Awakening the Secret Garden within

My two-hours' worth of colouring in progress in Johanna Basford's "Secret Garden"

My two-hours' worth of colouring in progress in Johanna Basford's "Secret Garden"

… I told the interviewer, I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that this was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth… (Stephen King, excerpt from On Writing, pp. 163-164)

Above is a favourite passage of mine from Stephen King. It excites me because, as a collagist, it’s exactly the way I view my process. You may recall my 2012 L’invisible collage zine cover features a young woman who represents the archaeologist within me. Likening fiction writing to excavation, King reminds us to look deeply to uncover what lies buried deep within us; that these finds may be small and surprising, great or terrifying! It takes courage to embark upon such a journey of discovery. Some of us take great pains to keep what’s buried beneath hidden, while others throw caution to the wind and take great leaps of faith in uncovering what’s lies there in the hopes that the bounty it yields will shed  light into life, ourselves and what lies beyond. This is one of the greatest skills an artist can possess: the ability to be still, to be present and to focus in order to be aware of that inner voice that guides us along the path to a kind of creative personal archaeological journey…

It’s been ages since I’ve coloured just for fun…

On Friday afternoon I sat in the shopping mall colouring in Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden. Because I’m reading King simultaneously, my mind jogs back and forth between the offerings of each artist/author. It doesn’t take long for me to realize that colouring too, is a form of excavation! It’s been ages since I devoted myself to laying out a luscious set of colour pencils and having a go at colouring a picture just for fun … since I was at 9 or 10, I think. As my knowledge in art grew more sophisticated, I abandoned my crayons and pencil crayons for markers, watercolours, inks, acrylics and oil paints. Although a part of me missed the former, I felt they were the play things of childhood. Decades later while attending a workshop by artist Kelly Kilmer, I spied a beautiful journal she’d made. It was filled with collage and the kind of colouring I did as I kid. Surveying and admiring its pages awoke a deep longing within me. I felt perhaps it was okay if I took up my pencil crayons and crayons again. For so long, while pursuing my fine arts degree, I’d neglected to embrace these mediums I’d learned so much from. By this time art making was also a scary chore for me. I stopped being as daring as I was as a kid; I forgot how to have fun playing and experimenting with my colouring tools which often led to that all-important question that drives all good art making: “what if”. That was several years ago; I’ve been attempting to rectify this situation in my art practice ever since…

I’ve always had a give and take relationship with colour…

So, like I said, I’m sitting in the mall colouring in my book hoping no one will notice that, as an adult, it might be a weird thing for me to be doing! I decide, if anyone asks, I’ll say its therapy! And, it really is! Coming out of a bad year, I’m will to try anything that’ll jump start my creative momentum again! As I begin to colour, the world around me fades as I focus all my faculties on the page. The deep-fried smell of french fries temporarily loosens its grip on me. The sound of the crowd becomes a rhythmic murmur. As I contemplate the colours of a flower petal, leaf, or stem, I let each image determine what colour it will be. I go with an intriguing flow that emerges when I hear each image call out to me and name what colour it should be. I never realize until that moment, that this has been my colouring strategy since childhood! – no Johannes Itten colour theory for me! This is the give and take relationship I’ve always had with colour. It’s an easy, intuitive one; I listen carefully and let the voices on the page and in my imagination guide me. It’s easier than having a pre-determined colouring scheme. Although, sometimes the voices make decisions I don’t entirely agree with and I do my own thing. But often, I have to admit the choices they make satisfy and pleasantly surprise me. While colouring the leaves for instance, I learn that they want to have as much colour variety as the flowers. So as well as having multi-coloured flowers, I have multi-coloured leaves! My secret garden is like a rainbow! While colouring, the voices sometimes suggest I make more daring decisions like adding a frosty grey to the edges of a solitary flower. It’s my way of making the image unique; it’s a small, bold move to choose a sombre rather than a bright colour for a flower. It’s my new tonal take on the flora and fauna of this exciting new world Basford has drawn for me… it’s one way I can make it mine by bringing it to life with colour. As I colour, I also make best friends with certain pigments who want to be placed everywhere on my page! – a lemon-yellow, a light blue and violet, so I indulge them. Perhaps I go overboard with this, but its okay; after all, in the world of my imagination – anything goes! Afterwards, I ponder what draws me to these colours? Something in my past? Then I remember yellow is my father’s favourite colour and light blue, my mother’s. That violet is the precisely the colour of my favourite bathing suit. As a child, these colours were sacred to me; as they are now … so incredible.

Tiny facets of myself emerge…

In all these ways, through colouring, I excavate tiny facets of myself allowing my imagination and the voices inside me that accompany it to guide me. I’m deeply aware of who I am at the moment and the makeup of my being. The fossils and relics I uncover are ephemeral; they’re associated with my memories of colour; the feelings and attitudes I want to convey through them as well as how I see the world. All I learn here will eventually feed into my collage work. Even through the simple act of colouring, I can make something uniquely mine. It’s an empowering, freeing feeling and all it takes is letting go, listening and getting lost in the moment.

Did colouring take you on such a journey as a child? Do you still play with your crayons or pencils crayons? Where do they take you? What do you uncover about yourself through them? I’d love to know…

Other Related Links:
CYW: February 2014 Bits & Bytes

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