St. Paul artist Kaytee Crawford believes coloring books can be a form of empowerment.
A lifelong artist, Crawford recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring a coloring and activity book, called Girl Power, to life. Its 30 pages contain messages like “Fight like a girl,” “Girls can do anything,” “Smash the patriarchy,” “Angry women will change the world,” and “The future is female.” Illustrations of feminist icons like Michelle Obama, Coretta Scott King, Malala Yousafzai, Beyoncé, and Winona LaDuke make appearances.
In addition to inspiring and encouraging young women, Crawford hopes the coloring books will be a source of healing. In the fall of 2016, she was struggling with depression and anxiety, but couldn’t afford to go to therapy. Art became a a positive way for her to deal with her mental health issues and release feelings of upset and frustration about racial tensions in the community.
Crawford gravitated toward abstract watercolor paintings in hues that represented her emotions on any particular day. To make the pieces complete, she taught herself calligraphy and lettering, and added words to the funky backgrounds.
Initially, she wrote bible verses on the watercolors, but then a friend sent her a quote that contained phrases like “Black lives matter” and “Women’s rights are human’s rights.” She decided to focus exclusively on quotes from people of color.
“I want to amplify those voices that might otherwise not be heard,” Crawford says. Much of her work is Maya Angelou-inspired. “I’m obsessed with her,” she says. “If I could make a career off of doing art around her words for the rest of my life, I’d be happy with that.”
After following a suggestion that she make some coloring pages to give away at Art-a-Whirl in 2017, she realized, “I really enjoyed doing this and I feel like there’s nothing like this out there right now and it’s needed terribly.”
That discovery led to a Black Lives Matter-themed coloring book, called Black Love, featuring phrases like “Black girl magic,” “Black boy joy,” “I matter,” “Still I rise,” in addition to quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou.
"It came together pretty quick because there was this outpouring of ideas in my head that I couldn’t keep in there,” she says.
Crawford launched a GoFundMe campaign so people could donate to the project; a $20 donation equaled one coloring book. Eighty-one people took part, and by August of 2017, the coloring books were printed and distributed at local art stores and gift shops. Crawford gave away many coloring books as well.
Crawford, a mother of three sons, wanted to do another coloring book, this time for her nieces and the daughters of friends. So she set to work on Girl Power.
Crawford believes coloring can be a form of self-care. It can also be a group activity between parents and their children or between teachers and their students. In addition to the therapeutic benefits of art, with Crawford’s coloring books, little artists absorb powerful affirmations.
The quotes and messages can also be conversation starters. While coloring, there’s an opportunity to discuss what “the future is female” entails, for example. “It doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be men in the future but it means things are going to be equal. Women are going to be strong and important. It’s not only going to be a system that’s focused on men,” Crawford explains.
If the Girl Power Kickstarter reaches its $8,000 goal by March 21, Crawford plans to work with women-owned Wise Ink in Minneapolis to print it. She also wants to revamp Black Love for a re-release.
“If I was rich, I would just make them and give them all away,” she says. “I want everyone to have a book they can call their own.”