Friday, August 2, 2019

Coloring Is Life: 10 Bits of Coloring (Life) Advice I Gave To My Son When He Went Off To College

by Michelle M. Johnson

In August of 2018, my son, Sam, headed off to university...1300 miles away from our home in Seguin, Texas.

On August 14th, 2018, I sat down in my studio and secretly inscribed, rather lengthily I might add, his copy of my coloring book, Doodled Blooms.

The title page of Sam's copy of Doodled Blooms.
I started with the goal of being brief and straight forward...
but my kid was going off to college, living away from home
 for the first time, and I had things to say, so I ditched that
goal almost immediately:)

My inscription began like this:

You are about to head out for the greatest of adventures, and I am so ridiculously proud of you!! Who knows when you will see this inscription, but I just want you to know that it made my heart sing that you wanted to take your copy of my coloring book with you to Chicago. Here's a few bits of coloring advice that I feel also apply to life:"

Sam actually never had the chance to crack open a coloring book during his first year at DePaul University as a music performance major (and I am totally not surprised), but instead discovered my inscription when he sat down to color with me once he was home in Texas for summer vacation (and the look on his face as he read my words is one I will always cherish).

What follows below are the 10 pieces of coloring advice I gave my son when he went off to college, with a little bit of polishing here and there (I was quite emotional as I scribbled on Sam's book a year ago, and it shows in my dropped words and raggedy sentences). There seems like no better day than National Coloring Book Day 2019 to share these pieces of wisdom with a wider audience, especially since Sam heartily suggested that I should shape this list into a blog post for y'all. 

1.The lines of a coloring book's illustrations are NOT the boss of you (or anyone else)! Color inside them or color outside them - the choice is yours and yours alone.
There are so many "black lines" in life trying to box you in and tell you how to think and do: this is valuable, that is not; this is quality, that is not; this is right, that is wrong; this is weak, that is strong; this is worth it, that is a waste of time; this is the correct choice, that is a mistake. Every society has its preferences and suggestions, and they are not shy about broadcasting them loud and clear. But make no mistake, the only person that decides what to do with all those thick and thin black lines is you. And, who's to say you shouldn't color inside some lines and disregard others? Some lines create more meaningful shapes than others. Where and how you place your life's crayons, colored pencils or markers is entirely up to you.

2. Use a clean sheet of thick paper between the pages of your coloring book so that the art you make today doesn't bleed or imprint through to the next page, ruining the art you might make tomorrow.
Preparation today saves you perspiration tomorrow when you work smarter not harder. If a particular task is always giving you trouble or if you are presented with a task so monumental you feel the need to quit before you even begin, stop, breathe deep (in through the nose, out through the mouth), and narrow in on what you can work on right now rather than focusing on your challenges or feelings of the overwhelm. Managing the whole of life is always easier when you focus on its bits and pieces.

3. Don't over think your page; great creations come by just picking up the color next to you and using it.
Plans of attack are good, necessary even. Everyone loves a delightfully planned and executed color palette! But, the act of making detailed plans can also be a time suck. When you are pressed for time (and who isn't these days?), focusing on the single question right in front of you (how shall I spend this hour) is a much more efficient use of the time you have than plotting out your entire day in detail (which can actually take more than an hour, an hour in which you probably planned to do something else).

4. There is no reason not to try a new coloring tool just because you've never used it before. Don't know how brush pens, gel pens, water soluble colored pencils, etc. work? Just start coloring with them and see what you can learn.
Every expert in anything started out as a novice. Sure, they might have had some classes, some education eventually, but dollars to donuts (there's another phrase in my vernacular I don't know the origins of!), that expert started off by following their curiosity and trying something they knew nothing about. Expert advice is good, but it isn't always necessary to have it before you try something new. And, besides, through experimentation you might discover a use for something that no one has thought of yet - yay, you!

5. There are no mistakes in coloring. Sure, you may not LIKE how something turned out, but it isn't a mistake - you just don't like it, and that's an opinion, not a fact, about your creativity. 
There are coloring pages that may not have turned out as you planned and there are coloring pages that you may have walked away from, but these are not true honest mistakes; you colored (or danced, or sang, or played, or wrote, or tried something creative) and that is never, ever a mistake. 

6.Coloring is more fun with friends.
Coloring is creative, coloring is even artistic, but remember: creating art is as much about the process as it is the product. And, when you are coloring with friends, the process is about so much more than your art - it's about good conversation, laughter, camaraderie, and making memories. Coloring with friends may not end up in your most beautiful coloring pages or in even a completed page, but it is always time supremely well spent.

7. Take a picture of your finished coloring, post the pic on social media, share the shot with a friend in a chat, email the photo to someone you love. Don't keep your coloring to yourself.
The art in you inspires the art in others, and if there is one thing the world needs more of right now, it is all of its citizens remembering that being creative isn't only the prerogative of "artsy" people, but the birthright of each and every human.

