Creativity and the Unexpected: What One Experienced Creative Learned by Simply Sorting Coloring Supplies into Color Families

*This is a Guest Blog Post by my friend and fellow creative, Toni Davenport. Her recent observations on coloring tools and how she separated them into color families delighted me, leading me to invite her to expand her musings into a guest blog post here on Have Color Will Travel. I hope you enjoy this intimate little dive into her creative process!

**Any links to supplies found on Amazon are affiliate links. Should you decide to bring home an art tool I’m talking about and purchase it through the links found here, a few pennies of that purchase are distributed to me. It isn’t much, but it (slowly) adds up—it’s a lovely way to support the content that I create, and it comes at no cost to you, which is awesome, too. Thanks, in advance, to anyone who supports my art in this way; I really appreciate it!

Hi folks, my name is Toni Davenport, Adult Services Librarian at the New Braunfels Public Library, and I'm am about to be a guest blogger for the first time in my life! Michelle and I know each other because she volunteers to lead our adult coloring program, Coloring Therapy, every first Thursday of the month at our the library. Each coloring session Michelle teaches our patrons a little something related to coloring and creativity while they color.  Some lessons are more interactive for patrons than others, but all of them ask participants to think about color and how it relates to and interacts with their lives. In August I traveled to San Francisco and sent Michelle a coloring post card with the words "I can't wait to see the colored postcard when I get back!"  She said that I gave her coloring homework, and she loved it, so for our October session, Michelle in turn gave me a coloring assignment: to separate out the library's coloring supplies by color family instead of by coloring tool in preparation for an idea she had for our patrons. Setting up for this particular meeting of our program really got my brain thinking more deeply about colors, how shades relate to each other and how I perceive them. I sent all this thought process I had in an email to Michelle with work-in-progress pictures. This email led to her suggesting I write my first ever guest blog post about this experience. I hope you enjoy it!

This past October, Michelle decided to encourage our library coloring patrons to explore using color families more intensely. She explained that her idea was to have our supplies separated out by color families rather than by medium, meaning rather than having separated tubs and containers of markers, colored pencils, watercolor pencils and crayons, we would have groupings of an integrated mixture of supplies separated by their colors only! This lesson just begged people to participate and get out of their creative comfort zones just a little. After all, coloring is one of the safest places in the world to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to do something you're not sure you're going to like. This exercise really intrigued me since I'm typically a sharpie, pen, and marker kind of person. I knew that setting up our coloring session this way would stretch me, force me to use other tools I normally don't think to pick up, so I figured other colorists like myself might feel the same concerned interest I had.

To complete this task, I first I gathered all the supplies onto one counter and set out cups to start sorting.  

I started with markers, because, well, I believe in starting with what you know.  As I sorted, I noticed that there were very few shades of purple and a lot of shades of green and blue. I wondered if that's because as purple moves lighter it becomes almost pink very quickly.  I also wondered how the lack of certain colors in my preferred coloring tool has shaped my coloring in the past. Uh-oh! Here I thought I was just going to be simply sorting supplies into color families, but right away I started to analyze myself! That's how it often goes with creative ventures though: we start a project thinking it's going to take us in one direction, but if we're open to the process, creativity can lead us somewhere completely unexpected. What I like about being open to the journey is that I find out more about myself along the way. But, let me get back to the experience of sorting colors! 

Once I started adding the colored pencils to their color families, I had to separate out the teal from the green because there were too many for a single cup. Then I had to separate out the light green and dark green because the greens just kept coming! There were so many greens! But, right on their tail were all the blues; I had to separate the light blue and dark blue due to space issues. I eventually had to more deeply separate the oranges as well, which surprised me. Why was I surprised? Honestly, I wasn't sure until I stopped to write this blog post, but when I look around at the world, I don't see that many shades of orange in my daily life. I see a lot of blues and greens, so having an abundance of shades in those families isn't surprising to me at all. Now I'm wondering if that's just how my eyes work or if that's really the way the world is. Are my eyes just drawn to blues and greens because I like them? Is that why I expect to see more of them in coloring supplies? Or is it because there are actually fewer uses for the color orange in the world, so we only see that family as accent pieces or "splashes" of color in an otherwise blue and green hued world? Michelle's "simple" assignment had really turned into a deeper look into myself and my world than I thought it ever could be!

