Vanquishing Your Inner Coloring Critic

Vanquishing Your Inner Coloring Critic

Ten Common Criticisms and How to Overcome Them

So you want to color. Great! And yet, you are hesitant. You fear it won’t be good enough. Is there a voice in your head saying you’ll fail – maybe a voice from the past – from family, friends or teachers? I’m amazed when I hear that even professional artists doubt their work!

Your best approach is to enjoy the hobby, and maybe create something you really like. To do that, you need to rid yourself of all the negative things you tell yourself.

Here are the most common concerns expressed by other colorists, including myself, and some tools to help quiet that negative internal voice.

1. I can’t draw a straight line.

You know what? Neither can I! Actually, I have a hard time drawing a straight line with a ruler. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter at all. This is coloring. You get to color however you want. You can use straight lines or small circles or hatch marks or just color all over the paper.

To increase your confidence and quiet this particular voice, I would suggest you get out a page and color it every way you can think of. Then look over the results, and chose the method you like best. Who knows? Your favorite way of coloring may not even be straight lines!

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My first attempt of coloring something myself.

2. Everyone else is so much better.

Many people probably are better than you. There are colorists in my coloring groups that make me say “WOW!” and feel just a little intimidated. Those people aren’t me and they aren’t you. Are you coloring to be the best colorist in America? The world? Or are you, like me, coloring to have fun, de-stress and relax?

If so, the best thing you can do is just color and let yourself go. Don’t worry about everyone else’s images. Color for you. Pick colors you love, pictures thrill you, and color them the way you most enjoy. Post them and share them with pride. They are your masterpieces.

I have lots of pictures I colored with my favorite colors, not because I wanted to make a great picture, but so I could enjoy those colors. I’ve also colored pink elephants, patriotic eagles and a crazy colored horse. The more I let go of the “outcome’ and enjoy the process, the happier I am.

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Drawing by Buddy for Hire – Coloring by Me.

3. People will say bad things.

I worry that people will say “That’s kind of childish isn’t it?” or “Why are you coloring, you are not a child!” I worry that others will think I am wasting my time.  Sometimes I even rehearse in my head what people might say to me if they see me coloring in public. However, that has not been my experience.

I facilitate or participate in thirteen different coloring groups on Facebook. I take my coloring everywhere – to therapy, to the doctor, anywhere I might have a few minutes to color. I am an average beginning colorist. I have some pictures I love and others that are just okay. But never, in all my sharing, has anyone said anything bad about my coloring. Just the opposite!

People give me wonderful comments, even on the “just okay” pictures. A surgeon told me “I could never do that!” A surgeon who can operate, but can’t color? Probably not. She is probably afraid to try. From everything I have seen, the colorist community is a safe and supportive community. It may be the best encouragement for art you ever receive.

4. I made a mistake in the picture.

Yes I did. And you will too – probably many if you keep coloring. I have the hardest time with patterns. I make a mistake in every single one. How do you get past this issue? Clearly, you are just stating a fact. You DID make a mistake!

But you know, making a mistake is a not really that big a deal. First of all, you are most likely the only one who notices it. Pointing out mistakes is the most common self-deprecating remark I see on Facebook. The most common response is, “I didn’t notice it until you pointed it out.”  The mistake can seem huge when you focus on it. However, if you take a step back, look at the whole picture, you can come to realize how insignificant it really is.

If taking a step back doesn’t work, try this trick: snap a picture of the page with your cell phone and look at the picture, not the actual page. The picture will be beautiful if you focus on the entire thing, and not on one small spot. For some reason, our brains find it easier to let go of all the details when we’re not looking at the original image.

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Lots of mistakes in this one, but I love it. Can you find them? Picture by Dover.

Second, making mistakes and forgiving yourself for them is a priceless gift you can give yourself. If you were supposed to color that space blue and you colored it green, so be it. Forgive yourself the mistake and move on. Maybe if you do that often enough, you will learn to forgive yourself for bigger mistakes.

I hear the comment about mistakes quite often from people who have physical challenges like shaky hands. Honestly, I can’t tell that the person has that challenge unless they tell me. No one cares if you move outside the line or press too hard. I still go outside the lines. I broke many crayons in the beginning. It is okay; color with abandon!

There are techniques that help you fix mistakes. If they make you feel better, give them a try. With colored pencils, you can erase mistakes up to a point.  Or, with the case of using the wrong color, you can change the pattern (to have more green, for example,) so it doesn’t stand out so much. You can choose to add color randomly, or instead of every other space being blue, color every third space. Mistakes are much harder to see this way.  My best advice, though, is just let it go. Be self-compassionate. After all, you are doing this for fun and relaxation; nothing in your life depends on having a perfect picture.

5. I don’t know how to pick colors.

Sure you do. You know how. You just don’t trust yourself to do so.  You did it when you were a child, and you do it now. Whenever you pick your clothes, or items for your home. If you didn’t enjoy playing with color, you wouldn’t be drawn to this hobby.

But you start to hear terms like color wheel, primary, secondary or complimentary colors. It sounds like a foreign language.  You don’t need to know what all of these things mean to enjoy coloring. If you are interested, you can learn these terms. You can learn how to do all kinds of great color combinations. However, none of this information is necessary to have fun and relax.

There are many way to choose colors. For one picture you can pick just one color and color the whole picture in shades of that color. Or you can pick several of your favorite colors and color with those. Right now I am challenging myself to color pictures with my pencils that are almost gone. You can make a plan for the page, or you can choose one color at a time and let it lead you to the next. Remember this is your picture. You don’t have to be realistic – pink elephants and blue suns are just fine too.

