Remember “The Secret Garden?” No, not that stodgy old children’s tale. The adult coloring book!
I’m not talking about funnyman Colin Quinn’s latest literary effort, “The Coloring Book: A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America,” either. That’s a funny book, but not the kind of coloring book I’m talking about.
I’m talking about a grab-your-crayons-and-find-a-sunny-place-to-work kind of coloring book. Adult coloring books are topping bestseller lists around the globe. “The Secret Garden” recently topped the New York Times Bestseller list. French publisher Hachette has a collection called Art-Thérapie with 20 volumes including all kinds of drawings from butterflies and flowers to cupcakes, graffiti and psychedelic patterns. In the United Kingdom, illustrator Mel Simone Elliot’s “Colour Me Good” series lets you color-in pictures of celebrities like Ryan Gosling, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Kate Moss. Spanish cartoonist Antonio Fraguas, or Forges, published Coloréitor, “a de-stress book.”
Grown-up coloring books are marketed as a way to escape the media bombardment of the digital world and rediscover the do-it-yourself joys of something simple and stress-free. According to psychologists, coloring activates both halves of the brain, stimulating creative skills as well as a sense of logic and reason. Coloring can bring a sense of relaxation that lowers activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls emotion and is affected by stress.
One of the most common symbols found in adult coloring books are mandalas, spiritual symbols from India that represent the universe. Mandalas have circular designs with concentric shapes and geometric symmetry, like the intricate patterns of a flower. One of the first psychologists to use coloring mandalas as a relaxation technique was Carl G. Jüng in the early 20th century.
The first time I saw an adult using a coloring book was during an early episode of the reality show “The Osbournes” back in 2002. Here was Ozzy Osbourne, the Dark Prince of Rock-n-Roll, sitting at his kitchen table, surrounded by foul-mouthed chaos, calmly working a color-by-number landscape with a package of magic markers. He looked like an overgrown child, carefully selecting each color, and staying within the lines. Evidently the Ozzman was ahead of the curve when it comes to unwinding through art.
The Zen-like instructions for one of Amazon’s bestselling adult coloring books tells the story:
- Break out your crayons or colored pencils.
- Turn off your phone, tablet, computer, whatever.
- Stop thinking about your job, your credit score, your reputation with your co-workers, your goals, your waistline, your retirement savings, etc.
- Remind yourself that coloring is like dancing, or being alive. It doesn’t have a point; it is the point.
- Find your favorite page in the book. That is the beginning.
- Start coloring.
- If you notice at any point that you are having fun, forgetting your worries, daydreaming freely, feeling more creative, excitable, curious, delighted, relaxed or any combination thereof, breathe deeply and take a moment to enjoy it. Then, gently return your attention to coloring.
- When you are satisfied or don’t feel like it anymore, stop.
Adult coloring books are a way to recapture the innocence of youth. They also give artists a sense of control; everything’s got a specific shape and color, just follow the key and stay in the lines. Color-by-number and fill-in-the-blank style artwork offers a “shortcut” for artists of all skill levels. You can create your own artistic masterpiece without the talent and/or training of a fine artist!
Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” This is why adult coloring books are so popular. They can cleanse the soul, or at least give your mind and spirit a rest, a chance to create something colorful, pretty, and uniquely your own.
Plus, it’s good to get your fingers working at something other than a keyboard, touch screen, or remote control.