Color Outside the Lines

A guest post by Sue Pelletier

IMG_4654I had that blah blah blah…. art teacher in elementary school…the one who made sure you did EXACTLY as she did. Line by line, piece of boring manila drawing paper at a time. The only thing I remember doing is drawing my shoe on the yucky paper, with pencil no less. Where were the color, the spontaneity, and the pure bliss of a classroom of kids creating art with no inhibition? I am an elementary school art teacher and I am so not that teacher.

I encourage mistakes, drips and total, yes total coloring outside the lines. I have kids who come up to me during class with a tiny sequin they found on the floor. They ask me, “What I should do with the sequin?” I tell them, “Sell it on EBay.” It sets the tone in my room that laughter, play, experimenting, making mistakes and coloring outside the lines are all part of the art experience. Naturally at this point I am going to say it is the same with adults because, well, it is. The problem with adults (myself included) is we lose the playfulness in our art, we lose the spontaneity, and we lose the ability to color outside the lines.

When I say coloring outside the lines, it can be taken literal, but it can also be taking as a direction to take when you are creating, a mind set if you will, as in: Just go for it! Color, smear, plaster glitter, paint and ink and smear some more…. all outside the lines!


Reasons why it is good to color outside the lines:

1. You are on the voluminous path of artistic self-discovery and happy accidents.

2. It allows plenty of room for intuitive play with your paints or your mixed-media supplies. A bingo chip glued on a painting just is not going to cut it any more. It did at one time, but not any more.

3. Pure and simple color mixing…you smear, you mix, you color outside the lines, colors blend, overlap and like magic, you have created new, rich color.

4. You are on the way to heading outside the box. Inside the box is highly overrated (not that I would know, but I have heard.)

5. Coloring outside the lines allows you to work with vigor, almost non-stop if you want.

6. Check out the other people that color outside the lines. There is something to be said for that tribe. Something good­–really, really good!

Coloring outside my lines.

I have a set of stencils through StencilGirlProducts called Loose Woman. I wanted to create a stencil where you are encouraged to be loose and very painterly with your image. You may follow the lines, but how easy is it to follow along just a little bit and then make it your own, add lines. Take away lines, color outside the lines…. perhaps my favorite lines of all are laugh lines!

1. For this particular piece I used one of my stencils.


2.  I layered the background with one of my favorite first layers, vintage pattern paper. I always start with this as a base because at the age of 51 and having been painting almost as long, beginning with a blank white canvas always stresses me out. If I use a matte gel medium and vintage pattern paper, suddenly I am beginning with a texture and a neutral color palette. Sigh of relief.

3. My second step of layering includes using fabrics, which I attach using a heavy matte gel medium. I always use the heavy gel, because it can be used for adding anything on a canvas, fabric, and game pieces, light metal; it is truly multipurpose. If need be I add a bit of water to the gel if I am using something like the pattern paper. I am not a purist, a little water here…a little gel there… The fabric on my 12” x 12” canvas includes crinoline and heavyweight muslin. At this point I added my stencil.


4. Using a stencil on a piece of fabric gives you a step up on the coloring outside the lines vibe. As usual, the inks or paints you use will spread a bit when you are placing your image down. For this piece I used a bottle of black squeeze fabric paint, adding a bit of dimension to the piece also. Try black India ink on your stencil on fabric and watch the spreading begin. Your stencil outline may change a bit, but maybe it will point you in a new direction.


5. I played, I smeared, I outlined (askew). My absolute favorite material for coloring and smearing is the Portfolio Series of water based oil pastels. They are life changing, and very inexpensive. Wet them and draw dry-on-wet, wet-on-wet or use them to scribble into wet paint.

6. I added my words and my gritty little hearts with a fabric squeeze paint bottle.

7. Dry brush gesso on top.

So coloring outside the lines is something some of us grew up thinking was against how we should “create.”  Really it is a mindset and the only totally liberating way to make art. Ohhh and by the way I feel so strongly about the saying and lifestyle of coloring outside the lines, I had that tattooed on my ankle. I will show you. xoxox Sue



Her Loose woman stencils, with which this piece was create, are available on, a blog at and on Facebook.

Words, whimsy and humor inspire her art because that is how Sue approaches life. Drawn to collage and painterly surfaces, her art has naturally progressed into a combination of both. She works with images that are true to her—the house form, childhood toys, vintage dresses—because as an artist and a mother it is what she holds near and dear to her, her kids and the day-to-day journey of life. Sue’s work has been published numerous times in Cloth Paper Scissors and Somerset Studio. She has an MFA from Pratt Institute and teaches elementary school art. She is most happy walking around in paint-splattered clothes, drinking an iced coffee. She has two teenagers, Harly and Connor, who make her laugh each day. She lives in an antique farmhouse in New England with purple shutters. Sue has two painting DVDs from Interweave: “Textures for Collage” and “Preparing to Paint.”

W8864_CM_AcrylTech_revised.inddYou might also enjoy Acrylic Techniques in Mixed Media: Layer, Scribble, Stencil, Stamp by Roxanne Padgett.






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