Inside the World of Colouring Books for Adults
The simple joy of colouring books doesn’t have to end with childhood, as many adults are now discovering.
While colouring books used to be found only in the kids sections of bookstores and department stores, a growing number of retailers are now selling colouring in books specifically for adults.
From established bookstores like Angus & Robertson, Readings and online giant Amazon, right through to niche online retailers like Fishpond.com.au, adult colouring books are fast becoming a staple of the book and entertainment world.
According to The Book Depository, a big part of the appeal of these books is that they allow you to “unwind, relax and explore your inner creative”.
“Doodling and colouring have long been known to enhance one’s thought processes and provide a relaxing yet highly creative way to free the mind,” it says on the information page for The Gorgeous Colouring In Book for Grown-Ups.
Whether it’s to relax, connect to creativity or simply to relive some of that childhood simplicity and wonder, people all around the world are buying stacks of these books. In April, two adult colouring books actually topped Amazon’s bestseller list for the first time ever: Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest.
The books, both by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford, beat out much anticipated releases such as Harper Lee’s second novel (Go Set a Watchman) and social media maven Zoella’s Girl Online, gaining even more attention in the process.
According to publisher Laurence King, Basford’s latest release, Enchanted Forest, sold out of its first printing run of 225,980 books within weeks of its release this year. Meanwhile, Secret Garden, has sold close to 1.5 million copies since it was first published and received praise from celebs such as actress and musician Zooey Deschanel and South Korean pop star Kim Ki-Bum – proving the books are a hit all around the world.
“It’s been crazy. The last few weeks since Enchanted Forest came out have been utter madness, but fantastic madness,” Laurence King’s head of sales and marketing, Eleanor Blatherwick, says in an interview with The Guardian.
“We knew the books would be beautiful but we didn’t realise it would be such a phenomenal success.”
— Dymocks Chermside (@DymocksChermy) June 19, 2015
Basford’s success is just one part of a much bigger picture that artists with a love of colouring in are helping to create. Majorie Sarnat, Millie Marotta, Angie Grace, Richard Merritt, Beverley Lawson and Armelle Troyon are among the names now frequently seen in the “adult colouring in” section of bookstores and websites, as well as on general bestselling lists.
The benefits of colouring in
As well as being fun and creative, there is an impressive range of benefits linked to colouring in for adults.
Research has shown that the act of drawing or colouring in can reduce stress, increase coordination, enhance concentration and productivity and result in a greater sense of happiness or fulfilment. Some psychologists even recommend it as a relaxation technique with similar benefits to mindful meditation.
“The action [of colouring in] involves both logic, by which we colour forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colours. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements],” explains Madrid-based psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala in an interview with The Huffington Post.
“The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
It also helps that drawing and colouring in has long been associated with psychological benefits – even Carl Jung utilised these techniques by drawing mandalas.
The benefits of colouring in have become so well known that these books are also being used by big businesses to help staff deal with workplace stress. The Australian Colourtation book series by psychologist Dr Stan Rodski and illustrator Jack Dowling, for example, has already been sold in bulk to major companies including ANZ, BUPA and Wesfarmers.
Described on the website as “The Anti-Stress Colouring Book for Adults”, all three volumes of Colourtation explore mindfulness meditation through colouring in the 25 images.
“The effects on both your health (physical and mental) and performance when you’re pressured, will be immediately felt,” the website says.
Meanwhile, Duke University in the US has begun producing its own adult colouring book for patients at the university’s hospitals, compiled from images in its Health System’s art collection.
According to the Duke news website, the first edition was brought out in December 2013 after adult patients began requesting colouring books and crayons. Duke then released an updated edition released in mid-2014, which has become one of the most common requests from patients.
“I think there’s something about holding a crayon in our hands and coloring that’s very comforting,” Duke University’s Arts & Health program coordinator, Sharon Swanson, says.
“It’s very distracting, and I think it takes us back to a simpler time in our lives.”
Colouring your way towards new goals
While most colouring books for grown ups focus on creativity, fun or relaxation, the act of colouring can also be used to help people achieve specific goals, as entrepreneur Amy Jones found out from personal experience.
In 2014, Jones created her own colouring “map” to help her pay down US$26,000 in credit card debt. She says the inspiration came from her personal circumstances at the time and a memory of something similar her mother used to have for work.
“Her company would provide a simple drawing that represented the recruiting/sales goals and she would color in the corresponding shapes as she made her numbers. It hung up next to her desk where she could see it often. So could I,” she writes in a blog post.
“Decades later, [with financial planner/tax guy] Steve’s pep-talk echoing in my head, I decided that it just might work for me too.”
Jones shared the idea first with her assistant, then with friends on Facebook and received a hugely positive response, with many people suggesting she start selling these canvases for other people.
Now, just over a year later, Jones has not only paid off her credit card debt, but also launched a website and business selling these “Creative Progress Maps” as “a beautiful way to help you reach your goals”.
“Each design is made of a particular number of swirls to help you break your goal down into small actions—small steps toward your goal. There are various numbers of swirls in the designs to suit a range of goals,” the website says.
As well as paying down debt, Jones says the maps have been used to count down the days to a big event, such as a wedding, to save up for holidays, visually track health goals and pregnancy, and even to keep a record of sobriety.
“Coloring in those swirls month after month helped me feel like I was doing something,” Jones says of her own experience.
“It helped me see that I was making progress toward my goal of zeroing out my credit cards.”
“With my map on display in my living room, I could see it every day and stare at the art I was creating. I joke that it’s the most expensive piece of art I own, because of how much money it represents to me. Money that has been paid off. Boom.”
This approach to colouring highlights a very practical, and tangible way to get benefits out of the simple at of putting a (coloured) pen, pencil, highlighter or felt-tip to paper, and there’s a good chance some of the other benefits would crossover here too.
Then again, there are some colouring books that seem to be purely for fun and coolness, such as Mel Elliot’s Color Me Good books, which have editions for celebrities including Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch (among others). As Elliot says on her website:
“My work has always been influenced by pop culture, celebrity, fame, glossy magazines and the aesthetic perfection that goes hand in hand with all that stuff.”
“The colouring books and paper dolls were developed when I realised that the things we enjoyed doing as young children, such as cutting out and colouring in, would still be enjoyed by adults, if only the activity books had ‘grown up’ with us.”
These days, Elliot’s pop culture colouring books can sit alongside Jones’s Creative Progress Maps, and Dr Rodski’s Colourtation series, as interactive artwork that appeals to adults with all kinds of different goals. And all of them can lead to the same benefits for the many grown-ups catching on to the new colouring craze.
While the world seems to get more fast-paced, switched on and stressful every day, and as the years feel like they fly by at an increasingly fast pace, many people are turning to creativity for comfort. So what these books really show is that when it comes to finding relaxation, happiness, motivation or fun, colour is the new black.
Images: A selection of coloured in images from Johanna Basford’s books that were submitted for a WHSmith competition, source: WHSmith on Twitter; A Colourtation image and pencils, source: Colourtation on Instagram.