I’m a doodler. Look at my work notebooks and my paper planner and you’ll see squiggles, boxes, and flowers in the margins. My tattoo is of a swirl design I have been doodling since high school; that doodle I used to draw as a teenager on friends’ jeans and jackets with fabric markers and they would sometimes pay me for the work. Doodling, like writing longhand, helps me listen, focus, and remember. So when I broke my right arm twice last year and couldn’t write or doodle, I felt like a fish out of water.
I began coloring in Emerson’s coloring books with her last year as a form of physical therapy; at first it was to get better control of my left hand. Later in the year, it was to regain the strength and dexterity of my right hand. Soon I was back to being able to doodle again in some capacity, and it made me realize how important it is in my life for calming my mind and focusing. One frustrating day at work, I did my swirly doodle all over my office dry erase board. I bought a box of Crayola markers and during conference calls went from ink-drawn squiggles to filling a piece of blank white paper with doodles, squares, mazes, and more. Sick of my gloomy mud-brown windowless office, I began taping these doodles up on the wall my desk faces to have some color in my day.
The first time I did The Artist’s Way, I bought myself a pack of 26 markers and one of those velvet posters you can find in Target. I loved the meditation of coloring the pattern on that poster, and ended up using it to be a bookcover for my Artist’s Way journal. I don’t know why I let that habit lapse, but this year when wandering the aisles of A.C. Moore finding supplies for a Girl Scout project, I picked up a spiral-bound sketchbook, just like the one I used as my Artist’s Way journal. I started carrying it around with me to doodle in there instead of random pieces of paper, and I bought this pack of 100 markers from Amazon. Inspired by reader Judy’s Instagram photo, I bought this coloring book and this coloring book. While I like making my own doodles, sometimes I’m just too stressed to be creative and the process of choosing a marker, carefully staying within the lines, and seeing a pattern come to life brings me back to center.
When I get home from work, I am F R I E D. Either a hellacious Metro trip or fighting DC traffic after 8-10 hours of work makes me a pretty crappy parent. I give myself a moment to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, change into comfortable clothing and have a short moment alone. It’s not enough, I’m still wired, angry, stressed. So now what I do is come into the living room and invite Emerson to color with me. She grabs one of her coloring books or some blank paper (or I let her color in one of my books, which thrills her to no end) and we sit on the floor with the coffee table as our workspace. Sometimes we add construction paper, glue, pipecleaners, tape, or fabric to the mix. We color, I ask her about her day, she often draws what she experienced, and I am able to calm down while still spending quality time with my daughter. I notice that she’s more open with me when distracted by drawing a castle or bending pipe cleaners; I hear more about the social dynamics, more details about what she did in class, more hoensty. She now asks to color with me at other times during the week, it’s our “Mommy and Me” time.
This past week I saw on Instagram that my friend Christen has also taken up grown-up coloring, she and her husband taking markers to mandalas as a form of meditation and mindfulness. She agreed that she finds the process of coloring so relaxing.
Why do we stop coloring as we grow up? Coloring is even better as an adult, as we know how to stay in the lines, we can afford the fancier markers or make the switch to pencils, pastels, or watercolors. There are plenty of coloring books created just for adults that have complicated, inspiring, thoughtful, or spiritual images, but there’s nothing wrong with just doodling with a #2 pencil in the margin of your spiral notebook. But if you feel a bit stressed, have a hard time meditating or slowing down, consider going Old School and picking up a coloring book. It’s a pretty fun way to relax and center!