Adult coloring books have been a trend for over a year now I have been using coloring as a stress reliever and for general escapism from everyday life. Coloring also seems to have the unintended benefit of helping my concentration and breaking my writer’s blocks. It is a wonderful way to alleviate boredom in a creative, productive way.
However, if you are like me, you haven’t colored in 20 – or more! – years. And you realize that when you start coloring again, crayons and kids’ cartoon coloring books just don’t cut it.
BUT WAIT….HOW DID THIS COLORING THING START??
The essential difference between a child’s coloring book and those for adults is that the artwork itself is sophisticated – you won’t be coloring a car from a cartoon movie, a bunny or a fairy princess.In 2011, a British publisher asked Johanna Basford, a Scottish artist and commercial illustrator specializing in hand-drawn black-and-white patterns for wine labels and perfume bottles, to draw a children’s coloring book. Basford suggested instead that she draw one for adults. For years, she told her publishers, her clients had loved to color in her black-and-white patterns. The publishers were convinced, and ultimately ordered an initial print run for “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” of thirteen thousand copies. Since the book’s release, in 2013, it has sold about two million copies worldwide; for a time earlier this year, “Secret Garden” and a follow-up, “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book,” were the two best-selling books on Amazon.
However, coloring books for adults have actually been around for decades. But Johanna Basford’s success—combined with that of the French publisher Hachette Pratique’s “Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages anti-stress,” and Dover Publishing’s “Creative Haven” line for “experienced colorists”—has helped to create a massive new book and art industry category.
Believe it or not, coloring can be good for you. According to clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, coloring is a stress-free, structured activity that relaxes the amygdala — the fear center of the brain — and lets your mind rest. As a structured activity, coloring also stimulates the logic part of the brain, and puts you into a creative state of mind.
After considerable research, I haven’t yet found any published, peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting adult coloring specifically as a psychological or psychiatric treatment. However, coloring is play, and I did find that in the mid-60s physician and psychiatrist Stuart Brown investigated the background of a mass murderer and realized that the man had had essentially no opportunities for play during childhood. Brown then studied twenty-six mass murderers and discovered that ninety percent of them had not had playtime during childhood. Brown went on to found the National Institute for Play, in 2006, which promotes the benefits of play for people of all ages.
Adult coloring can also be part of a larger strategy for coping with painful or negative feelings. Even if it didn’t make our minds calmer, many of us would still probably color. It’s true, of course, that the inherent fun of adult coloring is what makes it a great de-stressor, but I think the activity’s other helpful qualities are a bonus.
At the end of the day, I love adult coloring because it is relaxing, fun and satisfying.
Why do you enjoy adult coloring?