8.  Sign, date and even annotate your completed coloring pages.
In the moment of finishing a coloring page, you think you will remember who you were, what you were thinking and what was important to you at that time. But, life is full of so much action, that the gentle moment of filling in a black lined illustration with a collection of colors will surely fade into the background of your memory. Future you will thank you for taking the time to jot down a brief who, what, when, where, why, and how of each of the times you sat down to be a little creative just for yourself.

9. Never throw away your coloring books or pages!
Coloring books and pages take up so little space, and everything in their pages is your creativity. Are they precious? YES! Cherish and enjoy your creative life, find it a space on a shelf or in a drawer and let it be a reminder to you that no matter what age you are or what you are doing in your life, you are never too old to color, never too old to create because...

10. Coloring is for everyone!
When in doubt, color. When you are bored, color. When you are lonely, color. When you are sad, color. Coloring can help anyone and everyone think through whatever lies in front of them. Coloring brings our minds and hearts into focus, and there isn't a person on this planet that doesn't occasionally need a bit more focus now and again. And, it is through this logic that I declare now and forevermore, coloring is for absolutely everyone.

Happy National Coloring Book Day 2019, everyone!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Clutter vs. Cluttering: Part Two Of My Very Non-KonMari Adventure In Tidying Up My Creative Space (Finally!)

Ages ago I promised y'all a follow up to my last blog post, My Very Non KonMari Adventure In Tidying Up My Creative Space: Part One. 

Well, here I am, a full six months later, to pick up where I left off all the way back in January.

The deep cleaning/re-organization/re-thinking of my studio space that I did at the opening of 2019 had a profound effect on my creative productivity: I have completed two new colorable card collections (8 unique illustrations), five new colorable bookmark illustrations, and two new, full-sized coloring book illustrations for my next coloring book, Feminism Is for Everyone: a Coloring Book.

That's a lot of sketching, inking, scanning, polishing and printing!

And, that's all on top of keeping up with the demands of my tap dance classes, managing the Have Color Will Travel Coloring Shop, adopting sibling kittens, a smidgen of travel, and the general chaos and demands of life.

The original purpose for me undertaking an entire studio deep cleaning/re-organization/re-thinking was because, as it stood, the space wasn't working hard enough for me, as all good spaces should. Prior to the the "Great Studio Overhaul of 2019," a good portion of the time I had to devote to illustrating or writing was spent simply figuring out where I was going to do it, moving one work-in-progress project aside in order to focus on something equally important, tucking supplies here, clearing a space there, and generally losing all train of thought and focus (something that is in short supply with my menopause-brain).

Obviously, with an overhauled studio space designed and organized with my three primary creative activities in mind (illustrating, writing, coloring/making/photographing), I was going to be considerably more productive (see the list above). I mean, who wouldn't be more productive after discovering tons of hidden empty space (and what creator, hobbyist or professional, isn't looking for more space?!)?!

A completely empty drawer and three deliciously open spaces on
 three very packed but now organized shelves has allowed me to have
 protected and practical places to put work-in-progress projects,
to-be-used-later ideas/supplies, and, recently, kitten-hazard items (NOTHING

 can be left out for a moment on my desks with Merry and Pippin in our lives,
 so before evening leaving the studio to go to the bathroom, I deposit whatever
 I'm working on in my new empty drawer!).
Productivity was the expected side-effect of deep cleaning my studio (or at least I was really hoping that's what would happen once I had pulled my creative life together). But, surprisingly I found more than just open space, lost art tools, and designated work stations.

Here's what I discovered when I decided to tidy up:

1. I found more remnants of projects past than you can shake a stick at (can someone please tell me where on Earth that expression comes from??), memories of the previous creative lives I had lived, memories that belonged to more than just myself (I used to make wedding invitations for heaven's sake!). While I did recycle and toss a good bit of those memories, I held on to smidgen of it, stowed it away in my awesome new projects-for-later drawer, and I plan to surprise the folks who also share these memories with a bit of a blast from the past...when the time is right:)

2. I also uncovered tools I didn't know I needed or had by processing boxes of hobbies that I, quite frankly, had forgotten I'd ever been obsessed with (cross-stitch, anyone?). Interestingly enough, quilting cutting mats are the perfect tool for prepping cardboard for coloring shop orders, cross-stitch graph transparencies are super helpful when inking colorable cards, and apparently I had aspirations of creating my own original cross-stitch patterns and had purchased a sizable pad of cross-stitch graph paper, something I'm itching to practice creative lettering on.

3. In my pursuit of empty studio space, I happily happened upon gifts for the many young creative souls in my life. During my scrapbooking days (if you are a female of a certain age, let's say 46, I'm sure you've got some scrapbooking skeletons, too, yes?), I hoarded any and all tidbits and tassels, buttons and safety pins, stickers and scraps of colored paper. Bags and folders and boxes full of these sorts of "treasures" crowded my shelves and drawers, doing nothing. In the back of my mind, I justified keeping all of this flotsam and jetsam because "one day I might do something with it" (yes, I descend from pack rats). I am now old enough to realize I am *never* going to do anything with microscopic snowflakes or triangular metal buttons again, but you know who is? Everyone under the age of 10 that I love! 

