"Of course, coloring within the lines compared to, say, painting a blank canvas is mostly simple decision-making — choosing which color goes best where, with relatively little skill involved. Our prefrontal cortex is responsible for coordinating thousands of decisions each day, from which socks we should wear to life-altering relationship and career choices. As an unconscious response to this so-called daily “decision fatigue,” making a series of small, inconsequential decisions (teal or mahogany for this squiggly line?) may give us a refreshing sense of self-control after a long day of big, important ones." - Jordan Gaines Lewis
The most daunting aspect of beginning a new painting is approaching the blank canvas. Before putting brush to canvas, artists typically create a series of sketches in advance to determine composition, color, and values before undertaking the actual painting. In our two hour classes, we don’t have this luxury. It seems almost cruel to make my guests, many of whom are complete novices, put their first brush strokes in years to canvas without any kind of assistance.
With this in mind, I sketch the design on the canvas in advance for subjects that don’t require the background to be painted first. In doing so, I hope to alleviate the stress of starting, so guests can relax and just color between the lines. I’ve never seen a great work of art come out of an uptight guest. Guests also tend to be more satisfied with the final result when given this little boost. The sketch allows you to focus and really be present in the moment as Judith Woods explains in her article on the allure of adult coloring books.
Almost everyone is relieved that they don’t have to face the terror of a blank canvas. However, different personalities have different reactions to the actual process of filling in the blanks. Those who tend to be perfectionist, worry about not straying from the lines. They use the smallest brush at their disposal to carefully and slowly obsess over the details. Because of this attention to detail, they tend to fall behind and report feeling slightly stressed about getting it “right”. Just a quick reminder – there is no “right” in art and your paint should not end up looking exactly like my original. Creative types tend to only consider the lines a sort of guide from which they can stray as they wish. Just remember, you are in charge of how you frame your perspective to enjoy an experience.
And then there's this question - is using a pre-sketched canvas cheating? On the contrary, creativity, originality and the personality of the painter all come through strongly even with the help of a sketch. You might think all of the paintings come out looking just the same as the original, but you would happily be wrong. A quick glance at group photos from my Mason Jar Bouquet events will prove otherwise.
When I was a kid in grade school, I loved the time we spent coloring pages with crayons. I prided myself on staying within the lines. Within those lines, I felt like I had the freedom to create. If there was a leaf shape outlined in black, I didn’t just scribble green in the space and move hurriedly to the next shape. No, I shaded with my crayon. I paid attention to the direction of the strokes of the crayon on paper, following the shape of the outline. To me, staying within the lines was not an impediment to creativity. The lines created a safe little spot for my imagination to grow within the boundaries of reasonableness.
So if you come into my class and find the design sketched on the canvas for you, just remember the lines are not there to stifle your creativity and prevent originality. The outlines are merely a suggestion for how to proceed. I have taken the pressure off the first steps. Now you can just relax, focus on the moment, and safely express yourself within those pencil guide lines.