The other day, my friend, Elaina, and I were coloring at the kitchen table with her two little girls. We had a stack of coloring books, but were also tearing through a pile of computer paper to draw designs. “Pretty colors,” her four-year-old said, as she looked at my drawing. I noticed that the colors that I gravitate to have been the same for many years, and I lamented that, while I can custom-order bags full of whatever color M&Ms I desire, I can’t custom order a box of new crayons with more than four colors*. (As you likely guessed, based on my new-school-supply-fueled love of fall, I adore a brand new box of Crayons.)
“What colors would you want?” asked Elaina. “These ones,” I said. “Black, silver, turquoise, purple, magenta, some kind of bright green, that robin’s egg color. Definitely a lot of black and silver crayons, not just one each. How about you?” “All pink,” she said. “Every color of pink that they have.”
Although it may be some time before we can realize our pipe dream of an entire 96-count box of couture crayons (Are you there, Crayola, it’s me, Jessica!?), we can reap the benefits of coloring more often – and we needn’t wait until a rainy day forces the munchkins indoors for a few hours. Coloring is an amazing way to relax and check in with our creative “side” (which, as we know, is always around, but often neglected).
I spent last year counseling patients in a hospital. Upon my arrival onsite, I was pleased to find that the majority of the patients were coloring every day. They did this for stress relief, for a distraction, sometimes, just for fun. These patients, who spent almost the entire day in group or individual counseling, who were struggling, fighting to find comfort in their lives and in themselves, found solace in coloring in the printed copies of mandalas that were neatly organized in folders at the nursing station. Some colored during sessions that upset them, using the tactile and visual sensations almost as a type of grounding. Others used coloring to block out the noise in the waiting area, while some used coloring in order to draw gifts for their peers. The coloring calmed them, helped them to relax, and it also provided a sense of satisfaction when they completed a beautiful picture.
Coloring is for everyone. Those feelings – of calm, of relaxation, of satisfaction – can be had by all of us. Recently, an article in Huffington Post Spain was translated to English for the US site, and began making the Facebook post rounds. I was hardly surprised to read the author’s assertion that coloring “generates wellness, quietness, and… stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses, and creativity.” And according to an Artnet article, the fact that coloring may remind us of our childhood may be comforting as well.
Recently, during dinner with my fiancé, I mused aloud that restaurants should provide crayons and paper for grownups, not just for patrons under 10. While I’ve never understood how people can sit through a meal silently, I am aware that the tables of those who dine around us are often quiet, and though I’m hard-pressed to find a situation in which I have nothing to say, I know that some meals would benefit from an icebreaker of sorts. Think about how much fun a first date would be if you could scribble on a piece of paper or show off your flower-drawing skills! How relaxing it would be to come home from work and decompress by filling in a beautiful design! (Glass of wine optional.)
Years ago, when I was having a tough week, my friend, Melissa, suggested that I buy a paint-by-numbers kit at Michael’s. “It will distract you,” she said, “but also help you to focus.” I thought it sounded like a silly plan, but I was intrigued. Off I went, through the fake flower aisles, and selected a “painting” of an underwater seascape. Once I finished my masterpiece, I promptly tossed it in the trash, but the important part had happened already: I had allowed myself a few hours each night to focus on color and light, to stay within the lines at a time when it felt like everything was out of control. Time passed quickly and my focus helped me to both zone out, and be present, at the same time.
Coloring does the same thing, minus the embarrassment of letting the woman at the Michael’s register know that, for the next few weeks, you’ll be using paints #9, #13, and #22 to try to recreate a Van Gogh. Give it a try sometime soon. You can pick up a respectable 96-color Crayola box at any CVS, and I dare you not to smile when you open it up. While you may not get to select only your very favorite colors, just having a rainbow of possibility at hand should be a good shot of beauty for the day.
*Please note that while I am grateful to be able to make a 64-count box filled with 16 each of my 4 favorite colors, I would prefer to be able to choose, say, 4 each of my favorite 16 colors. If I wanted to get Elaina a box of “every pink” from the 64 crayon color line, I would need to choose at least 14 pinks.