A new Free Coloring Page and some further thoughts on the whispers of the inner critic

My new Free Page illustration has been ready to share with the coloring universe for quite some time…like, for four months now.

But I just haven’t been able to force myself to sit still at my keyboard and compose a companion blog post to go along with this collection of very full and fantastical blooms.

And no Free Page goes out into the world to do its good work without a little explanation and creative encouragement from me in the form of a blog post because of the nature of these drawings.

Free Pages are very personal lines.  

Sure, all of my art is personal—that’s just the nature of creativity—but the drawings I create that eventually become Free Pages not only serve others by being relaxing, fun to color, and inspirational, but they also provide me a great service in either helping me to get from point A to point B or to process a particularly difficult idea or time in my life. Because the drawing of Free Page lines is itself a form of creative therapy for me, I feel a deep need to share a bit of their origin story with the folks who add their creativity to mine.

Which is probably why I have been struggling (or perhaps procrastinating?) getting to my computer to compose the words that will launch this Free Page out of my studio and into y’all’s hands—I’m still living the reason behind these lines and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it all.

You see, as I was doodling these wild flowers in my journal (that’s where most Free Pages are born) late last spring I was in the process of making a big life decision: do I (finally) do what my heart has been pushing me towards for a while now—going back to school and formally studying art—or not. Last March I turned 49 and my son graduated from college a few months later, two big life events that got my brain buzzing (the year before big age changes always hits me harder than actually entering a new decade). I was thinking a lot of “If not now, then when?” thoughts, and when an introduction to acrylic painting class (aka Painting I) opened up at the university where my partner teaches, I practically jumped at the opportunity to register. Knowing next to nothing about acrylic paint much less creating art with it, the class seemed like the perfect place to begin my new education journey, and I was excited about it...at first.

You’d think after registering for a college class for the first time in well over twenty years (I graduated from college in 1995, waaay back when the internet was barely even a twinkle in humanity’s eye) I would have been pumped to share this news with my friends and family, but I most decidedly was not. A few days after signing all the paperwork and settling my work schedule around the course, anxiety about what I had decided to undertake started to creep up. My brain began to quietly suggest that going back to school wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had, sharing super unhelpful thoughts along these lines:

  • “What are you thinking? You’re almost 50! Why are you going back to school? This is when normal folks start seriously planning their retirements!”
  • “Painting? In acrylic? You don’t even like acrylic paint!”
  • “You don’t have time for school! You can barely keep up with your studio work schedule and goals right now, in fact you are ALWAYS behind!”
  • “Going to school doesn’t make money, honey, and y’all need to focus on the finances—you aren’t getting any younger!”
  • “Why are you are going back to school to study art? You technically already are an artist, so…does this mean you’ve been lying to yourself and everyone else all this time?”

From May thru August I threatened to quit going back to school both in my head and out loud to my little trio family so. many. times. that the idea of sharing this new goal with anyone else made me queasy with shame—how could I tell people that I was going back to school and that it was to study art…when I was probably just gonna cave from the pressure of my anxiety and perfectionism and quit after the first few weeks?!? 

I’ve written on negative self-talk before, so you’d think that I would easily diagnose the malicious mischief of my inner voice for the lie that it so obviously was. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the voice of the inner critic it’s that no matter how good you get at figuring out its tricks, it has always got one more it’s been waiting (patiently, I might add) to pull out and attack you with. 

My inner dialogue no longer jabbers on at me about “not being talented enough,” “being selfish by focusing on art,” or “not deserving the time it takes to pursue my art” because I’ve become adept at recognizing those arguments as falsehoods and can quite easily turn my attention away from that noise and back to whatever task happens to be at hand. However, with this new creative leap that I’m making my critic has decided to voice all new opinions about things that I’m decidedly less confident about: my age, my time management skills, my earning power, and the idea that my deciding to formally study art might somehow make my previous art experience null and void.

