Tag: children’s art

Coloring outside the lines is not all it is cracked up to be.

Child Drawing - Coloring outside the lines“Coloring Outside the Lines” has become a rallying call phrase to all of those who break the standard and do not follow established norms. The suggestion is that coloring outside the lines, as in children’s coloring books, is an admirable thing, and that trying to get children to color inside the lines is a bad thing.

Not so fast.

Although I admire the spirit behind the “Coloring Outside the Lines” concept, I also recognize that children developing skills around coloring is more complicated than that.

I have been a Teaching Artist for preschoolers for the better part of a year now, and seeing different children attempting to master fine motor skills and reasoning skills, it compels me to take pause with the rallying call.

We need to teach children these skills, because the mastery of holding a crayon and learning to use it to represent things in our daily lives is important foundational learning.

We need not admonish teachers or the “establishment” for educating children in this endeavor. They are required to teach these skills for a reason. Children who do not develop good fine motor skills struggle in many other areas of education. Following directions and learning to cooperate with expectations are also important skills. Children need to be able to color within the lines in order to move forward in their education.

I am not sure where the rallying call came from. My guess is that it originated with famous people who were creative prodigies that demonstrated creative pursuits beyond their childhood teachers’ understanding, and thus felt shamed for their unwillingness to settle for simple fine motor skills. John Lennon was known to be a creative prodigy who demonstrated a range of behavioral difficulties in school because his teachers did not know how to support his creativity.

I think the key here is that we need to support each child as we teach them skills. Shame is not a good teaching tool for any skill. Children need to learn to master skills that may not be natural for them without feeling bad about themselves. Support and positive guidance can help them try things that are hard without shaming.

It is not an all or nothing thing, however. Although children need to learn things that are tough for them, they also need to explore their natural proclivities. There is a balance between creative exploration and skill development. The two need to go hand in hand.

As we mature and become adults, we often lose that creative exploration side of the balance, and feel like we are missing something. We have focused so much on skill mastery and “following the rules”, we lose sight of personal growth and individuality. It is this phase of life where the “coloring outside the lines” call has resonance.

If you have spent your life trying to be obedient, following all the rules, and “coloring inside the lines”, you can reach a point where you feel that you have lost a sense of self. It is here where you need to try different things and break out of confining activities that no longer have purpose. Coloring outside the lines can be liberating at this point.

The important thing to remember is that, despite certain activities being important to our development as human beings, they may lose their purpose as we grow into new phases of our lives. Freeing ourselves from them can be as important as mastering them were in our youth.

Regardless of whether we color in the lines or not, we are important and of worth.

When I was a child, I loved to color in coloring books. I enjoyed coloring inside the lines, and I enjoyed the process of finding ways to make my pictures unique, despite their uniformity. My classmates may have had the same picture to color, but mine always had to be more vibrant and more colorful. I also enjoyed drawing my own pictures and coloring them.

I was identified early on as a creative child. I learned to do as I was expected, but I was also encouraged to do more than just that. My family and my teachers encouraged me artistically and helped me find ways to explore life through creative activities. it is that kind of support, I believe, that all children need, whether they are artistic or not.

American Eskimo Spitz dog pet portraitI rely on that early learning each time I paint the portrait of someone’s pet. Although I follow certain tried and true paths in my process, I also explore each painting as a new adventure. I both follow and break rules as I go. I defy standards, using a painting technique that diverges from what most artists do, but I only do that because I explored and found different ways to do things to meet my goals.

I couldn’t do that without having a basic understanding of the rules in the first place.

Each time I go into a classroom to teach, I always challenge myself to be supportive as I encourage children to try new skills and attempt new strategies. I feel the balance as I engage with each child, guiding them in following directions to do the task at hand, yet also giving them a sense of value and self worth regardless of accomplishment. I find that they appreciate their accomplishments more this way than if I were to shame them for not following a direction.

I think I do the same thing with myself as I paint a painting.

Striking that balance is what the adventure of art, and life, is all about.

Life is an Adventure!




Child Prodigy Artist Autumn De Forest: Where will she go from here?

I just read an interesting article by David Galenson, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago entitled The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity. In the article, Galenson discusses two artist types which he opines are factors in determining the course of an artist’s career. Some artists do their best work at the beginning of their careers; others in their later years of life.

