Make Your Own Coloring Book

Adult coloring books are all the rage, and I understand the appeal. Back in 2011, I was in pain for months before surgery fixed my problem. Exhausted and hurting, I spent hours coloring to distract myself. It was absorbing without being difficult, and very relaxing. But I didn’t use published coloring books. I made my own.

A sample of a coloring page from my homemade book (9″ x 12″)

I’ve always been interested in drawing, but at that time I believed I couldn’t really draw. I felt so awful that everything seemed hard. Doodling gave me permission to play with markers without making Art. The funny thing is, the more I practiced, the more beautiful my pages got. With time, I included sketches that actually looked like things I saw around me. Eventually, I got up the courage to take online art courses.

If you want to take your coloring to the next level, then it’s time to make your own coloring book. You don’t have to be an artist to doodle (and you can doodle even if you are an artist!).

You can make your coloring pages on loose sheets of paper or in a sketch book. I like using wire-bound sketchbooks because they lay flat and keep my doodles in chronological order. I mostly use larger formats (11″ x 14″) because I like room to spread out. I do take smaller sketchbooks (5″ x 8″) with me when I travel. Not all my pages turn out great, but it’s nice being able to look back at them.

To help you get started, here is how I do it:

1) Draw frames. I do everything freehand because I like the hand-drawn look of my imperfect rectangles, but you can use a ruler or a stencil to draw your frames. Also, they don’t have to be square. I’ve made pages with triangular frames, curvy frames, even frames that make a picture of a flower.

Draw frames to fill the page

2) Fill each frame with a different pattern or image. There are lots of sources out there that can teach you different patterns to doodle (Zentangle is probably the most famous). But you can easily come up with your own. All you have to do is look around and copy what you see.

Here are the patterns I used for my sample doodle page:

Draw a pattern in each frame (designs described in post text).

A) Basket weave: texture copied from a basket on my table

The basket I looked at and the pattern I drew from it.

B) Simple grid: super easy to draw with lots of coloring options; I drew mine on an angle relative to its frame because I like how it looks

C) Stylized zipper: this is a simplified drawing of one half of a zipper with the teeth turned into rectangles. You can use any pattern you see around you. If it’s too hard to draw, simplify the elements and draw that.

D) X box: this is a pattern inspired by a quilt block I really like. Like the grid (B), it’s easy to draw and has lots of interesting coloring options

E) Bubbles: lots of circles drawn different sizes. You can do this with any shape you want. And you can make them overlap (like I did) or just fill the space with them. Whether or not you draw them so that they disappear behind the frame is also up to you.

F) Sawtooth borders: draw a series of lines (straight or curvy) and then fill them in with triangles. You can fill each strip with any design you like, simple or complex, and make the borders in one frame all the same, alternating, or all different.

G) Scales: A simple C shape drawn to pack the space. You can add as many echo lines in each scale as you like (the sample shows one echo line).

H) Tiles: draw a single shape over and over, packing them together but leaving a set amount of space between the adjacent tiles. I used triangles here, but this works with all sorts of shapes, even really strange ones.

3) Color your designs. I’ll talk more about coloring tips in my next post, but here are the basics. You can use anything you have or like (markers, colored pencils, ballpoint pens, gel pens, crayons, etc.). I used markers because I loved the strong color and the way the ink flows on to the page.


I bought a set of Prismacolor Premier artists markers so I would have lots of colors to work with. You can use smaller, cheaper sets (which is how I started), but I like having lots of color options.

My doodle page, after coloring (approximately 5″ x 5″)

Even a limited set of markers can make for a great looking page. Here’s a monochrome page I colored using the black and gray markers from one of my cheaper sets.

Colored with grey and black pens (5.5″ x 8.5)

Of course, you can still make your own coloring pages even if you have only one pen or pencil. Just shade in part of the designs to add light and dark.

“Coloring” page made with a single pen (5.5″ x 8.5″)


My favorite thing about making my own coloring book pages is that the results are so personal. When I look at a doodle, I remember the thing that inspired the pattern. For the more unusual patterns, I remember where I was (visiting a friend, sitting on an airplane, hanging out in a hotel room) and what I was looking at (a piece of pottery, the fabric on the seat in front of me, the pattern on the bedspread). Like any kind of drawing, even doodling can open your eyes to the world around you.

Next week: Tips on coloring your homemade pages.

