Coloring In The Lines

Christine Alfery

Posted on February 15 2022

Coloring In The Lines

Featured image: In The Beginning


A couple of days ago, on our way down to Kenosha to deliver art to the Anderson Art Center, I was at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We stayed there for the afternoon and I came away inspired and full of questions for myself.
Q1: I have said for several years now that I have never been able to color within the lines. I have never asked myself, "Just what do you mean by that?" I just always had the image of teachers telling me to color within the lines, not just for the workbooks we filled in but also when I drew a picture. So the visual I have is of me always trying my best to keep every crayon mark smooth and even, making the colors uniform and within the lines. It was extremely difficult for me. Many times I was unsuccessful which in my mind made me a failure, and in the teachers mind, I couldn’t follow the rules. That was one of the reasons I became an artist. But now, after my visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum I began to think differently about the comment and I am going to change it.

The statement, "I have never been able to color in the lines," came from my personal sense of freedom and from my personal need for a very free open space to live and paint it. This statement came from the experiences that I had at an early age. It also comes from my current belief and understanding about what art is, any kind of art, realism, impressionism, prints, digital. I know many have tried to define art, and today the definition of art remains elusive. But for me and others, we have some things that art isn't. It isn't something that is copied from another's work It exists within a free space where "how to" rules about art are rare.

So what happened during that visit? While visiting, I was able to look closely and see that coloring within the lines is a common element in many famous works of art. This painting of a chicken painted by Picasso is one example.




This work by Georgia O’Keefe is another along with this work by Mueller.


It is very similar in style of the work of Cezanne’s bathers,

and Cezanne who is considered the father of Modernism.



Then, as I look back at Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse, to list a few, who were artists who either used pencil to create a beginning sketch of what they were going to paint or a brush. It wasn’t until artist Monet and his impressionistic style was the idea of needing a line to create a shape and coloring it in with paint, was abandoned and layers were used instead of outlines. Flowers were painted with layers and layers of color, one on top of another to create depth and forms.




So I think about my own work and now I, too, do paint within the lines. I began finding all kinds of works of mine where I filled a shape with color. There are too many examples so I will choose just one, “In The Beginning,” where I can actually remember as I was working on it stopping abruptly mid way and saying to myself, "You are coloring in the lines!”

I was painting the stained glass windows and found them laborious and I wanted to move on to a more free form painting. I was working on the left side of the work of the stained glass window. You can see where I changed and allowed the work to become more flowing, and my painting loosened up. The connection marks at the top were free form and the triangle on the right was free form. There are a lot of gestural mark making from the center to the right of the work. If there ever was a work of mine that did but and also didn’t color in the lines, this is the one.
Interestingly, the piece turned out to repeat a major statement for me.



I can no longer say with such pronounced definition that I don’t paint within the lines. So does this revelation after my visit to the Milwaukee Art Center, change anything in my understanding of the concept of art? Yes. I am not alone, and that for many years before me others painted within the lines. I am repeating things that I've learned, my history, and the things that others have learned. Does that change my ideas of original and unique, and one-of-a-kind? No. I am repeating what others have done. I am not in the free space that I thought I was in, or am I? And, does that make the works of these masters not art? If history has anything to say in this matter the answer from historians would be, "No." History will show, as I have briefly done here, that coloring in the lines is part of how we understand art. It's been part of how artists have come about creating works of art and making the statements that they want to make, be it realistic or very gestural.

What I have taken away from this visit? There is a difference here. There's difference between opening a coloring book and coloring within the lines, and creating your own lines freehand with a paint brush or pencil. The difference is major. So I guess I have to add a qualifier to my statement that I don’t color within the lines. I must add that “I am a person who colors within my own gestural lines and finds it very difficult to color within the lines of another.” I think that works. And it works for my soul, my self and my ideas about freedom. I would like to think that it will work for those artists who are still looking for their style, their self and their uniqueness. And I would like to think that it works for non- artists who do not want to follow another but would rather like to take their own journeys and find themselves, their individuality and their uniqueness. Our histories and our experience have a ton to do with who we are and how we think along with the sensations that we feel.


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