When I was a kid I loved coloring. I never liked to color things the colors they were supposed to be. In my mind a horse could be blue and Smurfette could be green. I didn’t care if the colors stayed in the lines. The blue horse could fill the whole landscape if I wanted it to, she could blend in thewith the sky. In my head it was all good. When I was in 3rd or 4th grade the teachers started to praise another girl in my class for having perfectly colored in horses and smurfs. Her smurfs were the right shade of blue, from the 96 crayon set and the colors never went outside the lines. They were perfect. The teachers started asking me, “Don’t you want your smurfs to look just like hers?”
Well, no, I didn’t.
But she got all this praise for getting all the colors to stay in the lines. What I wanted as an 8 year old was for the adults to heap praise on me like they did with her. I watched her one day to see how she did it. She carefully outlined her coloring book with perfectly sharpened crayons, her little tongue sticking out from her mouth in deep concentration, she slowly and carefully shaded in the panels of color using the side of her crayon and carefully rotating it to keep the point shaped well.
I followed suit. I wanted the teacher to be impressed with my smurf. I concentrated hard and did everything she did, and my smurf kinda looked like hers. I used the wrong shade of blue because I only had the 48 color set and the regular blue had been worn down to a nub from making horses that blended in with the sky.
The girl came over and took a look at my smurf and said, “That’s pretty good but you went outside the line right there.” While pointing to a miniscule speck where I’d gone outside the lines. I probably spent the rest of that school year attempting to color in perfect smurfs rather than just making what I liked.
Are we all trying to make the perfect colored smurf by following instructions exactly?
Why are we so afraid of doing our own thing?
How can we unlock our creativity?
I have an exercise that I do when I’m feeling blocked and it helps unlock my creativity. I call it automatic continuous line drawing. The only rules are that you don’t lift your pen, it has to be done in pen and lines can not be erased.
Put the pen to the paper and make lines. You can make a drawing of something or nothing. Random shapes are cool. I tend to start with a face I work my way out from an eye, nose or mouth and build up a lot of thin black lines until I feel like I’m done.
I’ve filled up entire sketchbooks with these drawings.
Sometimes I leave them black and white and sometimes I add washes of watercolor. I’ve drawn them on board and added layers of gouache or acrylic. Marker, crayon, or colored pencils would work too.
Line and color. These wake my brain up.
The best thing is, this exercise that completely wakes up creativity only needs a pen, a journal, me and maybe some color.
These drawings are my anti-smurf. A complete rejection of coloring inside the lines. I MAKE these lines. I apply color where I want, wet blue watercolor mergine with damp red watercolor creating a mingling of color that would have made my 3rd grade teacher question why I’d do such a thing and wonder what was wrong with my eyes, mental faculties and question if my hand-eye coordination was off. What she’d fail to see is that these little drawings are escape and awakening. They are my brain on creativity.
These drawings represent a way for me to step away from the teaching of conformity and feeling that I must do this just so.
I want to know, what do you do to break free?