4. Lastly, massaging my studio space into something more functional for my current creative life helped me realize some core truths about myself that, prior to the "Great Studio Overhaul of 2019," I hadn't really been aware of. I now know that I am a creative repurposer (yeah, that isn't a word - I just made it up): every hobby or art form I have ever dabbled in has affected and informed all of my other subsequent artistic, creative pursuits. The skills I learned in scrapbooking (and there are quite a few *if* you took it as seriously as I did in the early 2000s) led me to card making, the lessons I learned in cross-stitch definitely informed all the post-illustration work I do to make my drawings into colorable prints of my art, my time working with beads and charms helped me learn to fully visualize my art in my head before beginning, something that is incredibly important for me as an independent artist working with a limited time and budget (waste not, want not, and all that), my lifetime spent coloring others' illustrations and amassing a wide variety of coloring tools has definitely provided me with a deep insight into the mind of the colorist, and perhaps is even the reason why I decided to start creating coloring adventures to begin with, and so on and so forth. In discovering that I am a creative repurposer, I no longer feel guilty about wanting to learn this trendy, new art form (Hello, brush lettering!) or find out more about that traditional art style (Sumi-e looks so fascinating!) because it doesn't seem to directly relate to my creative business; it is all connected or it will all connect somehow, so time spent away from creating coloring adventures is actually time spent on my creative enterprise.

I continue to be highly skeptical of all the hubbub that *still* surrounds Marie Kondo and her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Clutter by its very nature isn't bad, and sometimes it is downright necessary!

My desk as I work on this blog post right now.
Yes, it is cluttered. Yes, I need every single one of those
notebooks on this table as I write. Where you see
 empty space is usually also occupied by a cat.
I need him, too:)
But, despite all of my skepticism, I do realize now, six months later, that I took a scalpel to my creative studio not only because I needed to create a space that better served my current needs, but I also had some serious creative demons to exorcise, demons that were indeed hiding within piles, boxes, and files that looked an awful lot like clutter.

Recently, a small group of my tap students asked to visit my art studio to get a closer look at where I create illustrations and to examine the tools that I use (it should come as no surprise to you that by and large tap dancers also love to draw - creativity typically begets more creativity). I calmly agreed to their request because I now had more space in my creative alcove, everything was organized and arranged, and I was proud to be able to share it with them.

This photo was taken six months ago, right after I'd finished my deep cleaning,
 and accompanied part one of this blog post about creative organization. I am happy

 to report that, for the most part,180 days later my art studio looks pretty
 much the same. I even still have a spare bit of open space!
Before I could even show these kids my collection of drawing pens or let them take a sneak peak at completed drawings for Feminism Is for Everyone: a Coloring Book, one of them popped off, "Oh, Ms. Michelle, I love your room! The clutter! It feels so good in here!" and right behind that one the rest of them chimed in, "There's so much stuff in here, everywhere! I want to live in here! It's cluttered but..." They didn't quite know how to finish that sentence, but rather than being insulted, I laughed. I knew what they meant. There's clutter, and then there is the act of cluttering around you the things that you need to see in order to create, in order to feel creative energy, in order to believe that the world we live in wants you to live creatively. 

My studio is cluttered with photos of friends, family, and the many iterations of myself, magazine clippings, books on creativity, color, drawing, and painting, bins of colored pencils, crayons, markers, beads, colored paper, discarded comic books, brushes, erasers, and art paper, shelves full of coloring books dating back to the 1970s, gifts and mementos, Legos, awards, colorings and drawings from young people in my life, an Edward Cullen doll whose fingers are chewed off, a collection of nesting dolls from around the world, memorabilia of all sorts, succulents, cactus, cabinets full of rubber stamps, decorative bags waiting to be used, rows and rows of full journals, the only pair of ballet toe shoes I ever wore, the TeleTone taps from my favorite pair of retired high heeled tap shoes, a hat box from the 1920s that belonged to a beloved great aunt, a pondering rock that Steve made me to stare at when I need inspiration, technology, tables, chairs, and cats. 

After the "Great Overhaul of 2019," my studio is filled with a cluttering of life-changing magic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Very Non KonMari Adventure in Tidying Up My Creative Space: Part One

by Michelle M. Johnson

Recently, it seems like every where I go on the Internet and in real-life conversations, folks have the words "tidying up" and the name "Marie Kondo" on their lips, something I found bemusing as she published her book, the Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up, years ago - why, all of sudden, was everyone in a huff and a twitter over old lifestyle news? 

But, last night, as my partner and I were settling down to watch something on Netflix, there was my answer at the top of our viewing feed, bold as brass - Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: the Series. Ever curious about all the fuss, we decided to alter our viewing plans (we are in the thick of Sex Education, a series, starring Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson, about sex and high school, yes, but also quite a bit more: parenting, relationships, personal development, courage, friendship, loyalty, identity, trust, I could go on and on - it is really wonderful, entertaining scripted television, likely not for the under 16 yrs crowd or folks who prefer not to talk about human intimacy, but it has been time well spent in front of a screen, if that's the sort of thing you enjoy after a long day at work:), and turned on the first episode of Marie Kondo's series...and quickly had to turn it off because 15 minutes in we both started feeling like we were going to have a panic attack.

