As a child, I colored. I went through reams and reams and reams of printer paper. My dad would bring home stacks of it from his office. The old kind, remember the green and white striped stuff with those feeder circles on the sides? Part of the fun was creasing and re-creasing the edges, then ripping them off to throw away or tear up into a miniature snowstorm.
There are pictures of me coloring with a set of crayons at the kitchen table, in the living room, on our front stoop. Though not enough to capture just how much of my childhood this actually involved. In those pre-smartphone, pre-Instagram, only cameras with actual film kind of days, only a few photos exist of me and my favorite pastime. If I were a kid now, my mom’s Instagram feed would be filled with images of me scribbling on pads of paper sprawled all over the house.
The summer after first grade, I won a second place prize at the State Fair for one of my projects at school. I remember my art teacher, Mrs. Tonder, pulling me out into the hall to tell me she was going to enter one of my creations in the fair. (It wouldn’t be long before our art classes were cut, the ones I thrived in, due to funding.) I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was glad she liked it. I had never been to the State Fair before, though it later became a part of our family culture.
We went to the fair to take a picture of me next to my artwork in a glass display case. It was surrounded by other pictures, mine proudly affixed with a red ribbon. My hair is pulled back, with heavy bangs and all, my t-shirt shirt tucked into my sweatpants, clearly denoting that I was a kid of the '90's.
Later there was an award ceremony for my entire school district to showcase all of our work, K-12, of those who had placed at the State Fair. The story goes that when I was at the front of the room and Mrs. Tonder explained my project and then asked if I wanted to say anything about it, I launched off on a 5-minute lecture before a room packed with kids and parents and relatives on how I created it, the colors I used, the story we read that inspired my work. I had a lot to say.
I went through a mermaid phase. I remember keeping a ream of printer paper together to create a book that wove back and forth with illustrations of The Little Mermaid. I was going to be a mermaid when I grew up. (Spoiler alert: that hasn’t worked out for me.) I went through a horse phase. A Lion King phase. Lots of Disney. I forgot until recently that my goal, once I got a little older and realized that maybe that whole mermaid thing wouldn’t work out, was to be an animator for Disney. I inhaled images of the designer’s process work just as much as the actual films themselves, absorbing the evolution of characters through sketches and the introduction of color. It fascinated me.
In sixth grade we made our migration from Minnesota to Orlando that March. I could have cared less about all of the rides. I would have preferred a tour of the animation studios. Maybe they would recognize my talent and hire me right then and there.
My grandma made me promise her, when I was 12 or so, that I would go to school and do something with my art. The fine arts had their appeal to me, all that sketching and painting, but I realized even at a young age that actually making a living doing all that had its disadvantages. The term "starving artists" comes to mind.
I did go to school for design, interior design, which I had decided on by the time I entered eighth grade. That people would go to college only to change their major was absolutely baffling to me. Interior design, which could provide an actual, regular paycheck with benefits. (Though I would quickly realize after graduating two years into a full-blown recession that a design degree of any sort wasn’t actually any better.)
I entered the workforce for a few years. My first job, though technically in the design field, felt like a complete waste of that degree I’d worked so hard to get. My second job wasn’t exactly my dream job either, but at least there we were speaking the same language, discussing room layout and material selection and debating with contractors over window placement and wall removal.
I don’t design much anymore if you look in at me from the outside. The arrival of twins and then another has left me consumed more with keeping babies fed and alive than with sketching or color choice or schematic layouts and room function. I spend more of my days pulling together supplies for them: glue, construction paper, crayons, stickers, scissors on the days I’m feeling really brave, than doing anything with any of those materials myself.
My brain still thinks like a designer, just like it always has. I still choose children’s books based on the illustrations. Heck, I still choose my own books based on their covers. Color-coordinating the kids’ outfits, when they let me, gives me a secret thrill each and every time. The first thing I notice when I walk into a space aren’t the people or the noise or the food but the way it's designed. The materials, the colors, the layout. Tyson laughs but listens as I critique the design of our latest date night restaurant or the library where we attended storytime earlier. I explain to an audience of one how the space made me feel, how it could be improved. I get to make smaller decisions, choices for our own home: a new bed, a new dresser, some throw pillows. I daydream about re-doing the twins’ bedroom, what the basement will become once we have the time and the money to finish it off.
A month or so ago, I ordered a coloring book, some pencils. Even on the longest of days, the days where I am emotionally and physically spent, I can find the energy to color. I play with patterns and colors and lights and darks. I’ve colored some things I hate, some I really like. It’s not much; it’s a start.
It’s a return to something, my childhood I suppose. Except now I sit in the dark, in a quiet house, still at the kitchen table though at an hour and with a beverage I would have never been allowed as a child. I choose a page, find my pencils. And I color.