken up ‘colouring’ and she wanted to give it a go, I regifted that book to her. She has been making good use of it ever since.
Pam is in good company. You can’t look sideways in a bookshop now without seeing row upon row of these new adult-colouring books (Amazing Animals, Beautiful Botanicals, Fabulous Flowers, Tribal Karma, Positively Zen) but is it really such a ‘new’ craze? Or has it just become socially acceptable now to actually admit, out loud, that you really liked to colour when you were a little kid and (shock, horror) you still do! (I bet there are more than a few mums out there who, when the kids are at school or sleeping, have quietly sat down and secretly finished colouring in the folds of the princess’s dress or the flowers in that secret garden . . . )
My dad loved our kiddie colouring books—and this was 40-something years ago, long before it became a cool pastime. I have very vivid memories of Dad sitting at our kitchen table, a cigarette in one hand and a pencil in the other, carefully choosing which picture he wanted to work on and then concentrating hard (the tip of his tongue always used to stick out of his mouth when he was concentrating hard) to make sure he didn’t colour outside the lines. (Dad didn’t care to cross those lines.)
The colouring books we (and Dad) played with then were not a bit like those available now. They weren’t—and I quote—‘complex-yet-calming, theme-inspired, adult-colouring-books (for artists and colourists of all levels), printed on heavyweight, acid-free paper (to prevent bleed-through), with perforated pages (for easy removal and display of your artwork)‘. WoW. Way to make a colouring-book sound like one of Da Vinci’s lesson plans. Who wouldn’t want one of those books—even if you never actually got around to colouring it in? (And, by the way, don’t you wish you had discovered that gaping hole in the book market?)
But not having access to one of these new fancy-schmansy colouring-book fantasies would not have bothered Dad at all. In fact, they might even have been too fancy for him. The new books are indeed very beautiful (even before they are coloured—some of the original drawings are fabulous) but the drawings are also very complex and take time, effort and patience to complete. I think it was the utter simplicity and un-complicatedness (is that even a word?) of our kiddie books that Dad enjoyed. The drawings were simple, with lots of white space. You could just colour the shapes in if that is all you wanted to do—or you could get creative. We used to draw our own clouds in the sky, and put our own birds in the trees, and add necklaces and earrings to the forest animals (as you do). There was plenty of room in those old books to colour ‘outside the lines’.
The new adult colouring books don’t give you much room (if any) to colour outside their lines. That is what is missing in them for me, because, unlike my father, I think being able to consistently and unreservedly step outside any rigid line laid before you is a marvellous thing. I wish I had done it more myself as a child and later as a young woman (ah, the benefits of hindsight) and then perhaps I would not find it so difficult to do so now (and I am not just talking colouring-books now people). I have always had a great admiration for people for whom lines are not seen as somewhere to stop, but merely things to cross over, bend, or go around. The purple people. The people who dare to be different. The movers and shakers. The innovators and inventors. (The artists who splash colour around with absolutely no (seeming) desire to make the final result look like anything in particular.) People who colour WAY outside the lines.
In spite of that admiration, I don’t believe I have it in me to ever be truly purple, because it turns out that lines (both inside colouring books and out) are important to me. (There is obviously more of my father in me than I know.) Some lines I have been easily able to bend and stretch, but there aren’t many I have been able to just completely break through. And, although I have made several short forays (of bright purple squiggles) outside the lines of my life so far (and hope to make at least one or two more) that purple squiggle always tends to recede into a soft and comfortable mauve.
But you know what? There are worse things to be than mauve. Even if I am ‘pink trying to be purple’—at least I am trying. You never know—those lines might still get colour splashed across them yet . . .