Review: ‘Always Color Outside the Lines’

January 31, 2019

From the January-February 2019 issue of News & Letters

Robert E. Taliaferro, Jr., has written a wonderful book for anyone who has ever hungered for or had an interest in trying their hand at art. Readers of N&L know Taliaferro as a regular “Voices from the Inside Out” columnist, but they may not know of his philosophy of art or his expertise with different media and techniques.


While Always Color Outside the Lines: Freedom for the Artist Within was not written to glamorize Taliaferro’s skill, the reader, who also becomes a viewer, will be happy that this 177-page book is filled with his art. For a book full of pictures, it is surprisingly affordable (a little over $30 in paperback and $5 as an ebook available on, beautifully produced, with terrific photography by Judith E. Livingston.

Taliaferro tells us why he wrote Outside the Lines: “to rekindle the creative fire in frustrated artists who may have given up on themselves and their passion to create because of a critic’s opinion, lack of support from family or friends, or creative frustration.” Nor does he confine this idea to art: “Artists of any skill level are wired to color outside the lines; to experiment and test the boundaries of the real and abstract…even the boundaries of the conventional thinking of society as a whole.” He accomplishes his goal in several ways. One way is to pick out the most vibrant quotes from artists of the past.

The first of many artists he quotes is Georgia O’Keeffe: “I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at, not copy it.” We hear from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art”; and Walther Pater, among others: “Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass.”

The book’s 14 chapters each begin with a short essay on art as different as “Caricature,” “Painting the Familiar,” “Channeling the Masters,” as well as different media used in art: “Playing with Watercolors, Pencils, Pens, and Pastels,” and my personal favorite, “Back to Basics: Crayons.” After each essay there is a “Gallery” of Taliaferro’s work that illustrates it. Taliaferro works from photographs, including selfies, from which, he states, “extraordinary pieces of art can be created.”

These Galleries illustrate (literally) the essays so one understands them in a more thorough way, besides which the pictures are beautiful, interesting, and often both. While perhaps unintended, what also happens in the course of reading and viewing this work is you meet Taliaferro’s family and friends—and you see them in many moods and ages. It gives the book a unique character.

If you did not know that Taliaferro is a “Voices from the Inside Out” columnist, the only hint you would find that he is a prisoner is at the very end where “About the author” reports that “he is currently incarcerated in Wisconsin.” No one can pigeonhole him as a “prison artist”; there are no pictures here of prison life. But I think that the more important truth is that he has greatly expanded that category in a way that can help the reader/viewer understand both what it means to be an incarcerated human being, and the power of art to set one free. Taliaferro is no elitist when it comes to art. Rather, his humanism pours through his work.

—Terry Moon


Always Color Outside the Lines: Freedom for the Artist Within
by Robert E. Taliaferro

Available at
$32.44 Paperback
$4.99 Kindle

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