Maine, Thankfully: Karan Cushman on AIGA Maine’s “uncoloring book” + Design for Good initiative


AIGA Maine, the state chapter of the national design association, is working on creating an “un-coloring” book entitled Imaginative You. The effort is part of the organization’s Design for Good initiative. The book will be designed by Maine artists and gifted to patients at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and to other children facing health challenges in ER departments and hospitals throughout Maine. It is intended to “offer as a way of comforting and encouraging kids during their stay, and beyond, to be creative thinkers.”

AIGA Maine board member (Cushman Creative Principal) Karan Cushman talked with me about what an un-coloring book is and why she and AIGA Maine are interested in contributing their efforts and resources to the community in this way.

NOTE: Don’t forget put your generosity pants on as today is Giving Tuesday, a day dedicated to giving back.

First, can you explain what an uncoloring book is?

Coloring books offer experiences designed to take place within lines and an uncoloring book encourages children to use their imaginations to finish the drawing. Typically there is a partial drawing and a prompt included. Something like, “Design a poster to advertise your favorite movie.” Or an incomplete drawing of two people with unfinished hair where the prompt would say something like, “These friends can’t figure out which hats to buy. Can you help them make a decision?”

What about creating an uncoloring book appealed to you and the folks at AIGA Maine?

We wanted to figure out how we could do something good with design. We were especially drawn to helping children and making an effort uniquely ours by using design and creativity.

We were thinking of children who might be at a hospital or the Grieving Center and thinking that things like this could help them pass time or take their mind off whatever stress they might be dealing with. The point of an uncoloring book is that it encourages out-of-the-box thinking. It is meant to stimulate creativity and inspire problem solving. A lot of people believe that it really inspires later literacy too. Children may not even use it in the hospital—they may take it home and use it there—but our hope is that it has a little more meaning than a standard coloring book and that it may be something they continue to engage with.

Why are you and AIGA Maine drawn to contributing your efforts to offering something to the community in this way?

I represent several people on the board who have kids. I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old. My daughter spent time in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital when she had a really bad case of pneumonia a couple of years ago. She is a kid who does not like hospitals or doctors—she has the tendency to flip out at the doctor’s offices when she is just getting shots. When at Barbara Bush, she was really scared and it was very traumatic. She was just there for pneumonia, but when you’re there you are among all of these families with young children getting chemotherapy and you are  around people that are there for chronic reasons. It really gives you a sense of what other families are struggling with when you think that your kids are having it bad.

We also saw that for our daughter, coloring was a really easy way for her to pass the time. There is no age restriction around the activity and it is all up to their willingness to engage with it. At the Barbara Bush, there are a lot of places for the kids to hang their artwork. They can put it in their rooms and make their rooms feel like their own. That was really important for my daughter because it can feel like such a foreign place when you are there. The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital is a really great center. They have a great play area and they have a lot of resources. This is just a way to add to that, to create something Maine focused and more personal for the children to use.

Beyond all of that, I am a cancer survivor too and my daughter was really young when I had it. That was another traumatic experience for me, for our new family to go through a very serious health situation like that. I have seen that really small things can make a really big difference. I am a huge proponent of Make-A-Wish of Maine, where I have long been a volunteerlong before all of any of this took place.

I am happy that we can now use our design skill sets beyond just getting a paycheck by helping in this way.

How can people help you make Imaginative You. a reality?

Those interested in offering support can email me [karan AT cushmancreative DOT com]. We have not yet sent out our call for entries; we are really going to make this a personal effort and we have a list of artists we are reaching out to. It is going to be a collection of art from different Maine illustrators and artists, and we hope that will help to keep it feel personal. Our plan is to roll it out in late March or the beginning of April.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.