Coloring Inside the Lines or Outside the Lines? What Works for You?

I have this memory of sitting outside on the grass, waiting for a country auction to begin. A warm summer day, my mother sat on a white folding chair studying the mimeographed catalogue. From my vantage point I could see two other children, who like myself had been given coloring books. I watched them, to see which crayons they’d choose.

Carefully, the girls outlined the inner silhouette of the picture they selected with a pointed blue crayon. The line was dark and certain. One girl worked on a picture of an octopus and another a dolphin. Within they lightly filled in more blue, never going outside the lines.

Meanwhile, I looked down at my own work. The bunch of grapes I’d exuberantly colored had strokes of purple beyond the fruit’s edges. The red apple in the picture merged into the grapes. My work looked messy. Their work looked neat.

Photo by Eren Li on

Maybe, I reasoned, I should try their technique. The initial outlining within the lines was helpful. The limitation to slight and even pressure, however, was boring. Plus everything started looking the same.  I liked the way thick, dense color looked on the page. I had fun experimenting  with swirls and cross hatches.  So I came up with a compromise, initially set perimeters and then experiment within.

This approach works with all creative forms.  Writers, this is what a creative prompt is all about. It sets out a challenge and you experiment with words and sentences.  Sometimes, by limiting yourself you discover new ways to express your art.

A Beautiful Traditional May Basket Made by one of my Neighbors

This morning, while putting together a May Basket, I thought about the merit of coloring within the lines, in other words following protocol because a May Basket is supposed to be created with a basket. The problem, I have no suitable basket.  I could have gone to the store to purchase one, but the rest of the year it would be taking up storage space and I have a very nice watering pot my daughter Alex gave me a number of years ago that looks lovely with flowers inside.

So I decided, to use the watering pot and set it on an upside down wastebasket made of rattan. I knew this would disqualify me from being considered for a  neighborhood May Basket prize, but as my garden flowers are limited, I decided to go with something fun. The title of my May Basket, yes I named it, is “Victory for Ukraine.” The use of the upside down basket below, enabled me to hang a few wilted flowers upside down with a Russian flag while triumphantly above in the watering pot, flowers thrive and Ukraine flags wave.

It made a few people laugh. And several people have taken pictures.

All around the little city where I live, Annapolis, residents have assembled May baskets to display in their doorways to celebrate the arrival of spring. The day has been damp and gray, but folks have been walking around enjoying all the flower displays.

Writing prompt: write a scene from your own childhood and do not use the verb “to be.” If you succeed, try it again from the viewpoint of the other person, other than you, in the scene.  Experiment. Have fun.

Follow me on Twitter @ SNMaril.  

Published by Nadja Maril

Nadja Maril is a communications professional who has over 10 years experience as a magazine editor. A writer and journalist, Maril is the author of several books including: "American Lighting 1840-1940", "Antique Lamp Buyer's Guide", "Me, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat", and "Runaway, Molly Midnight; the Artist's Cat". Her short stories and essays have been published in several small online journals including Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, Scarlet Leaf Review and Defunkt Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Former Editor-in-Chief of What's Up ? Publishing, former Editor of Chesapeake Taste Magazine a regional lifestyle magazine based in Annapolis, and former Lighting Editor of Victorian Homes Magazine, Maril has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines articles on a variety of subjects..

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