What Is a Feminist Coloring Party? Coloring In a Group...With a Purpose

by Michelle M. Johnson

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What is a Feminist Coloring Party?

Equality never looked so good!
Feminist Coloring Party participant
Kelsey Cooper explored Tombow
Dual Brush Markers and her passion
for equal rights through coloring.
Until a month ago, I couldn't really have answered that question (For me, every coloring moment is a feminist coloring moment - my feminist lenses are permanently fixed; I couldn't take them off even if I wanted to!). But, thanks to Dr. Pam Johnston, Professor of English and Women's Studies at Texas Lutheran University, inviting me to be a part of their Women's History Month Celebration, I got to have a hand in creating an actual Feminist Coloring Party right here in Seguin, Texas where I live.

In the middle of February, Dr. Johnston approached me to see if I had any interest in being a part of an idea she had for a creative and low-key Women's History Month event: a Feminist Coloring Party. The combination of two of my biggest passions was a no-brainer for me, so I said yes straight away. The two of us began sharing ideas about what we thought would be necessary to create a Feminist Coloring Party (I just love typing that phrase, Feminist Coloring Party; it never grows old for me! #SorryNotSorry). At first we thought finding readily available feminist themed coloring pages or books would be a snap, but a brief search revealed that there were slim pickings out there for meaningful feminist coloring moments (Unless Boss Babes is your idea of feminist coloring fun, which by all mean, enjoy. The title alone left me cold, and the idea of feminist word searches and fill in the blanks mixed in with black and white caricatures of currently famous females is all together creative 'meh.' And, that's my review of that coloring book in two sentences.), so I offered up a rough sketch of an idea that popped into my mind immediately when Dr. Johnston messaged me with the invitation: a chaotic collage of sorts of all the great protest signs I'd seen in my social media feeds of the Women's March on Saturday, January 21, 2017, done up in such a way that they would be fun for folks to color.
My rough sketch of the Feminist
Coloring Party page. Really rough. This
was scratch paper I had handy that I
doodled on while I was on hold. The
Final drawing lost the humans and big
empty spaces because I had a hard
enough time limiting the number of signs
as it was & I wasn't going to lose any for
heads and shoulders!
Despite the fact that I was not able to attend the Women's March on that now famous Saturday in January, it was still incredibly powerful to watch unfold; it had affected me deeply, reigniting my spirit which had gotten crushed with the 2016 election and the goings on in Washington D.C. the first few weeks of the current administration. So many different kinds of people, from all walks of life, pulling together peacefully all over the nation to demonstrate the importance of equality, democracy, love, and freedom. That is what feminism is to me, and that was the coloring page I wanted to create: a page full of empowerment and inspiration. To my great pleasure, Dr. Johnston loved my idea, so I got to work at creating an original design for the TLU Women's Studies Feminist Coloring Party.

Typically when I draw an image for coloring, I focus mostly on shape, patterns and design, disregarding realism. I do this for a very important reason: If everything I create is fantastical, there isn't any ONE way to color it, and this leaves huge amounts of room for the colorist who comes to the page to add their own creativity without being too encumbered by mine. But, for this Feminist Coloring Party page I really wanted a bit of the real world, a bit of authenticity. Like I said, I didn't get to attend a march, and I just didn't feel right about scavenging the Internet for march photos to examine, so I put a call out on Facebook, making the post public, to all my friends about the project I was working on in hopes that folks I knew personally or who knew my friends personally might be willing to share their photos of the posters they personally carried in the march they attended. Additionally, I was really interested in the page feeling like it represented more than just Texas; there were marches all over the country, and I wanted to see just how many different marches I could get represented on the coloring page in a short period of time.

Social media truly is magical, because quickly I received images from St. Paul, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Sacramento, California, Austin and Fort Worth, Texas, Washington D.C., Montpelier, Vermont, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Phoenix, Arizona. On top of that, I made new friends, kindred spirits if you will, who openly shared with me about their experiences at the march that day, their reasons for attending the march and for wanting to share their photos with a complete stranger. By the time I was finished collecting drawing inspiration for the coloring page I felt like I had attended the march all over the country, from warm and sunny Texas and California, to freezing and snowy Vermont and D.C. This was such a privilege and a lovely side-effect of working on this project that I hadn't anticipated. Unlike my coloring book, Doodled Blooms, which I had created more or less in a bubble of my own imagination, this coloring page was wholeheartedly a widespread collaboration.

