Sometime during this unprecedented year, Bay Area illustrator Meg Adler decided that what the world needed most was a coloring book.
Not just any coloring book, mind you. It’s one that invites people of all ages to chime in with contributions of their own that push Adler’s vision to the next level.
“It’s like a midrash,” the Camp Tawonga staffer said by phone from her home office in Alameda. “My drawings are deliberately unfinished. They offer something you can personalize and add meaning to, the way [in Judaism] we examine a text.”
Adler’s book is titled “Outside the Lines: A Coloring Book for Rebels,” and it’s her view that it can provide a useful and potentially therapeutic activity for people dealing with pandemic stress and anxiety.
Why for “rebels”? We’ll get to that in a bit.
The self-taught, 29-year-old artist grew up in the East Bay and became a bat mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Oakland. She is a former Tawonga camper and a staff member since 2012 who is now the assistant director of Jewish life and learning.
For many years, she said, she “was the recipient of art therapy,” finding it to be a way to process “big emotions, to channel your energy and relieve stress. It feels good to draw and color. It’s just the best.”
“Outside the Lines” emerged from a sketchbook she kept on her daily commute from Alameda to the Tawonga office in San Francisco. She sketched what she noticed — the Bay Bridge spanning the waters, the Ferry Building reaching up into the fog — as a way of enhancing awareness in her daily life. It is a practice that she embraced after learning about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s concept of radical amazement when she was a fellow at Urban Adamah, the Jewish educational farm in Berkeley, in 2013.
That concept became one of three core missions of Letters, Aligned, the illustration business she founded in 2014: “to inspire awe and imagination.” The other two are to “embrace imperfection” and “connect people through collaborative art and supporting local business.”
Adler produces pen-and-ink drawings of people’s homes, portraits, invitations and documents requiring custom lettering.
The 26-page coloring book, which she illustrated and wrote, is her first. She has a second children’s book in the works: “I wanted to create something that would inspire them to look at the natural world, especially, with amazement,” she explained.
Adler brought the coloring book manuscript to Gabrielle Siegel, a fellow Tawonga alum who runs Solstice Press, a small, family-owned business in Oakland that has now printed it.
“This book is a chance for people to add their imagination to classic scenes from the Bay, and to look again at things they may have taken for granted,” Adler said.
As for the rebel part, she says “It is a coloring book for people who are willing to color outside of the lines, literally and metaphorically. It explicitly asks you to make your own mark.”
One might also look at the trajectory of Adler’s life. After earning a degree in English and creative writing from UCLA, and working for several years, Adler entered the School of Divinity at Yale University. She graduated with a master’s in religion in 2018.
“Did I think about becoming a rabbi? Sure I did,” Adler said. “But I decided that I wanted to work in the community with different tools.”
She said she wants to share her art with the world because “it is an expression of my Jewish values.”
Print editions of “Outside the Lines” are available for $17. Shipping is free and 10 percent of proceeds goes to supporting homeless youth. The entire book also can be downloaded for free.