Paul Gallo's 'Coloring Extravaganza of Healing'

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday April 5, 2022

Artist and author Paul Gallo
Artist and author Paul Gallo   

Like many others, artist, fashion designer and teacher Paul Gallo was heavily affected by the pandemic. When the country went into lockdown, Gallo's creative life came to a screeching halt. It led to his having a nervous breakdown.

"Then I was reminded to focus on staying on the artistic path which allows me to enjoy my life," he writes in the introduction to "My Sketchbook is the Safest Place on Earth: A Coloring Extravaganza of Healing for Folx 16 and Beyond," his recently published coloring book.

In the book, Gallo, who is queer, presents images he has drawn from his childhood to the present day. Most of the images are drawings of people dressed in a wide array of styles. Many of the pages include short affirmations in which Gallo expresses his innermost feelings, such as "our hearts leave impressions on many fellow beings," words which accompany a drawing of a young man in a sleeveless leather top and a pair of tight leather shorts. Leather has always been a big part of his design work.

The images in the book are all presented in black and white and are meant to be colored in by the reader. Gallo said he hopes that others will find it healing to explore a creative path.

Though he drew other images, Gallo was always primarily interested in fashion. He drew voraciously in his youth, attracting the attention of the adults around him. Much to his surprise, his father encouraged him to attend classes at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

"It was very weird later in life that fathers would beat their sons for drawing dresses, and my dad made me go to college," Gallo recalled in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "No one could believe it. He said, 'You're not going to be nothing, you're going to do something, and this seems to be the only thing you know how to do, so go do it.' I teach at City College in the fashion department, so I get a lot of people in mid-life who became scientists or lawyers or computer animators. And they say that they always wanted to be a designer, but they weren't allowed. So I've had a lot of conversations in class with people who don't get to do it until they're thirty or forty, and they tell me that it's a miracle that I got to do this from my teenage life until now."

one of Paul Gallo's drawings
one of Paul Gallo's drawings  

In addition to his teaching, Gallo has enjoyed high-end production jobs, which includes pattern-making and draping gigs. But when the pandemic hit, almost all of his gigs were cancelled.

"My brain could not comprehend how I could work for forty years doing the same thing, and it could come to a halt in three weeks," he said. "They cancelled up to a year and a half worth of jobs. Suddenly there was nothing left to do."

That was when he suffered his breakdown. As always, he found solace in drawing, which is what led to his coloring book.

"I can't write a book, but I can draw a book," Gallo said. He explains why he put together a coloring book instead of a book of illustrations and essays.

"I have friends who have an eight-year-old daughter who I have known since she was six months old," he said. "We have been playing and doing make-up and watching drag and doing art projects gluing things on each other since she was three. We still draw together, and we do fashion illustration. Her mother found a coloring book of farm animals that were dressed as fashion models, they were in gowns and heels, but with the head of a cow, or a fish, or a kitten or whatever. And it just hit me, it could be a coloring book, I don't have to write anything."

The original working title of the book was "Paulie and the Pandemic," but that title was shot down by Gallo's friends. Finally, a friend asked him why he was constantly drawing.

Gallo replied, "Because my sketch pad is the safest place on Earth." As soon as he said this, he and his friends knew that the book's title had been found.

"I used the drawing to draw through the emotion of it, and find something pleasurable in the day," Gallo said of the time the world was in lockdown. "If I stayed busy, then there's no room for depression. You can't sit and stare out the window and be sad, there's too much to do. The book kind of cured that whole thing, where it got so busy trying to do it and still teach online and still do everyday life, it just pushed it out of the way. By the time the book was out, I felt great."

Gallo wants people to know that creativity is healing. He feels that everyone is creative in some way. He spoke of one friend who told him that she uses the book whenever she feels "stuck" or has a headache. The book, she told him, reinvigorates her.

"We can all color, or draw, or doodle, or write words."

"My Sketchbook is the Safest Place on Earth: A Coloring Extravaganza of Healing For Folx 16 and Beyond" is now available at Paul Gallo's Etsy page, www.etsy.com/shop/PaulGalloSF

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