Reminder: Doing Nothing Is A Mistake


I’ve shared this quote before and I’m sharing it again, because I can’t hear it, see it, or read it enough.

Perfectionism tells me not to bother. Don’t even try. If I can’t do it perfectly, then it’s a waste of time to start.

So I repeat this proverb to myself:

Only he who does nothing makes a mistake. — French proverb

Its advice is the exact opposite of my internal perfectionist’s.

It tells me to do something, anything! It doesn’t matter what. It doesn’t matter if it’s smudged or sloppy or not quite what I had in mind.

Better to make something that to sit in the vacuum making nothing.

Perfection is beyond me.

But there’s satisfaction to be had in making something I’ve imagined. Even if it’s a quote card with wobbly hand-written letters on it that doesn’t look exactly like I intended.

There isn’t any satisfaction to be found in holding back.

Forget perfection. Satisfaction is better.

Satisfaction can be achieved.

What I Learned By Losing My Art Journal

In an effort to draw more, I carry a sketchbook with me whenever I can. Since I am especially interested in drawing animals, I took it to the Estes Park Wool Market & Fiber Festival in early June. I knew there would be lots of animals to sketch there, but losing my sketchbook was not part of my plan.

I sketched the goats and sheep in the barns. My first mistake was not putting my sketchbook back in my backpack when we returned to the vendors hall. It was still in my hand when I was looking at the luscious yarns and fibers at the Fiber Optic Yarns booth, which is how I wound up leaving it behind. I set it down for a moment to pick something else up and, dazzled by the rich colors, forgot all about it.

Fortunately, I had my name and number in the front of my journal. Even more fortunately, the person who found it wanted to get it back to me.

My phone rang as we were driving out of Estes Park. I didn’t recognize the out-of-state number, so I didn’t pick it up. If I had, we could have gone back and gotten my journal right then, saving everyone a lot of time and trouble, worry and waiting. But I didn’t. I didn’t listen to the message until we were already home, and by then it was too late.

When I called her back that evening, Kimber Baldwin (owner of Fiber Optic Yarns) told me that my journal was already packed up with their booth. She would mail it to me after they got back to Ohio and unpacked. It would be a while before that happened, however, because they were heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota next.

Once I got past my dismay, I was amused. My journal was going traveling without me.

We were away on vacation in California when my journal finally made it home. I took other sketchbooks with me for the trip, but I was constantly missing the book I’d lost. I kept thinking of information I needed that I had recorded in that particular journal.

Thinking about it so much gave me an idea. When my journal and I were together again, I would draw a map in it to show where we both had been while we were separated. I was surprised at just how far we had both gone.


I feel incredibly lucky that I got my journal back and I learned some strong lessons in the process:

1) Answer the phone. The person calling could be trying to help you.
2) If you aren’t drawing in it, put your journal back in your bag.
3) Make sure at least your first name and cell phone number are written in the front of your journal. Forgetful moments happen.
4) Despite the media’s current representation of America and Americans, there are kind people out there. People like Kimber, who will make the effort to get your art journal back to you.

One Way I Shut My Monkey

I’ve been listening to Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey” podcasts. The monkey is Gregory’s name for the voice in his head that is always protesting or warning him not to do something, the voice I think of as my inner critic.

You may have heard this voice yourself. It’s the voice that tells you you’re too old to start piano lessons, don’t have enough time to take a painting class, should never sing because you’re tone deaf, and have more important things to do than write a short story.


Gregory’s book and podcast are both about recognizing and overcoming this voice. In December of 2014, I first came across the online drawing classes offered by Sketchbook Skool. Danny Gregory is one of the founders, so it’s both surprising and fitting that, when I wasn’t sure if I should sign up for a class, I used writing to deal with the monkey’s paralyzing voice.

I’ve been interested in drawing since I was a kid, but I rarely let myself draw. My monkey is always there, pointing out that my drawing is never as good as someone else’s. When I think I just need more practice, the monkey argues that I will never be good enough and that all the time I spend sketching is wasted.

This voice was so loud as I agonized over whether or not to take the SBS Klass “Beginnings,” that I got out an art journal and gave both my inner artist and my monkey space to have their say.


By the time I had finished, I knew the truth: my monkey was afraid — afraid of everything and anything, but really, that was all that was holding me back. Fear.

Fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear of getting laughed at, fear of not being good enough. Underneath all the warnings and predictions, my monkey was saying, “I’m afraid.”