The way I draw when I’m using black lines to process my emotions and ideas is that the shapes and patterns come first. I come to these drawing therapy sessions of mine without a plan. I set my pen to the paper and just begin making marks. The illustrations are typically drawn over many days, sometimes even weeks, as I slowly let the designs grow and my mind process whatever its holding onto. Once a drawing feels visually balanced then I add a phrase of some sort, one that I find myself pulling hope, energy, and optimism from at the time. I draw the phrase in colorable letters if I’ve got enough blank space left over for it to still look inviting to color, or I artfully script it along the edges of the of the illustration. Since I used this Free Page to work through my (continuing) struggles with how I speak to myself when my life gets stressful or when I choose to do something out of my confidence and comfort zone, I felt strongly that the inspirational phrase I added to this collection of doodled blooms should be about managing the voice of inner critic. But what words to add? Every phrase I’d pulled from in times past just wasn’t cutting the mustard, if you will, with this new situation in front of me.

For years I’ve called the hateful dialogue my brain has with me “the voice of inner critic,” my “demon voice” when its really pulling out all the stops to get my attention, and “negative self-talk.” But after listening to this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast a few weeks ago and hearing how psychologist Ethan Koss’ refers to his negative self talk as simply “chatter”, such a casual, innocuous word, I’ve begun rethinking my choice of labels. Critics and demons in fantasy stories hold loads of power, and it takes quite a while to type or say the words ‘negative self-talk.’ These labels I’m using are granting the hurtful noise in my head WAY too much authority, so I’ve been looking for new verbiage, and I think I’ve found it in the words of a dear friend.

Tap to embiggen the photo at the top of this post and you will read the words of my wise, patient, and kind friend, Kelsey Elizabeth Cooper: “The whispers in your head are not true.” She texted me only that simple sentence one afternoon when I was almost done working on this drawing and I reached out to her for emotional support. I read it and I knew I had found my colorable phrase for this illustration and a new label for the voice of my critic. Whispers are slight, easy to ignore, obnoxious when you’re trying to pay attention to something, and small. Whispers also only have power if you listen to them, putting the control of how they do or do not affect my life in my hands, something I needed to have reaffirmed on the daily as I headed towards my first day of class in Painting I.

I’m currently three weeks into being a new (art) student, and while it hasn’t been without a few tears and expletives (which is my way with all scary new things), I’m happy to report I haven’t given up! This isn’t to say the vicious whispers in my head have gone silent. They’ve actually become more persistent and slightly more nasty now I am currently working on my very first still life painting…in acrylic…and it will be GRADED (*gasp*). But just like an usher that quiets down a whispering audience member during a dramatic performance, I’ve been shushing these toxic whispers and redirecting my attention to the work in front of me, and quite successfully, I might add!

With this collection of words y’all just read completed and with the drop/add deadline for my class having passed (Can’t quit school now because you know what’s worse than doing scary new things? Wasting money!😂), I feel emotionally ready to send this illustration off on its colorful adventure. I hope that the words peeking through these flowers reach and relax a few colorists’ hearts in the same way they did mine because these free pages are meant to inspire both your color palettes and your emotional energies! However, I know we are all different beings and pull inspiration from different places, so for the first time ever I am releasing an Free Page out in two forms: with words and without words. Folks can add their own quotes in the negative spaces of this coloring page or even keep the page as is, fantastical flowers only. These two versions will fly to the email inboxes of my newsletter subscribers only, but you can sign up easily for that HERE.

To everyone who has been waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for a new Free Page—thank you so very much for your patience! I hope you agree with my partner (he’s super excited to color the big blooms with all the circles and the ones with all the lines) that the coloring page was worth the wait! More than usual I would LOVE to see how you brighten up these blossoms with your colors, so if you feel comfortable posting your WIPs and finished pages on social media, please remember to tag me (Have Color Will Travel on Facebook and @havecolor_willtravel on Instagram) so that I can see your coloring art! 

Happy coloring, y’all!!

*This is a reminder that any shopping links to Amazon or Blick Art Materials found in this post are affiliate links. Should you decide to bring home something 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 on HCWT, and it comes at no cost to you, which is awesome, too. Thanks, in advance, to anyone who supports my art & writing in this way; I really appreciate it!*