I understand why Marie Kondo and her KonMari method is catching everyone's attention yet again: clutter is stressful, and despite our highly digitized lives, reams of it still enters our living spaces every day. It is also the beginning of a new year, a fresh start, and spring is around the corner; it's the time where we all feel a pull to take a closer look at our lives and perhaps prune a bit of this, trim a little of that. But, I also deeply understand the backlash against her teachings (books...books are clutter...are you f*&^ing kidding me??) however, that isn't the reason why her show instantly started to stress my partner, Steve, and I out. Clutter is always a symptom of a greater problem, not the cause, and seeing that play out on screen, watching folks jump at the chance to have someone come in an organize their house and realize that it is their marriage that needs the overhaul is NOT our idea of a relaxing Saturday night.

Clutter by its very nature isn't stressful, at least not to me (a mess of books, a chaos of Legos, an overflowing box of photos brings me more joy than a tidy shelf with strategically placed objets d'art), but spaces that create clutter do push me over the edge into the no-joy zone.  I find that living in a poorly designed or thought out space leads to things and activities not having designated places and therefore getting lost/misplaced/forgotten, which then leads, at least in my life, to the kind of clutter that has me screaming at whomever is available to listen (usually a cat, but occasionally the humans I live with get an earful, too).

It is my definition of clutter that recently lead me to do what I called a "deep cleaning" of my studio space here in my home. Yeah, yeah it was the turn of a new year, the season of resolutions and good intentions (geez, I sound bitter and jaded...), but this deep dive into my creative life's living quarters had been coming on for a LONG time - the space just wasn't working hard enough for me, and because of that I was breaking my back (literally and figuratively) in order to work in it. The irony that I decided to carve out the time to re-imagine my creative studio at the exact same time that the world decided to go (or not) all KonMari is not lost on me, in fact I find it rather hilarious. But, I am writing this blog post not because I wish to add more fuel to the "messy people suck, tidy people are royalty" argument (I neither identify as messy or tidy, and I find folks who are heavily on one side of the spectrum or the other and proud about it to be a bit...boring), but instead to share with y'all what I learned through the emotional process of trying to figure out how to make my creative space work harder for me instead of the other way around. The the whole ordeal (and I do mean ordeal - tears were shed, bouts of noisy frustration were had) has some interesting things to say about creativity, I think, so I here is part one. 

Yes, that's right PART ONE (of two) because as I thought about writing this blog post, the whole experience naturally broke itself into a BEFORE & AFTER dichotomy, for better or worse. Sorry, sorta not sorry.

So, welcome to Part One of my very non-KonMari adventure in tidying up:)

First off, before I decided to put all other projects and activities aside to focus on a full on overhaul of my creative space (because NO artistic work can get done in a room that is completely torn apart, believe me), I did some concentrated thinking about WHY I was choosing to stop progress on all things Have Color Will Travel to do what could have been a re-organization-as-procrastination decoy that my shifty brain put in place (I have been having serious self-confidence issues about my work lately, and one of my go-to creative block crutches is re-organization, so I was highly suspicious of my instincts). After thinking and not a small amount of talking with Steve, I came to the conclusion that, yes, a studio overhaul was indeed quite necessary for the following reasons:

1. I had lost art tools that I knew I absolutely would not have thrown/given away or lent, and I had been avoiding the projects that needed these tools because, damn it, I was NOT gonna buy another one! I had been looking in all of my usual hiding places in the studio for almost a full year, never finding what I was looking for, so a huge instigator of my overhaul was to find my lost art tools AND to help me know for sure I wasn't going crazy (me throw art supplies away - never...right???).

2. I needed better spaces for art tools that I really hadn't been using much in the last 5 years, but now all of a sudden are needed right where I can access them quickly and easily. Currently, I teach three different levels of tap dance and conduct regular private dance lessons, and the dance students at the studio where I teach LOVE getting whimsical hand stamps at the end of class. As it turns out, I have been collecting rubber stamps for the last 20 years, so I have a bunch of well cared for, out of sight, in boxes, under books, behind other supplies (you get the idea) rubber stamps that now have a renewed and joyful purpose. And, I need to see all of my stamps all of the time because if I don't see them, I won't remember to bring them to class, and then, oh my goodness, sadness ensues. 

3. I was looking for more space as last semester I began my online coloring shop, so now I needed shelf space to store reams of different types of paper safely, an area to store shipping materials, a location for cardboard inserts to rest, and a spot for all the printed cards and bookmarks to sit as I prepared orders. During last year's holiday season, my drawing table served all of those needs, and while all the items were safe and kept in good shape, I was completely unable to draw or create anything for all of November/December because, well, I needed MORE SPACE.

