Saturday, April 18, 2015

On The Art of Coloring Inside The Lines

"Evolution" From Angie Grace's Balance, by Nandu

   A recent radio interview on NPR with Johanna Basford, a Scottish artist/illustrator introduced me to the world of Adult Coloring. Yes, there are coloring books for adults – and they are being consumed in such quantities that Basford’s books are sold out after selling over 1.4 million copies. While eagerly awaiting the re-stocking of her books, I shopped for alternatives, and entered the black and white world of Angie Grace. Angie Grace’s range of coloring books for adults have an enormous fan-following. They are among the top 100 best-selling art books sold on Amazon. Angie Grace’s page on Facebook, Color With Angie Grace, was created only eight months ago. At the time of this writing, it has over 800 members and growing, and more than 3500 pictures of members’ color creations from Grace’s books.

    I can only describe entering the black and white pages of a coloring book like tumbling into Alice’s proverbial rabbit-hole. It’s a fall that takes you deeper and deeper into the world of interpreting shapes with color. You go compulsively from room to room, - to spaces confined by black lines on a white field, wielding your multi-colored pens until the last stroke of pigment has been rendered. That’s when you regain consciousness, briefly admire your work, - maybe post it on social media - and then move on to the next rabbit-hole to repeat the process. Somewhere along the way, you go through the motions of other aspects of your life, all the while looking forward to your next visit to Wonderland.

    News articles on adults coloring have all made note of the fact that coloring is a stress-reliever. The subtitles of Grace’s books read: Angie’s Extreme Stress Menders – a marketing ploy, no doubt, to entice the stressed-out (who isn’t?) but the not-so-artistically-inclined customer to buy the book. Coloring is indeed very therapeutic, as is any fine art such as playing a musical instrument. To recognize the therapeutic effects of coloring, but not acknowledge the inherently artistic nature of it is, if you’ll excuse my pun, a monochromatic view on the art.

Mandala by Nandu 
  Through my own initiation into the world of coloring, and journeys down rabbit-holes, I have come to ponder over some questions about art:

Is photography an art? Few would deny that photography is a pursuit that requires skill to compose good quality portraiture and scenery. It is an art, but one that has been made easy for the dilettante to engage in, thanks to digital technology. But there was a time in our history when all portraits and pictorial representations of scenery were only ever hand drawn and painted. Does that make photography a faux art?

LotusMandala by Nandu
     The appeal of adult coloring books is that it caters to the artistically inclined whose talents do not include imaginative drawing. I am a prime example of someone in this category. Pre-drawn designs allow me the opportunity to exercise my skills in color composition and combination, something I would be unable to engage in if I had to produce the designs on my own.  Since I didn’t draw what I colored, there are questions of ownership and authenticity:

If the finished piece is not entirely your doing, can you truly say that it is yours? My post on social-media of my first colored design received many compliments that prompted me to question whether I deserved the praise. After all, I had “only” colored inside the lines. My early opinion on this matter went along with the notion that if I had not drawn the design to begin with, the finished picture would somehow not be authentically mine. On the surface, this seems to be a logical perception, but perhaps a more nuanced view is required.

     Is a collaborative piece of art  (where you draw, and I color) less authentic than one done entirely by a single individual? If Da Vinci had captured the Mona Lisa smile with his Pentax instead of his paintbrush, would he have been a lesser artist?

From Secret Garden by Prue Jack, Founder of Inside The Lines

From Secret Garden, by Prue Jack

Night at the Secret Garden, by Prue Jack

  If collaboration, or reliance on technology disqualifies something as being authentic, then all art is in trouble. Every artistic endeavor is, to some extent, collaborative when compared to how the art was practiced in previous generations. Artists of today have a phenomenal array of paints, and brushes and pens and other paraphernalia to choose from.  But in the years before tube paints were manufactured, artists had to fashion their own tools, and mix their own colors. Being an artist entailed knowing how to mix paint, knowing the properties of pigments (their hue, chroma, light-fastness, compatibility with other pigments, drying attributes etc.) and a range of other skills connected to making fresh paint every day. Today’s artists need only to walk into an art store where paints and other artists’ tools are supplied, ready-to-use, with impressive choices - however, for impressive prices too!

   Having a relatively easier task compared to prior generations does not invalidate the existing skills that are put into use in creating a work of art. New categories of art are born out of advances in technology and the availability of material that previously didn’t exist – such as in the case of photography. Similarly, the term colorist is now being used to describe artists who color pictures drawn by someone else.

   Thus “collaborating” with Johanna Basford or Angie Grace does not make your artistic work any less authentic. There is a lot of room for creativity when interpreting ready-made drawings. Below are different renditions of the same drawings that I hope will illustrate this point:

Basford Heart, by Nandu

Basford Heart, by Prue Jack

Coloring inside pre-drawn lines is a fine art. But it is one that anybody, of any skill level can attempt. I dare you to try your hand at it once, and then resist the desire to do more!

On Facebook:
Inside The Lines – A coloring group where you can post your pictures, see what others are coloring, get links to free downloads to print and color, and information on resources etc. Join us!

Color With Angie Grace - A group devoted to sharing colorings from Angie Grace books only.