I’m continually amazed by what my students can do.
And while I’d love to hog all the credit and boast that I’m an amazing teacher who can turn complete schlubs into Rembrandts… that’s not true.
The fact is that there are some really talented people out there who work 9 to 5 jobs as dentists, accountants, and bus drivers. If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of them. You are not an artist but you have hidden artistic skills. Coloring just happens to be a hobby which digs up your long buried, untapped gifts and shines a spotlight on them.
So it’s not me, it’s you.
Yes, Dorothy. You had it all along.
A lot of people who take coloring classes could have gone into art. A lot of good colorers should have gone into art.
But there’s a divide that we don’t often talk about:
When does your awesome coloring turn into art?
And if you’re really good at coloring, how do you push yourself beyond mere coloring and start creating art?
For starters, let’s clarify the difference. Because art is one of those wishy-washy terms that gets applied to everything nowadays. Tom Cruise’s latest box-office bomb, fancy cupcakes, and the masterpieces in the Louvre all get called art. In order to make people feel important, we’ve trashed the meaning of “artist” so that it no longer stands for anything concrete. If everyone is an artist, then no one is an artist.
So let’s acknowledge that there’s a difference between making cool stuff and making art.
There’s also a big difference between coloring a class project and creating art.
Is it art or is it an exercise?
You wouldn't call the third jazzercise lady from the left a dancer, would you?
Sure, she’s dancing… kind’a. But there’s a difference between dancing and being a dancer. You can go through some of the same motions that a dancer would do but that doesn’t make you Lord of the Dance.
Art is the same way. You can go through all the artist motions but that doesn’t mean you get to tack your project to the wall at the Guggenheim.
This is important to keep in mind when you post your class projects to Facebook or Instagram and all your friends and relatives comment “Oh, you’re such a wonderful artist!” Your online buddies likely don't understand that what you’ve posted is the equivalent of taking a selfie in Zumba class.
Basically, don’t let the “You’re so talented!” go to your head. If you are following along with a teacher and copying everything they do, then you’re going through the motions of making art without actually making art.
For some of you, maybe that’s all you want to do. You just want to color and have fun doing it. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with recreational coloring.
But a lot of you want to take the next step and move beyond art exercises. And you’re feeling paralyzed because coloring classes aren’t set up to teach you anything beyond the exercises.
So Iet’s talk about the first step:
How do you begin to create art?
It’s head-smack simple, hardly the subject for an expansive blog post but I’ll bet you don't hear about it in a lot of classes.
The first step to creating art is to stop following the teacher.
In art, there’s something we call a “voice”. The way to begin moving from coloring exercises to artistic expression is to begin adding little bits of your voice to your coloring.
If you’re coloring something exactly the same way someone else did- whether a teacher, a project off the internet, or even the colored sample on the stamp package… Any time you try to match someone else, you are not making art, you are copying. You are not expressing yourself, you are mimicking someone else’s voice.
Even though you physically colored it, there’s no you in a copied project.
The first step to artistry is to add a bit of yourself to everything you color.
Now I’m not telling you to chop off your left ear and add it to the card for Aunt Polly’s 90th birthday next week.
I’m asking you to add one small unique touch to your next project.
- use a different marker palette
- add a pattern or texture that isn’t on the original stamp
- add something new or mask off part of the stamp
- change the object (make a grizzly bear into a panda)
- combine several stamps into a new composition
When you deviate from the sample project, you are injecting unique personality into the image. That’s adding voice. You’re using something old to create something new by adding a little bit of yourself.
You don’t have to redesign the whole thing. Baby steps are all that’s needed.
Don’t pressure yourself into turning a Easter Rabbit stamp into a Volkswagen Beetle. Just change one small thing every time you color a stamp.
Baby steps will snowball
Once you’re confident about using your own color palettes, you’ll want to change something more. And that more will lead to the confidence to add even more mores.
It’s a gradual process. As you break free from the confines of sample projects, you will naturally add more of your own voice to your coloring. Over time, you'll develop a look or a style that’s 100% you and instantly recognizable. Adding you to your images begins the process of artistic self-expression.
They don’t let you perform your own routine in Zumba class but it’s totally okay to do it in coloring.
End the copy-catting is the first step to becoming an artist. It’s not the only step but it’s the first and possibly the hardest step.
Letting go of the guardrail can be difficult but it’s worth it.
It doesn’t matter how well you color a project. You can be the most amazing student on the face of the planet, but if your project looks just like the class sample, you haven’t done anything more than go through the motions.
Artists invent their own motions.
Stop being the third girl from the left. Add a small bit of your voice to your next coloring project.
That’s the first baby step to become an artist.