26 January 2023

The world is made for re-colouring

Colouring books for kids are usually designed to train them to stay within the lines. It’s probably meant to help them develop a steady hand. So when they start out, they cross lines and, by and by, they develop a better understanding of spaces and lines.  

Now some might claim that this is all a part of instilling in their minds some pernicious doctrine of submission to a rule book. Could be. I’ll leave that question for art teachers, artists and those better versed in the politics of pedagogy.

There are, I recently found, colouring books for adults as well. The illustrations are far more intricate. They are not made of just half a dozen lines used to create a dozen or so spaces. The criss-crossing makes for highly complex motifs, some geometric and some not. So there are, literally, hundreds of spaces to colour. As you will.

Most adults, whether or not they’ve taken art classes even at a rudimentary level, have steady enough fists not to stray across lines. Maybe this is because they’ve lived long enough in a  discipline-and-punish world that they are subconsciously agreed to remain contained. The exercises could also be seen as an extension of a kind of control regime, but I doubt it. Most adults come to terms with realities one way or another. The instruments of containment and coercion that work are of a different order.

‘It teaches patience,’ my niece Kisara Freeman explained, as she, along with her sister and cousins diligently played with pencils and paper.

True. You can’t really do this in a rush. Flourish will trip you and ruin the whole thing. And yet, it’s not just about lines and spaces. It’s about colour. That’s up to you. In short, there are innumerable colour combinations that can be used for a single illustration. It’s how we paint the pages that confront us. Some come with illustrations and are coded — this colour for that number, for example. That’s how it is for kids, sometimes. Adults are not thus constrained. Whim and fancy are given free rein.

Sometimes illustrations come half-coloured. The colours used may not be to our liking. It’s up to us to use spaces and colours available to execute a salvage operation so that in the end it’s something that we still find pretty.

Sometimes there are no illustrations and that might be liberating. Illustration, lines, spaces and colour — all ours to play with. Of course, not all of us understand line, space and colour. Some are good at colouring, some are atrocious. So we learn. Patiently. Through practice. Through hard work. We learn to salvage, we learn to create anew. We could also, if that be our preference, chuck the piece of paper into a wastepaper basket because, say, we don’t like the texture, and look for a ‘canvas’ more to our liking.

We can paint walls. We can paint conversations. We can paint relationships. We can paint the way we engage with the world. We can draw a question mark in the middle of a system that we find unpalatable. We can share paint and paper with friends and strangers who would rather illustrate collectively.  We can stand before a multitude demanding that blankness be celebrated and submitted to and raise a nondescript paintbrush dipped in love and thereby express a simple statement: no.

Our world seems fully coloured, and yet, sometimes, it seems that whoever did the colouring was colour-blind or didn't really know how to use the instruments of colouring. Our world calls out for different colours in different combinations. Calls out for white breathing space, some shade for perspective and so much more.

Our world is made of innumerable colours. There are shapes wherever we look. There are so many lines. There’s containment and there’s freeing. Books, closed and open. Canvasses marked ‘touch-me-not’ and those that whisper, ‘come, paint.’ There’s forbidding and there’s permissiveness. And a lot between the two. So we walk on eggshells or we stumble in the dark or knowingly and with great conviction about direction, destination, marginal benefits and marginal costs, alone or with others, march through. We leave a trail. We leave footprints. And that’s the illustration, half-coloured, that we leave for those who will come later.  

There’s always a need to make paper. There's always a way to make paper. And paint. And brushes. There's always a need to sketch something. There’s something that can be coloured. Or re-coloured. You can pick the pink or the red, blue or green, yellow or orange, not forgetting that white and black are also colours and like the others come in many shades. You can borrow a colour pencil. You can share yours with someone with a colouring-urge. You can discuss with a friend and, yes a stranger, seek an answer to this question: ‘so what kind of picture do we want the world to gaze upon with us?’

Colouring books. They are not just for kids. It’s what we do, whether we like it or not, whether or not we are aware that colouring is a lifelong human habit. If many find our work pretty, good. If not, well, there’s always a way to re-colour.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 


Other articles in this series:

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road