If you’ve visited a bookstore in recent times, you’ve undoubtedly noticed something kind of amazing happening and perhaps a little strange too.  Stacks of coloring books line the entrance.  Coloring books, once the special province of children, have become a passion for creativity seeking adults.  I didn’t notice the phenomenon when it first began.  The first books were probably like the lonely dandelion in a broad meadow.  I don’t know about you, but once I noticed this craze taking place (can we call it a craze?) the field was rich with flowers, abundant and luxurious with line and diversity.  I’m finding that these “wild plants” have sprung up in the book rack at even the grocery store.  I am wondering how soon it’ll be before coloring books and assortments of coloring tools appear in the dentist’s waiting room.  Soon, I hope.

degas notebook sketches

I’m going to be teaching a coloring book class in the summer. It’s my way of finding a place in the craze.  As someone whose love of art began in childhood, I greet this movement with tremendous optimism. For a long time Modern Art represented arcane artifacts that need the docent’s explanation to render them intelligible to mere mortals.  Though we inhabit the Present we’ve never been presumed to understand Our Time without a decoder ring. Art is something that’s made by your betters and spoken of in whispers.  Just hush and listen to a story about incomprehensible geniuses.

Well, that was then.  This is now.  Society seems to have skipped over something, has leapt over the turnstile, and people are racing toward drawing and design with a vengeance — and it’s purely visceral. They are crashing the gates. Imagery beckons one and all. Give us your tired, your poor, your whatever.  Pull up a chair, feel the pull of the line: start coloring.  Who knows where it leads. Answer your craving for color and line. Indulge in craftsiness and fun.  It’s the modern version of the quilting bee.  You grab a bunch of people, you color, you gab, and everybody’s happy.

1815 Vol_ 2 (2) Hokusai Sketchbooks colour woodblock print 22_6 x 15_6 cm

I think it’s a logical step from coloring the designs in a book to making your own.  I do believe it. And so I want a piece of the action.  We stand at the threshold of an innovation. If the coloring book should lead to lots of people learning to draw, to an increase in visual reasoning, I want to be at the front lines — pun gloriously intended.

i.stack.imgur lattice physics

Line has a very special cognitive place in the world of art. And coloring books are all about line.  Before all the “elements of art,”  before technique, before schools of art, before the dazzle of different media, before everything else comes line. Our ancestors in the depths of the cave drew bison with lines. I see the coloring book as the direct descendant of the cave wall.  Call me crazy, I don’t care.  I want to see what can happen when people take the next step — from coloring to draw-it-yourself. It’s a breath and a heartbeat away.  If you’re coloring in one of these books, you’re so close to something marvelous.  You might not know it yet.


Draw lines, young man, many lines; from memory or from nature – it is in this way you will become a good artist.


So said Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres to young Edgar Degas. The ladies are probably leading this revolution, but lines are no respecter of persons. Come one, come all, come young and old.  Draw lines. You never know where it will lead.

I’ll be teaching at the McLean Project for the Arts this summer.  REGISTRATION is open!

[Above: Albrecht Durer’s Rhinoceros; Edgar Degas, a page of caricatures; Hokusai, sketchbook page of fishes; sample illustration of a lattice (physics); and a section of wall at Lascaux.]


4 thoughts on “From Lascaux to your Kitchen Table

  1. I am a bit of a sceptic of the adult colouring book. I do agree with its theraeutic and creative benefits, but for painters and artists it could be distracting. I do think though that from an artist’s point of view creating one’s own colouring books is a great way to experiment with line.

    And its true; line is really the beginning of everything. Lascaux, and Niaux have some fine examples of excellently executed and technical line drawings, from a few curves in the arc of a rock to symbolise an auroch, to the geometric signs and shapes which we can only hope to interpret.

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