You have to appreciate this picture with me.
I have recently started colouring, blaming my daughter Tina who gave me a colouring book and crayons for Christmas and unleashed the monster. Then I joined a couple of the groups on Facebook and it was kind of like baptism by a dunk in the deepest ocean . . . while holding a heavy rock .. . . . duct taped to your hands. Suddenly my life was everything colouring and the passion and intensity of people driven to colour every day, in every way, endlessly, over and over, buying and consuming all things colourful rip tided me way out into the deep beyond all rescue. My life was taken over by the raging river of nonstop posting on my Facebook. My phone sounded like it was having an epileptic attack with all the dinging to notify me of another post.
I couldn’t even see anything my friends or family posted on my feeds.
Best week of my life.
And most of the work is exceptional and beautiful beyond what you could imagine possible with a coloured pencil and those that are not quite up to that standard are just beginners who will nail it and surpass their teachers in no time.
I spent a lot of time researching, as is my way, and learning about the terms and the supplies etc. I always figure, if I suck at colouring, I can impress them with how they make those prisma coloured pencils or which paper is the best to use and why. I am never sure if people are impressed with what I have to say or just that any human being can talk that fast and for so long without breathing.
I will take what adoration I can get.
I spent a lot of time experimenting and even more time thinking. I found myself wondering about when I stopped colouring and what happened to those colouring books that took up hours of my childhood. I always had to complete each book before I could ask for another one. Those last 18 pictures or so – the ugly filler pictures – were never coloured with the same attention and detail that the first pics were. I basically picked an ugly crayon, and coloured a meat ball in the middle of each page. Then I worked on fixing my face to convince the adults I meant it to be like that and thought it was a great job before presenting my case for a new colouring book. Any suggestion that I just scribbled to hurry and get through and get a new book, was met with the most wounded face and tears, if possible, and a blubbering, “I did the best I could …”
I remember what it felt like to open a new book with each page a possibility and then to pull out the first crayon from a brand new pack. I remember insisting that only I could colour in my book and how I just wanted to throw the whole book away if my brother managed to sneak into it and colour one. It was ruined. I remember how I wanted to throw my grandparents away when they insisted I allow my toddler cousins to colour the picture on the other page that I was working on. It was especially painful when that was the picture I was saving to colour because it was the best one in the whole book. I remember when I figured out you could colour outside the lines and make the picture more colourful and interesting. I remember trying to convince other people it was allowed and it looked great, and then feeling so awesome when others copied what I had done.
I remember how much I loved pencil crayons and the great care I took of them, each start of a new school year. People would ask to borrow your “blue” or your “pink” and I always fought within myself. They were my favourite colours but I also wanted to be kind. Pencil crayons were your opportunity to score a higher mark by impressing your teacher – even colouring maps became a creative endeavour worthy of the best effort of both you and your pencils. Once someone returned your crayon damaged in any way, or failed to return it, they went on a hit list. Lots of kids hired people to take out their enemies . . . I took care of my own. Personal touches like that matter.
I bought a lot of friends just by sharing those pencils. It was a high price to pay but I would get lonely sometimes.
And then suddenly pencil crayons were not on the list of needed school supplies and the ones from the year before were still in their pencil case, primarily unused. I probably carried those same crayons with me for years, not ever needing them but unwilling to throw them out … just in case . . .
The colouring books, on the other hand, disappeared over the years. No-one treasured my efforts or felt the need to keep them in a trunk, wrapped in tissue paper, to hand to the great grand children one day. No-one ever understood how awesome my art was. The pictures off the fridge had long since slipped to the floor and disappeared under the fridge to be consumed by the dark fridge grunge which seemed to have the ability to even eat through pennies left there for more than a year. No-one asked if I wanted to colour. No-one bought me colouring books. No-one shared their colouring books, not even my own kids when they started colouring. The door was closed on me. I joined the ranks of all adults in pushing poster projects for work or church over to the next person, insisting I was not an artist.
No-one ever gave me a certificate declaring me an artist, but then, no-one had ever given me a certificate declaring I wasn’t.
I decided. I gave up.
I didn’t even fight it.
So in the midst of all this Facebook turmoil and rediscovery and wandering down ancient paths paved in “what if’s,” my daughter called in tears, asking if I knew how to get sharpie off of a wall . . a child . . . and a mattress. Her youngest son had drawn on his brother’s wall . . . again.
I tried to be sympathetic but I laughed at the image of his first little effort with the green sharpie a few weeks back. After that incident, they had scoured the house to find the rest of the sharpies. My daughter was outraged that no-one had seen him drawing on the fridge. A few weeks later and he moved into his blue phase and coloured the bath tub and his shirt. Finally, he had greeted her that day at the door, naked, and covered in red Sharpie. I could see him standing there with his big blue eyes and red hair and a face that could melt all the glaciers in the galaxy. My daughter is tougher than million year old ice. She screamed and followed the red trail that led into the kitchen, with a few sweeps here and there, then down the hall, and into a bedroom. Her oldest son suggested she not come into his bedroom and admitted he had been busy in there as well.
But she had to look. And the picture above was what greeted her.
The next day when her oldest son Skyped me, he sat in front of the art piece and talked. I noticed Mali came in and sat beside him, almost an exact, albeit smaller, replica of his older brother. He sat there, little red head turned to listen to Noah, his hands folded in between his knees. His eyes kept going back over the wall, his tongue was in his cheek and he looked like he might explode. I had to ask. “Did you colour that Mali?”
“Uh huh,” he was looking at me, waiting …. was he going to get scolded again?
In my best responsible grandmother voice I said, “I think it is pretty awesome!”
He was up on the bed in an instant, jumping up and down, talking 500 miles a minute, telling me about his amazing work of art in words I could not even begin to understand, so proud of himself, so thrilled that I asked about it and that I recognized it as art. He lept from one end of the wall to the other, pointing and jabbering. Then he was laying on the bed tracing one of the lines and following it up to the wall and having to get back up on his feet. Up. Down. He was all over the place. He turned to face me, jumping and throwing his hands in the air, unable to keep himself from repeatedly turning to admire his work.
I had to laugh.
I am still laughing at the sheer joy of the spirit of a child that sees a wall as a big unused sheet of paper and when he ran out of space he looked for the next logical space which happened to be a bed mattress . . . and he kept on going. It was brilliant.
And no, he did not know how to shade, or understand compatible colours. He did not have the latest, most expensive pens and he clearly was not impeded by worry that there would be any bleed through. He just exploded in the joy of colouring with the one pen that worked and once he got started he could not stop himself.
I wish I could still find that in me. I wish I had fought harder to keep it, because no matter how much I enjoy colouring now, it will never be with the same wild abandon and enthusiasm it was as a kid. And the real truth . . . I will never be as great an artist as was that part of me that used to colour on walls and fill colouring books with explosions of colours where cows were purple and skies were green. I can master techniques, but the spirit is what I should have fought for.
So I shut down the noise from all the busy people telling me how I should be colouring and where I could get the best deals on gel pens and I put away the fancy designs and the awesome pens, and I looked in my drawer for a sharpie.
No I didn’t go for one of the walls. I couldn’t do it even though they are my walls. Mine is a journey and I don’t reach destinations without putting in the work to cover the miles, step by step. I have walked a long way down the road away from my colouring and reclaiming that joy will take time. But for now, I did a piece of paper with a single Sharpie. Maybe I can Skype with Mali next week and he can give me some pointers. The two of us need to work on his mom to help remind her of how beautiful a red sharpie’d wall actually is.