But, back to the colors.

I had quite a few peach-type colors that weren’t really what I would call orange, but I didn’t know where to put them. If I held them up to the other oranges, that's was the color they were most similar to, so they all got put together.

At the end of the project, I had to separate out the pinks into light and dark pinks. Above you can see the pinks are overflowing.

Oddly enough, I never had this problem with reds, yellows, or purples.  What does the coloring world have against purples? If you have a answer to that question, I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments! If not, just consider my musing rhetorical and a bit frustrated. 

Curiously, throughout this process I noticed there are some colors that were hard to place within families. For example, I had this one Crayola Twistable Colored Pencil that could have fit in multiple color families. Here it is by itself.  Where would you put it at first guess?

Looking at it on its own, it's hard to decide which color family this pencil belongs to, so I held it up to the groups of colors I'd created.

Does it go with pink?

With purple?

I eventually decided that it actually goes in the red family.

Okay, so now I want you, dear reader, to think.  Where would you put this chameleon color?  Does your final decision match your first guess or mine?  This exercise showed me that my first impression of where a shade of a color might fit may not be true.  Yes, yes, I know this can be a metaphor for many things in life, so I won't beat you over the head with it, but this color experiment really reinforced for me that giving things a second look (and maybe even sometimes a third) can lead to making better decisions or, at the very least, understanding why we make the decisions we do just a little bit better.

But, that shade-of-red Twistable wasn't nearly the toughest color to sort! I had a couple gold coloring tools, also. I initially thought they belonged with the yellows, but when I held them up close to yellows, that didn't seem quite right. The golds also looked like maybe they would be some sort of a light brown, however, they didn't really go with brown either.  On my third pass, I discovered they look pretty happy with oranges.

Michelle asked me why I anthropomorphized the gold colored pencils and talked about their happiness or discontent at being placed with certain color families. Here we go again with self discovery.  I'm not sure, but I think I'd have to say that when I put them in the coffee cup with their color family, they looked like they were nestled in with their relatives, the folks that understand them.  I know when I'm snuggled up with my family (and that can be people I'm related to or my close friends that I just get along with really well), I feel pretty happy. These colors looked happy to me to have the gold pencil come and hang out with them.  What more can I say?

So there you have it, all of our library adult coloring supplies had been separated by color family.

What did we do with this?  What difference did it make? Specifically, this forced me to use colored pencils and crayons, supplies I normally shy away from. They're still not my favorite, but I will say it was fun to experiment with other types of supplies from what I have at home. That's one of the biggest benefits of these library coloring sessions and many other library programs: we provide a lot of resources that you may not want to or be able to purchase just yet, so you get to test things out and see what you like. Quite a few patrons found this experience of limiting their color selections while simultaneously adding to the type of coloring tools they were using interesting also. There was quite a lively dialogue, folks talking out loud about their coloring choices or making revelations about their own perceptions of color and how they use it. It was probably the most talking out loud the patrons had done during a coloring session since we began Coloring Therapy over a year ago!

Here are some of the results!  As you can see, several people chose two complimentary color families. 

So, in conclusion, I've never taken this much time to analyze myself and how I go about a particular task. I am surprised that Michelle's color family sorting task stimulated this thoughtful process in me; it became as much a part of the coloring homework she assigned me as the actual sorting of the coloring supplies. Since I usually don't spend a lot of time in self-reflection, this process was not the easiest for me.  At the same time, I liked stretching myself creatively and challenging myself. Typically I create and don't reflect on how I've created.  I've never taken the time to analyze how I go about a task as thoroughly as I have with this guest blog post.  Now that I have taken that time, I'm more aware of how my approach in this project translates to other tasks in my life. I'm methodical about some things and much more forgiving of myself in others. I'm also more aware of how taking time to look back at your choices and your approach to a task can result a lot of self-reflection, for better or worse. In the end and going forward, I think I am going to schedule a little self reflection time into my creative projects, and see where the process takes me and my creativity.