4.  I needed healthier space, also. Prior to what I now am fondly calling the Great Studio Overhaul of 2019, I was trying to do all of my computer/smart phone work (blogging, website creating, correspondence, social media) on a small drawing table in the corner of the studio that I had outgrown (see - I NEVER THROW AWAY ART TOOLS!), but something about the level/angle of the table or the chair just made my back feel 20 years older than I actually am. Buying new office furniture isn't in this I've-got-a-kid-in-college artist's budget, so with the overhaul I also wanted to piece together my own version of a stand-up desk in hopes that maybe, just maybe digital work doesn't have to hurt quite so much.

5. I was determined to make my itty bitty spare room (my creative studio used to be my son's nursery and is about the size of a contemporary house's walk-in closet, and I'm not complaining - I feel super lucky to have a dedicated creative space - but, lucky or not, it is small) a harder working space with this deep cleaning. In critically analyzing my motivations for wanting to re-organize my creative studio, I came to the conclusion that I need that space to serve three distinct functions simultaneously (a drawing room, a writing room, and a coloring/creating room). Part of the reason the space was always cluttered was due to the fact that I am not just an artist, but I'm also a writer, a choreographer, a teacher, a creator, and I do ALL of these things EVERY week. I was spending more time cleaning up WIP projects in order to complete other tasks that had popped up or had earlier deadlines than I was actually creating, and I was driving myself crazy.

And, here is where I'm going to leave this post. While I consider the reasons why I attacked my cluttered studio to be of value and worth sharing, it is what I discovered along the way that really took me by surprise. 

Stay tuned for that post, but until then, here is a very AFTER picture of the whole deep cleaning process. I snapped this pic today while I was working satisfyingly simultaneously at all three stations:)

Looks can be deceiving, especially when using the
panorama function on one's camera - my studio is no
where near this big, but at least now it feels like it is to me:)

Monday, December 24, 2018

An Introvert's Holiday Wish For The World (and a free coloring page)

by Michelle M. Johnson

Whenever we head into "the most wonderful time of the year," I always feel a little out of step with the rest of the world.

So many parties.
So many lengthy to-do and must-do lists.
So many obligations.
So many expectations.

All of this added on to our regularly-scheduled-programming.

Oh, and a brand new year is rushing up right around the corner, too.

(Just typing this list makes me anxious...)

The pressure to keep up AND slow down at the same time during the holiday season (and I do mean SEASON: it lasts a full three months!) is enough to make anyone crazy, but it is especially challenging for folks on the more introverted side of the social spectrum, folks like me.

Before I go fully nuclear with trying to keep up and keep creating, I've decided to take the last few days of 2018, add them to the first few days of 2019, and create a bit of a break for myself. With this time I hope to recharge my emotional and creative batteries and (fingers crossed) rediscover my rhythm and my workflow post this holiday hurricane.

I may sign off for a few days or maybe even a few weeks, I haven't decided yet, but before I did so I wanted to put something out into the universe for you all, a wish for the end of your 2018 and the beginning of your 2019 in the form of a coloring page:

Zoom in on the purple rings:
...every creature wake to its own rhythm...
To color this page and receive future Free-Coloring-of-the-Month pages
directly to your inbox, sign up for my free bi-monthly coloring/creativity newsletter:)

This year has been a difficult for our nation and for many of us personally, too. During such challenging times, it is hard to remember that we are all simply creatures of this world, creatures with unique and beautiful rhythms that must be honored in order to remain healthy. My wish for you all reading this blog post is that you will have the time and space to wake and to work to your own rhythm if not daily or weekly then periodically, and that with that time you will each be able to hear your own life-beats and listen to how your rhythm fits into the larger song of humanity. 

Dec/Jan Have Color Will Travel Free-Coloring-Page-of-the-Month is
a free flowing doodle I created during a particularly stressful time
last spring. These flowers look like cross-sections of oranges to me,
which is probably why I started coloring them in warm yellow/orange shades.
It could also be that I was really craving gummy orange slices, too, a candy
we have right around December:)
A new year offers new possibilities - the next 365 days don't have to be more of the same, especially if the same just hasn't been good enough (but by all means, if your 2018 has been a solid gold hit, I hope you have a replay in 2019!). May this last wave of holiday mayhem before the new year provide you with a smidgen of time to wake as you wish and roll with your days without the push and shove of melodies that aren't of your own making.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

If You Made It, Sign It: A Case for Signing Your Art, No Matter What You Made

by Michelle M. Johnson

If you've ever been to one of my coloring/creativity workshops or happen to have had a conversation with me about something you made with your own two hands, then you've probably heard me say what I am about to type next: 


I don't care if you feel like your creation is "art" or "Art" or "just a craft" (ugh, that last one kills me, but I hear folks describe their beautiful creations with that phrase all the time, but that's a discussion for another blog post), letting the world know that your hands, brain, and soul decided to make something by signing your name, your initials, your glyph to that work (that is what you see me very awkwardly signing in the above video, a glyph or "ornamental vertical groove," and #protip - don't try to paint your personal mark on pottery with your right hand while videoing yourself doing so with your left...) is super important.