My town, Seguin, Texas, did not have its own Women's March, but I know many folks who would have loved to have been at the march that day, including myself. To that end, I left the center sign on my coloring page blank, labelled Texas Lutheran University, Seguin, Texas. Although I do not like coloring pages that leave extra space on the page for "you to add your own ideas" (If I wanted to add my own ideas to a coloring page, I would have purchased blank drawing paper NOT a coloring book!), with this Feminist Coloring Party Women's History Month moment, it seemed appropriate to leave space for the colorist to create a sign of their own, a sign that they feel represents feminism for them, encouraging them to think and act on their creativity. It's kinda of bossy, I know, but this wasn't going to be any old coloring party, this was a Feminist Coloring Party, a coloring party with a purpose!
Work in progress by Feminist Coloring Party
participant, Danielle Grove. Her color
selection really brings the enthusiasm of the
signs to life. The mark she left on the march
with her sign captures the idea behind
social justice - it all begins small, and then
expands to improve the lives of all.

Even once I'd finished creating the page, I still really wasn't sure what a Feminist Coloring Party was going to be like, how it was going to be different from all of the other corporate coloring workshops and public library coloring clubs I'd led. So, I went into Tuesday, March 21, 2017 (exactly three months after the Women's March, which I thought was extremely cool:), a little anxious...but, my anxiety was unwarranted. You know what makes a coloring party a Feminist Coloring Party? Being in a group of like minds, clustered together for similar reasons, all looking to channel their anger, fear, frustrations, and anxieties at our current political landscape in a positive and creative way; a Feminist Coloring Party looks a lot like a Women's March, just with more coloring supplies and snacks:)

One of my favorite colorists and
human beings, my partner, Steve
Vrooman. We have had loads of
household conversations on the
Equal Rights Amendment lately
so it was awesome to see his mark
on the march honoring the
conversations we've been sharing
with our son at home:)

A wide range of ages and both genders were present at our Feminist Coloring Party, just like at the Women's March. And, our topics of conversation ranged from the political issues at hand to the versatility of Tombow Dual Brush markers (This was a coloring party after all, and folks were excited to try new coloring tools they had never been exposed to before:). Participants were quite interested to hear the creation story of the coloring page I'd created, and I was very excited to finally get to share it with its intended audience. I did so while they colored, and it was fun to watch their heads pop up as they noticed a detail here or there on the page which inspired a them to ask questions along the way (I love questions about creativity and about feminism!). They were also collectively interested as to why I placed a capitol in the center of the drawing. In answer, I started to show them the variety of the photos I had been working from, all with national and state capitols in the background, taking them on the same tour of the nation's marches that I had been on the last few weeks.

Ashlie Ford proudly displays not only
her vibrant and eye-popping coloring
but her awesome mark on the march:)
She was the first to complete the blank
sign, and I couldn't have been more
excited to see it!

Of course, participants were curious as to which sign on the page was my favorite, and I had to be honest: my favorite sign I was sent didn't make it onto the coloring page. In fact, a huge number of signs that I felt would make creative and empowering coloring moments did not make it onto the coloring page as I had such large and wonderful collection of photos to work from. It was at that moment that I decided to reveal to the Feminist Coloring Party group that based on the responses I had received online privately, I had begun to think that maybe the Women's March of 2017 warranted more than just a single coloring moment; maybe the signs of progress that were held high and proud at the Women's March of 2017 deserved an entire coloring book (It was a friend of a friend on Facebook that was the first of now many to put this bug in my ear, hitting home for me, once again, how truly inspirational the connective nature of social media can be!). It was very encouraging to hear the group's positive response to the idea of a full-sized coloring book of Women's March signs as this concept has continued to rattle around in my brain, even with the page completed, and isn't likely to go away soon; an artist always likes hearing there is a market for the art we wish to make. My hope upon the creation of this book is that I will be able to donate a portion of each book's sale to a charitable organization that works for the promotion of women's rights and creativity for all. Full-sized coloring books take a good while to create, layout and publish; my goal is to take that time to also find just the right organization to tie this coloring book to. If you, the reader, have any suggestions for me, I would really appreciate it if you left your suggestions in the comments below:)

Whether you are coloring in a group or on your own, time has a way of passing all too quickly, and the Feminist Coloring Party participants were surprised and a tad dismayed to look up at the clock and realize the allotted 50 minutes for the brown bag event had come to an end. As they were collecting their things and preparing to return to their Tuesday, I reminded them that is the gift that spending time on a creative pursuit gives us: the gift of losing track of time, that feeling of blinking and an hour has passed. Time evaporating without us being aware of it is a very difficult state of mind to enter pleasantly once we become adults, and it is one of the more powerful reasons why coloring as an adult is very therapeutic. That we spent the hour coloring and discussing the largest peaceful gathering of human beings protesting that our nation has ever seen is all the better.

Its hard to take an "action shot" of coloring. Intense creative
concentration is not all that interesting to photograph. However
one doesn't color to look interesting; one colors to have an
interesting experience:)