6. I haven’t colored in years.

That was true for me too. Except some coloring with my children and grandchildren, I hadn’t colored since I was a child. I was 52 when I started coloring again.  I fell in love with it immediately. Try it! There’s no color police waiting to swoop down and arrest you for being too old to color!

Don’t let time stop you. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. The media tells us it helps with stress and anxiety. But the best part of coloring as an adult is the lack of rules. As adults, we don’t have to be bound by the rules we were encouraged in as children – rules meant to help us develop our hand-eye coordination. We can color whatever we want, however we want. We can choose to color outside the lines. We can choose to color things realistically, or with fantastic colors never seen in nature. It is very freeing!

7. Everyone is talking about shading, and other techniques. I don’t know anything about that stuff.

This can be overwhelming if you are just starting. When I started out, I colored just like I did as a child. I outlined everything (I had been taught not to color outside the lines) and colored very fast, very hard and very simply. There was no shading. Slowly, as time has gone by, I have improved my coloring. I no longer outline and I do shade a little bit. A year or two from now, I might get really excited about watching all those how-to videos, but for now I am content to color, experiment and learn as I go.

You can chose to do that too. There is nothing wrong with just filling in space with color. Remember, it’s your coloring, and your choice. If you enjoy learning new things, you can chose to learn new coloring techniques. Join some Facebook coloring groups or watch some YouTube videos. Also, many of the pencil makers have videos on their web sites.  Like any hobby, coloring is meant to be fun, first. When you want more, the internet gives you all sorts of options so you can learn about other aspects.

8. All I can afford is Dollar Store/Pound Shop coloring books and crayons.

Coloring can be very inexpensive or very expensive. Coloring books and pencils can be bought at stores for $1.00. Or you can spend up to (per an Amazon search) $160.00 per book and hundreds of dollars for “art quality” pencils/markers. The question is only about what you feel you can afford and how much you choose to spend.

I started with dollar store coloring books and Crayola crayons. I have received pencils as gifts. Don’t forget to let people know what you want.  In the end my favorite pencils are $24.99 for 24 woodless pencils. My favorite pictures are often printed from free samples provided by coloring book artists online. These can be printed at many libraries if you don’t have a printer.

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This was a free image from the internet. Very inexpensive.

9. My elementary school teacher/parents/friends told me I am not artist or I don’t do it right.

Welcome to the club. I think sadly that “art” in school is too often, especially in elementary school, more about crafts than art. I have a clear memory of a teacher telling the class we were going to make paper plate spiders for Halloween. I was excited. I love Halloween.

So I painted those paper plates black, made the paper legs, added googly eyes and an orange mouth. I loved my spider. He wasn’t very scary but I thought he was cute. I was very proud of him. Then the teacher hung them all around the room. Suddenly, his eyes looked off-center and his legs were crooked. I remember panicking and wishing the teacher would take mine down. I stared at the spider until we took them home. I was ashamed and no one had said a word to me.  I had done it to myself.

Many people have told me a teacher or parent has told them “You can’t paint that dog blue or that horse purple. That’s the wrong color!” But you need to remember that coloring as children is often about learning – hand-eye coordination, the names of colors, what colors go with which objects, etc. But as adults, we don’t have to obey those “rules” we were given as children. If you want a blue dog or a purple horse, color away! And share your orange owl or lavender frog with me, because I am going to love them.

The message you may have heard may not be that clear. Maybe it was just that no one ever praised what you tried to create. Don’t worry, you can do that for yourself, and I guarantee others will too. As an exercise, let yourself try coloring the same picture many times, realistically, fantastically, or any way in between.

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I did all three of these from the Dover Fanciful Faces book. It was about having fun and seeing that there is no correct way.

10. No one will like it.

This is an inner fear that is very similar to #9. I want to challenge you. Where does that message come from? Why do you think that? If this is the voice in your head, that says, “No one will like it,” who told you that? If you have been made to feel shame or feel less, whether through your own lack of self-confidence or because someone made you feel that way, please listen to me. – YOU are NOT less! You are a beautiful masterpiece in your own right, and you can create anything you like and someone will love it. That someone may only be you, but your opinion is just as important as mine or anyone else’s.

Art is subjective. Just look at all the different styles of art, and you’ll see it. Personally, I love realistic landscapes and art that has dimension – what I call textural art. I don’t like watercolors and abstract art. You may like highly symmetrical pieces or absurd, silly designs. Find the designs that speak to you, not anyone else.

You may love what I do, you may like it, or you might say it is okay or even not your cup of tea. That’s okay – I colored it for me. That is what I want to encourage to you to do – color for you. For fun, for relaxation, for calm, for the fun of sharing. Just color. Even in pictures I don’t like there is always something I do like – the color choices, the shading, or the creativity.


So welcome to the wonderful world of coloring! Spend some time examining the negative messages swirling around in your head and countering them. Try this exercise. Next time you are coloring, put a pen and paper nearby. When one of these negative messages comes into your mind, write it down. Get it out of your head. Then go back to your coloring.

When you are done coloring take out your paper and write down a positive response to each negative message. One of my common negative thoughts is “I made a mistake”. My favorite countering message for that is, “Native American basket weavers put mistakes in their work on purpose, so as not to become too prideful. I am a color weaver. I seek only to make myself happy.”

Feel free to respond to me. I would love to hear how others cope with their inner critic. What other negative messages do you hear, and how do you counter them?