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Colouring Outside the Lines

February 22, 2013

One Friday afternoon in the fifth grade, when all our work was done for the week, our teacher gave the class colouring pages and put a Joni Mitchell* record on for us to listen to.  (I imagine so she could swill vodka in the cloakroom without being disturbed for a few minutes.)  After our colouring efforts were pinned to the bulletin board, several girls gathered around to inspect them.


coloured pencil

11×14″ – coloured pencil on paper


One girl pointed at mine and asked, “Who did that one?”  When I piped up, she said, snidely, “Oh.  I thought a boy did it.”

Because, of course, I had not only used wild colours and pressed my pencils very hard on the paper, I had also not taken pains to ensure my colours were perfectly inside the lines.  Somehow, this defined me differently from all the other girls.  As usual.  I was not cute.  I was not sweet.  I was not gentle or elegant or graceful.  I was not feminine.



 48×48″– acrylic on plywood


* Can I just digress here to say a few words about Joni Mitchell?

A true artist, Joni has been one of my biggest influences since that Friday in the fifth grade.  She is a gifted instrumentalist and a brilliant singer/songwriter.  Joni also experiments with unusual tunings on her guitar, and when people criticized her interest in exploring her love of jazz, she kept on going.  Even when decades of unrepentant chain smoking permanently lowered her vocal register, she adapted by re-inventing her entire singing style.

Not only is Joni a gifted musician, she actually began as visual artist.  She has designed the covers of every one of her albums, and still considers herself a painter first.

Joni Mitchell has probably never coloured inside the lines in her entire life.  And she is a fucking LEGEND.



 8×12.5″- watercolour on paper


Back in the fifth grade, had I been less confident in my skills as an artist, I probably would have been knocked on my ass by that snotty little classmate.  But the truth is, I thought colouring pre-designed pages was boring as all hell, and anyone who cared that much was probably boring, too.  I coloured hard and fast because I wanted it over with, so I could spend the rest of my time drawing.


j wings 1

14×17″ – coloured pencil on paper


And being told I was like a BOY didn’t sway me either.  As far as I could tell (especially in those days), boys had a lot more freedom in this world, and there was nothing wrong with claiming some of that freedom for myself.  I wasn’t going to be straight-jacketed into some yawning version of what girls were “supposed to” do just because I was a girl.


d wings 1

14×17″ – coloured pencil on paper


There will always be someone to criticize what we are doing as artists, musicians, writers, et cetera.  If they can’t criticize our work, they will take us down for who we are and how we behave.  But Joni Mitchell never conformed to anyone else’s ideas of who she should be or what she should be producing, and neither should we.

We all have to hold that little kid confidence with us in everything we do, especially in what we do creatively.  Because colouring inside the lines IS boring.  And who wants to create homogeneus little reproductions of what everyone else is doing anyway?


Dodie Goldney

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related posts by Dodie Goldney:

Women’s Work is in the Home (Renovations)

Refraction and Reflection

Worth a Thousand Words



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