Puzzle Coloring: A Creative, Collaborative Way To Engage Guests Through The Holidays

There are those that love puzzles...and there are those that just do not see the point.

I am in the latter category.

But, I do see that they can be great fun to partake in when you're in a group setting.

Putting itty bitty pieces together to form a picture over a long or short period of time as a family or at a party, working together (or sometimes *not* working together - it is rather fun to "steal" someone's piece from right under their nose) to create a kind of art, is really satisfying. And, if you are the person hosting a large group of folks, having a puzzle out takes a bit of the hosting pressure off - no one person can effectively entertain more than one human being at a time, but a puzzle can easily entertain a horde of guests!

There are a few drawbacks, though, to collaborative puzzle building:

1. Having a large-enough-for-loads-of-folks-to-enjoy puzzle out and about in your house takes up precious table space needed for food and beverages.
2. If you have pets or young children, puzzles designed for mature minds and hands can be downright dangerous.
3. When a piece gets lost or munched out of shape (and it will - this is a gathering of a large group of people, perhaps a soiree that also has adult beverages, so stuff happens), the let down of a puzzle that can't be finished is a twice-as-sad collective one.

This holiday season, I would like to share with y'all a (perhaps crazy) coloring idea I got from hearing my partner, Steve's (a puzzle enthusiast - yes, puzzle haters and puzzle lovers *can* live in matrimonial harmony), and my son, Sam's, first impressions of my most recent airplane travel art (to manage my intense air travel anxiety, I draw, intensely and without pause, until the plane touches ground - you can read about all that HERE).

A Colorful Alternative to Puzzles
Unbeknownst to me, Steve snapped
this photo during our recent flight to Chicago
to visit our son, Sam. I kinda love when
he does this because it helps me see
myself and my coping mechanisms
through his eyes, which are a much
gentler lens than my own; I carry
sizable anger and guilt around with
me about my travel challenges.
My latest bit of airplane art turned out really dense, layered and finely detailed - not really a colorable illustration, I thought.

Steve's first observation about this drawing was that "it looks like a puzzle!" 

I sent a photo of my airplane art to Sam once we touched down at Midway airport (that is our family travel tradition - communicate, without fail, on take off and landing), and his first comment was that "it looks like deconstructed flowers!" 

Honestly, I saw so many fascinating shapes in the clouds and on the ground far below during our early morning flight (November is a gorgeous time to fly across the middle of the United States - so many colors, so many patterns, all in the process of changing with the seasons - a visual person's Thanksgiving), I was inspired to try and capture my interpretation of what was flying by my window in my journal. 

The end result was this drawing.

The words on this airplane art illustration read
"head in the clouds...but heart wide open. 
look. feel. breathe. listen."
I was feeling a little e.e. cummings-like as I finished this
drawing; sometimes capital letters feel too proper 
for the emotions I'm working out when I put black pen
to paper.
And, Steve's thought that it looked like a puzzle, along with Sam's comment that it looked like deconstructed flowers (and what is a puzzle if not a deconstructed image), turned on a light bulb in my head: PUZZLE COLORING!!

Here's the idea:

1. You print out this topsy, turvy FREE illustration of mine (how many copies you print is up to you - I printed out two for the purposes of our schedule of holiday activities).
2. Pull together a rag tag collection of coloring art supplies.
3. Find a simple, decoratively unoffensive container for it all (I chose a shallow, see-thru plastic box I use to carry around copies of my coloring book, Doodled Blooms, to speaking events).
4. Leave this collection of coloring supplies out in a popular space in your home (for our house, that location is our kitchen table).
5. Encourage your holiday guests to dig into your Puzzle Coloring box and enjoy a bit of coloring therapy while they visit. Remind them that the coloring pages(s) within belong to no one person in particular, but are instead a fun, collaborative thing to do while chatting, eating, drinking, and celebrating in your home. Finishing the coloring page is NOT the goal of Puzzle Coloring; coloring for how ever long (or short) your guests' hearts desire is.
6. Let the creative coloring magic happen over the season of celebration (I plan to have out our Puzzle Coloring box through to the new year) as numerous folks add their creativity to this crazy complex page.

I printed out my "head in the clouds" illustration on 110lb off-white
cardstock as that is Sam's favorite paper to color on. Regular
printer paper will also work really well, too, and is typically cheaper.

I've only just now thought of this idea, so I'm not *really* sure how having a Puzzle Coloring box out during the last few weeks of December will go. 

Is this an awesome idea? Is this a "meh" idea? 

Only time will tell.

But, thus far, my little family has had a good time with it!

A recent night in my studio.
I needed to work on some "thank you" cards
(I received some very thoughtful teacher gifts this Christmas),
and my guys took their first crack at the Puzzle Coloring box.
Thankfully, it was a leftovers night, so as soon as we all got hungry
having supper was a breeze.
As we all colored great conversations ensued, observations were made and a lovely weekday winter's evening was had by all (most especially me - I rarely have two legged company in my studio, so it was quite pleasant to have companions to chat with as I worked who didn't try to chew my markers or sit on my paper).

I'm not suggesting that Puzzle Coloring replace a traditional puzzle in your home when you are hosting guests (especially if you're a puzzle enthusiast). 

But, adding a collaborative coloring experience to your holiday gathering traditions could bring even more joy to the season - who knows what sort of fabulous coloring art you will have by the time January 1st rolls around! 

This puzzle-y, sectional coloring page (I am wondering if anyone will see a method to my patterns' madness - I was very intentional as I filled in each and every playing card-like shape) will be FREE to the Have Color Will Travel coloring community to download through mid-January (click HERE to join the HCWT coloring community & start receiving my free coloring pages directly to your inbox).

The Dec/Jan HCWT coloring community Free Coloring of the Month illustration,
scanned, slightly modified (I journal on 8 1/4 X 11in sketch books, drawing to
the edge of the page, so to capture the entire image & make printing
less of a headache for folks, my drawing had to be modestly shrunk).
Should the idea of Puzzle Coloring appeal to you, I would LOVE to hear how the whole thing goes in your household; share a photo on social media (on IG & Twitter, tag @havecolor_willtravel and on FB Have Color Will Travel) or drop me a comment about how your Puzzle Coloring went on this blog post in the new year (Can you believe 2020 is right around the corner!!). 

While I do get pleasure from coloring all by myself (no one shakes the table - talking to you, Steve - and I definitely finish more pages when I color alone), my best, most wonderful and most cherished coloring experiences have been when I am in a group (despite being a MASSIVE introvert). In my 46 years on this Earth, I have found that there is no greater loving and supportive community than a coloring community. My hope is that this particular illustration and the idea of Puzzle Coloring will help you build your very own coloring community in your home this holiday season, and that this colorful experience will be one you (fondly) remember for years to come.

Happy (colorful) holidays, y'all!


  1. I really enjoyed Puzzle Coloring at your home last week, and plan to print out this page for use at the office. I'm always looking for ways that people can quietly sit next to one another and collaborate and talk without it feeling like an intimidating pastoral meeting. Looking forward to testing this out at work in the new year!

    1. Thank you for giving my wacky ideas a try, and for being such a tried and true member of my coloring community <3
      I look forward to hearing how this illustration works in your office!


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