I have always felt strongly about giving yourself creative credit where credit is due. For as long as I can remember, the only prerequisite I've had about coloring in my treasured coloring books is that you sign and date your name on the page that you colored, even if you didn't get the chance to finish it. But, this idea of signing your work, no matter what you've created, solidified in my heart ages ago when I took my then toddler son, Sam, to a quilting exhibit at the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Memorial Museum. I have two very strong memories from that outing: 1. Watching my 18 month old child play with magnetic quilting squares meant to be stuck to a large piece of sheet metal that had been installed on a museum wall in order that visitors to the exhibit could create their own quilting patterns...and my little tyke continually trying to stick the magnet to the wrong wall, a non-metal wall, and watching it fall to the ground at his feet over and over again, each time joyfully uttering the phrase "damn it!" (an embarrassingly real parenting moment for me and a wake up call that my efforts to reign in my colorful vocabulary had not been entirely successful) and 2. Examining gorgeously intricate quilt after quilt, some over a hundred years old, and reading that, due to a variety of cultural expectations about "women's work", the origin stories of many of the most beautiful specimens of this mathematically mind-blowing and fantastically colorful art form were lost to us - LOST - because the quilts were not signed (yes, signing a quilt is most definitely a thing that can be done)!

That day, my brain starting pummeling through ideas about ego, about what constitutes art, about how we as a society shame creators, especially women who create, when they proudly state "I made this," and that the end result of all of this - I don't know, I guess it feels like fear of artists/creators getting too big for their britches - is that we lose the history of how, of why and by whom things, beautiful things, are made. 

I'm not entirely certain of this next thought, but I do believe that it was that experience almost two decades ago that started me experimenting with my initials to create my mark, my glyph that I have since gone on to leave on everything that I had a hand in creating  (and I mean EVERYTHING - cards, pottery, illustrations, collaborations, poetry, choreography, mix tape CDs...and yes, pun intended). I chose to create a glyph instead of simply leaving my signature on my creations because my name is extremely common, even versions of it that include my middle name. Creating my glyph not only made me feel like I finally had a moniker that stood out, it was also an incredibly fun intellectual puzzle to create something that represented me that could be drawn/written in a single flourish. I highly encourage you to try to create a symbol out of your initials, even if drawing or handwriting isn't something you consider your strong suit; chances are someone, somewhere has your exact name (maybe even in your family), but the likelihood that anyone anywhere creates the same shape to identify themselves as you do is small. 

Over the years I have tried to encourage the many artists, makers, creators in my family to sign their work, no matter what it is, with varying degrees of success. If I happen to be sitting right next to them during the creation process and I am able to gently make my case that they should leave their mark on their art, then a piece of family history gets created. But, I unfortunately live thousands of miles away from the vast majority of my family, so I have quilts and cards and blankets and pots and paintings and scrapbooks pages and ornaments, all sorts of stunning creations that are all unsigned. Right now, the history of these items is alive and well - my partner and I are young, our memories are intact and we can verbally share the origin stories of these family treasures whenever the moments arise.

But, honestly, the moments don't arise often: the museum quality quilts that my partner's nana made for us stay packed safely away as we currently have cats who would have a hay day with them (our gentleman kitty, Edward, is certain the worst sorts of boogers live in the folds of blankets, so he obsessively digs into any sort of covering within his reach); we are more into coffee rather than tea during this time of our lives, so the stunningly painted ceramic teapot my partner's grammie gave me for my birthday ages ago is on display, way up high, still in sight but not always in mind. I have many stories like those about the treasures we are stewards to in our home, things so precious to us they are tucked away. Sadly, because they are tucked away, the occasion to tell (and re-tell) the origin stories of these creations to our son never arises. When we are gone, and this family history is passed down to our child, will we have told our family stories enough times for him to remember who made what, who had a gift for what art form? Will he understand why he is so fascinated by shading when he draws (he gets that from his grammie), why he is so good with patterns (he gets that from his nana), why he enjoys creating detailed things (he gets that from his grandma Barbara), why he focuses on realism in his art (he gets that from my mom)? I don't know, but I fear the answer is 'no' because there is no record of who created which pieces of family art; no one has signed their work.

Perhaps I care entirely too much about folks signing their coloring pages and their drawings, about folks figuring out how to sign their knitted blankets, scarves, hats (there's *got* to be a way!), about artists of all types and levels proudly leaving their mark on their work because every creative act is a personal victory. But, recently, my in-laws' house burned to the ground in the Camp Fire, a devastating firestorm that took place in northern California this past November, and I can't get out of my mind how much family history is now forever gone.

This driveway once led up to my in-laws' beautiful house in the woods of
Magalia, California. The Camp Fire consumed their home,
 yard, outbuildings, and all the treasures that resided there.