My inner artist’s voice was about wanting something I’ve wanted for a long time. It said, “I want” with deep, heartfelt longing. And my frightened monkey yelled back, “Too bad! You can’t have it!”

In the past, the thought that I might be wasting time or money was enough to hold me back. Understanding that these arguments were based on fear changed everything for me.

I don’t want to live a life built on fear. It’s a cold, limited, drab life. Better to take the risk, so I did. I signed up for SBS and took my first Klass in January 2015.

Looking at everything the voices in my head were saying helped me to shut my monkey. I listened to my monkey rant until he ran out of things to say, then I took the class anyway.

Do you have a monkey/inner critic? Have you found ways to get past its warnings and distractions so you can do the creative work you dream of? Please share your monkey stories here.

An Upsetting Book With a Happy Cover


Some of my favorite books are books written for children around 10 or 12 years old. Decades after I discovered them, I still love to re-read The Phantom Tollbooth, The House with the Clock in its Walls, and The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues. As an adult, I sometimes dip into today’s kid’s lit in hopes of coming across something to add to my favorites list.

This is how I wound up reading Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder. It’s a bored-rich-girl-becomes-challenged-poor-girl story where both her parents are alive and also redefining themselves. It was both silly and real, and it was a fun read. The main character Penny loves books. Most of what she knows about the world she learned from stories she’s read. So it isn’t surprising that she constantly comments on things around her in terms of children’s books.

I laughed out loud when I read this:

Maybe Duncan was like an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover. Maybe he was Bridge to Terabithia. —in Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder.

I remember being floored by the tragic story in Bridge to Terabithia when I read it as a kid. It is most certainly “an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover.” Penny Dreadful was full of passing observations about children’s books that I know well which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. It was fun to read a new story while be reminded of old ones.

I know there are lots of other adults reading young adult and even children’s fiction for pleasure. Which kid’s books are your favorites? Are you still reading kid lit today?

Brighten Your Day by Bringing Sunshine to Others


Summer is the season of sunshine. I live on the prairies in Colorado, and we have sunshine in abundance year round. But I can’t get enough of it.

It’s not only a question of generating the vitamin D I need to live.

Looking out a sunny day lifts my spirits. A walk in the sun with my dog warms my body and my heart.

Today I suggest sharing your inner sunshine with another. Let your warmth shine in someone else’s life. Being kind feels good, so brighten another’s day.

The sun will shine all the brighter for you.

Happy summer.

Your Mistakes Define Your Style


I’ve got a new obsession: bullet journals. It’s really a combination of old obsessions — list-making, planning, and books — all coming together in a different way. As with any new interest, I’m in the process of learning all about it. I’m reading blog posts, watching how-to videos, and examining images of other people’s systems to see which ideas I might adopt for my own. I’ve even joined some Facebook groups. I find a well-run closed group is a great place to ask questions.

What does all of this have to do with mistakes?

Yesterday, I saw an FB post from someone who is just starting their first bullet journal. She admitted she’s a perfectionist and went on to say that she messed up her first journal so badly that it is now her practice journal. I was OK with that. What I wasn’t OK with was her declaration that she will not let herself write a single word in her new “official” journal until she is certain she can do it perfectly.

That broke my heart, because I know what it’s like to be a perfectionist. As desperate as we might be to achieve perfection, we are all human. We never can and never will be perfect. If I made that sort of deal with myself about a project, I would never begin. The fear of making a mistake would freeze me in my tracks and kill any enthusiasm I had for the project dead.

This morning, I ran across this great quote:

The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style. — Fred Astaire

I love that idea that our mistakes are actually our style. It fits perfectly with everything I’ve been hearing from Sketchbook Skool about embracing the mistakes I make in my drawing to the encouraging words of many of the bullet journaling experts.

Bullet journals are customized, hand-written planners. They are prone to all sorts of mistakes, from typos to calendars with the wrong number of days. A recent favorite I saw was someone who kept spelling Wednesday wrong and decided to overcome the problem by not trying any more.*

We all make mistakes, especially when we are learning how to do something new. I know not everything I am trying in my bullet journals (yes, journals; I have two already) is going to work. I have written things in the wrong space and scratched it out. I have started layouts I am not sure I need. I keep changing from all caps to lower case and back again. So it’s a little messy, but it’s also real.

Which is good enough for me.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you deal with it when you make mistakes?

*She wrote “Wedareyouf*ingkiddingme” instead.