Following that, I found the video above featuring child prodigy artist Autumn De Forest. The video is striking not just for this eight year old child’s artistry, but for her thoughtful responses to the rather inane questions asked of her by Today Show host Matt Laur.

This child is obviously exceedingly bright with parents who have exposed her to artistic and cultural influences. (Not many parents would see a Mark Rothko painting in their child’s doodles with a paintbrush).

As an artist, I see some fascinating characteristics in her artwork and in her discussion of it.

I find it intriguing to see her handling intellectual concepts such as the use of texture and color and light while, at the same time, expressing that child-like joy of spontaneous creation that all children have.

It is an odd juxtaposition – raw child-like joy in creation combined with very adult-like analysis of a process and product.

In light of the earlier read article, it leads me to wonder how this child’s career will be shaped.

Will her precociousness continue in it’s path of experimentation and exploration led by her intrigue and curiosity? Will she go on to create things that push the envelope in artistic and philosophical understanding?

Or will she be manipulated, pushed and pulled in various directions by adults seeking to maximize her early successes in ways that they envision for her?

My hope is for the former, and seeing her character displayed in this short video, I suspect that she will set her own course. It will be interesting to see.


Creative Resilience – Presentation for NAMI Ohio

I have chosen two separate paths in my career. One as an artist and one as a mental health counselor. I have always felt that they were very compatible paths. My artistry has influenced my approaches to counseling, and my clients have fed me with inspiration for my artwork.

Lately, however, it seems that the two paths have begun to merge.

Yesterday, I presented for the Recognizing the Impact of Childhood Trauma: Powerful Voices, Practical Strategies conference in Columbus, OH. The event was sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Ohio and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – Ohio Chapter with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH). They selected me to present because of my blended interests in the arts and therapeutic treatment of child survivors of trauma.

I want to be clear about this–I am not an art therapist. I am an artist, and I am a therapist, but I have no training in the discipline of art therapy as it is commonly known in treatment communities. I do, however, use creative approaches to therapy (for which I have received training) to enhance my clients’ communication about their concerns.

My presentation entitled, Creative Resilience: Using Creativity for Recovery from Trauma, which included the video above, was about how creative approaches to therapy assist children in processing traumatic experiences. I also talked about how we can utilize creative approaches to educating the community about the effects of trauma so that we can enhance treatment efforts, direct trauma survivors to effective resources to help them, and look at community wide efforts to minimize traumatic events for children.

I spoke about a my work with the Phoenix Picture Project. You can read more about the Phoenix Picture Project and the resulting public artwork entitled “Jesse’s Journey” here.

Here are some of the thoughts that I shared in my presentation:

  • Bad stuff happens to good, innocent, normal people.
  • Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand – Chinese Proverb
  • The bad stuff doesn’t take the good away, it just hides it away for awhile.
  • Giving survivors of trauma opportunities to be creative allows the good to re-emerge, and allows for psychological, physiological and spiritual healing.
  • Children are amazingly resilient. Like the legendary phoenix that arises from the ashes with resurgent beauty, grace and glory, so too can children recover from terrifying and traumatizing events.
  • Involvement of children in creative activities enhances their understanding of the things that have happened to them and helps them become more resilient.
  • We want to build spirits, not break them. We want to create new strengths, not destroy old habits. We want to expand the survivor’s understanding and awareness of the world, not eliminate their current perceptions. And we want to engage with survivors, honoring their amazing ability to grow.

I thank NAMI Ohio for inviting me to present at their conference. It was an amazing group of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed the event. The other speakers, Dr. Robin Gurwitch, Monique Marrow, Ph.D, and two courageous trauma survivors who shared their stories were amazing.

But in my mind, he didn’t break a leg, he broke my sexual life. There was nothing to do, I couldn’t deny it constantly. Recalling the fatigue, I gathered up my courage and went to the pharmacy for .

It is my hope that I will get more opportunities like this one to speak and share about the creative healing process with community groups.

If you would like BZTAT to speak at your event, please contact her here.

*All artwork represented in the video above was used with permission granted through the Phoenix Picture Project.

**BZTAT, AKA Vicki Boatright is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Ohio. Any opinions expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the position of her employer. Information provided here is intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not intended take the place of professional mental health care.

Life is an Adventure!