Signing your art won't protect it from a catastrophic event like a raging forest fire, of course.  But, if there is a take away from this horrific event that I have gleaned through listening to my in-laws talk about this nightmarish experience, it is that, after our loved ones, what matters most in this world are the things we make and share with each other. 

If you are moved to create something, whether it is a gift or not, whether you keep it in your personal space or move it out to a more public venue, please sign your work, leave your mark on your art.

And, if you read that last sentence and you felt your brain adamantly responding, "No way, Jose," then I'd like you to ask yourself why you do not want to let the world know that you made something, that you are an artist. Creating a personal history of ourselves and our interests by signing our work is not boastful; it lets our loved ones know that we were here on this Earth and left something good behind for them to remember us by.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide Trilogy: Episode IV - More Awesomeness!

by Michelle M. Johnson

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

When it comes to coloring supplies, I think the answer to that question is decidedly no!

Which is why even though my blog series, The Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide, is labelled as a trilogy, I am now about to bring you Episode IV - More Awesomeness. 

Coloring for adults (and everyone, really) is going nowhere, and art supply companies are continuing to create new markers, pens, pencils and paint (yes, paint!) for coloring enthusiasts of all ages to enjoy and explore. 

My three previous episodes in my Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide were organized according to type of tool, but I have been exploring such a wide array of coloring supplies lately, I thought I would just review for you all the latest and greatest that I have discovered this year. So here are my favorite new pens, pencils, paints and markers. 

One disclaimer I always add to my Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide: the links that I attach to my blog posts are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that should you decide to purchase an item based on this post, I earn a small (really small, but every penny counts!) amount of money per purchase. I'm not suggesting that you do anything with this post besides read it and hopefully gain some useful information from it. But, should you decide to purchase something I shared about with you in this post, it would be lovely if you used the links found here in this post. Thank you:)

I know, I know, I have talked to y'all before about the wonders and fun of coloring with watercolor markers (especially the Tombow Dual Brush Pens, and yes, I still really like those babies, too - you can read my review of them here), but trust me when I say that the Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens are a whole other animal!

Zig Clean Color Real Brush Pens are just what their name says: watercolor markers with an actual synthetic bristle paint brush tip! You can color with these pens, paint with these pens, sketch with these pens, letter with these pens, and blend these pens with or without water. The brush tip is delicate and fine (just check out the narrow flick lines I was able to create with them in the above video), and the super saturated color of these markers flows easily (you needn't press on them at all to lay down color - simply brush the pen lightly on your paper).

I have the 48 set, and I have used it in coloring and card making on a variety of paper styles, and as soon as I have time to noodle around with some blank water color paper, I plan to watercolor sketch with them and see what happens. For the seasoned coloring enthusiast, these pens are a fun adventure, and they are sure to make a great gift. However, for a someone new to coloring, these pens might be an overwhelming first marker (a better marker gift for a coloring newbie, in my opinion, are Bic Marking permanent markers). Additionally, these pens are an investment (and one that I hope will last, but I have only had them for 6 months, so I have no data on that, yet), to that end, they are not a toy for children. These pens ARE water based, but like I said before, they are highly pigmented, so they are not necessarily washable inks, and should be given to only those children who understand the privilege and responsibility of artist level markers.

I never thought I would type the phrase "niche markers," but Monami Plus Pen 3000 water-based (but not watercolor) markers definitely fit that bill. These extremely fine point markers have a quill-like nib, quite sharp and rigid, that releases an super fine line of ink. Why I consider them to be "niche" is that unless you really enjoy coloring very small spaces (like the brick red lines and aqua blue ovals in my Art Deco-Steam Punk bookmark above or the spiral rainbow wheels in my "Reject Perfection" doodle below), these marker simply can't lay down ink fast enough to cover a good sized space without seriously mangling the tooth of your paper due to their needle-like point.

That being said, I really like these markers, and just for that very reason, coloring in seriously tight spaces. I also think the color selection in this compact set (currently the largest collection of colors available in Plus Pens) is pretty spectacular; it is rare for a 36 set to have a complete breadth of colors that also includes grey. 

My color chart for Monami Plus Pen 3000. See how incredibly
fine pointed these markers are?! I tested them out to see how
their water-based ink would flow if I added additional water, and
to my surprise, some of the inks bleed nicely, an interesting
characteristic I hope to use the next time I color with these pens:)

Because these pens have such a stiff, pointed nib, I do believe they would make a great marker set for drawing free hand in color, an idea about these lovelies I had only recently, so I plan to take them on my next road trip. The fact that these pens come in a sturdy carrying case also makes me excited to pack them in my suitcase - no breakage or loss during travel is a fabulous thing! When I bought these markers last spring they were close to $25 and only available through from the maker, Monami, all the way from Korea, which meant a really long shipping wait. Now, Amazon is stocking these fun pens directly, so the cost is cut in half and you will receive them in a fraction of the time I had to wait. The breath of colors you get in the set for the current price makes these pens a perfect choice for the budding artist or the frugal coloring enthusiast.

I do not like shopping as a general rule, but I do enjoy exploring the cluttered and eclectic shelves of such stores as Tuesday Morning and TJ Maxx, and it was on one of these little treasure-seeking adventures that I stumbled upon these soft cored, vibrantly pigmented pencils from Holland. Before purchasing these colored pencils, though, I pulled out my phone and did a quick bit of research on them as I had never heard of Bruynzeel before (protip: when buying art supplies at aftermarket stores, don't be afraid to use your phone to check prices and quality - just because art supplies are at a discount store doesn't mean A. they are low quality or B. a good deal).

I used my Expression Colour pencils to color bits of the background,
the scales of the second to last circle, and the blue and magenta
zigzag lines of the bottom circle of my "It's All Connected" bookmark. Also,
this is one of my Kraft-colored cardstock bookmarks - I wanted to test out
how these pencils held up to rough-ish and darker paper. I was pleased
with the results!
Turns out, Expression Colour is the second tier level of pencils for Bruynzeel (meaning they are student grade) and at under $20 for their 36 set, they are a good deal. I really enjoyed the smooth creamy feel that came with coloring with these pencils, and if you are looking to upgrade colored pencils for yourself or someone you love, these are an inexpensive step up in comparison to a few of the other colored pencils I reviewed in Episode I of my Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide. Add that they are also now on Amazon (click here to check them out) and they are a cool little art supply discovery - thanks, Tuesday Morning!

Did I need any more gel pens? Technically no, considering I already own the complete set of Sakura Gelly Rolls and a fabulously sparkly set of Color Techniks (read my reviews on those two gel pens styles here). But, in leading our local libraries' coloring-for-adult programs I was consistently asked, "Is this only on Amazon? I don't shop online..." So, when I stumbled upon these brightly colored Paper Mate gel pens at Walmart last semester, I thought I would bring them home and test drive a coloring tool that can be found at a local brick and mortar retailer. These pens are easy to hold and lay down a vibrant ink very smoothly. Additionally, that ink dries extremely fast, a quality most gel pens on the market don't have. 

I have the .07 nib set of 14 pens, and while .07 is a rather "fat" nib, these pens are not well designed to color in large spaces (unless you have literally all day to color), which is why I decided to try them out on my November Free-Coloring-of-the-Month page (yes, I bought these pens in April and didn't try them out until's been that sort of year), an illustration that has loads of small spaces. So far, I am really enjoying playing with these pens, but I have discovered that their ink dries with a bit of a sheen to it, not a problem *unless* you are like me and like to layer colors one on top of the other; these gel pens do not accept additional layers and instead sort of repel the 2nd color like oil to water. This isn't a problem necessarily, just an observation I made. 

Lastly, I was disappointed to discover that Paper Mate InkJoy are less expensive on Amazon than they are in Walmart or on This isn't a surprise to me, however considering that the question which led me to buy these gel pens from a brick and mortar storefront originated from older, retired folks, I am frustrated and saddened that it is people on a fixed income who have the fewest options to explore and challenge their creativity in a cost-effective way.

Yes, I am reviewing artist quality pan watercolors for coloring in coloring books: painting in coloring books is awesome and so incredibly relaxing! And, I absolutely LOVE my Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors (even if I have to look up how to spell their name every, single, time I write it). These are a Japanese watercolor that has its origins in sumi-e painting. I discovered them when I toyed around with the idea of studying watercolor independently (all of my watercoloring enthusiast friends recommended this set), a goal I still plan to get to, but by accident I started using these gorgeously saturated colors in my coloring books first. 

One of the biggest frustrations folks bring to coloring is the anxiety of coloring outside of the lines, so my favorite catchphrase to use in my coloring workshops is "The lines aren't the boss of you!" But, just hearing me say it over and over isn't as effective a way to instill this message in folks as to actually color outside of the lines myself. Which is exactly what I did when I led an entire coloring workshop on going outside the lines on purpose (gasp!). I use this page I from my book, Doodled Blooms, and I colored it only with Kuretake Gansai Tambi as an example. To create these alternately deep and then gentle colors, I had to use very little water. What that all means is that while these little pans are not very deeply full of paint, they will last me for a good long while. They also have shimmery metallic colors that I am looking forward to experimenting with on my next painting-in-my-coloring-book creative adventure. 

These watercolors are not inexpensive in comparison to a palette of Crayola Watercolors, but these creamy, flexible colors are most definitely a few huge steps up from washable watercolor paint. If there is someone in your life who is looking to explore watercolor (or creatively adventurous like me and wants to watercolor anywhere!), bringing home this set of 36 pans of paint is definitely a fun idea. Tubes of watercolor paint are all the rage on Instagram and Youtube painting tutorials, but with a little experimentation, you can achieve the same or similar results with pan watercolors for a fraction of the price and receive a great selection of colors (yes, I am always looking out for making creative cash go further).

And, that is this episode of the Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide!

Stay tuned for the next episode where I'll be sharing with y'all my tips and strategies for storing all your markers, pens, pencils, paint, and coloring books:)