Adult Coloring Books

Adult Coloring Books

The current top-selling adult coloring book

OK. I didn’t see this one coming. Do you know what the category was that saw the greatest increase in book sales this past year? It was art/architecture/photography and the increase of 60% over 2014 was driven by…adult coloring books! Many of these feature geometric patterns or intricate pictures that can be colored with pencils, ink, even crayons! Here is a sample, drawn from Amazon’s current best sellers in the category of coloring books for grownups.

Julie Beck wrote an interesting article in The Atlantic on “The Zen of Adult Coloring Books“. She describes her own discovery of these and why she thinks they have become the rage. Two things stood out. One was that they are huge stress-relievers. She writes:

“Coloring offers that relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause. It’s easier in the way that ordering from a restaurant with a small menu is easier than deciding what you want at Denny’s, where you could eat almost anything. This is the paradox of choice, and it’s been well-studied—too many options is overwhelming. But with coloring, you know what you’re working with. You just choose how to fill it in.”

She also remarks that it is great to have something to do with one’s hands while watching TV. She confesses that a life of multi-tasking makes it difficult to devote all of one’s attention to what’s on the screen:

“In part, it’s because I feel a little less lazy if I’m making something while I wile away the hours with Friday Night Lights. But also, I’m watching TV in the first place to relax, to quiet my mind, and often my mind is loud enough that it shouts over Coach Taylor. I really do think that a lifetime of multitasking has left me occasionally incapable of subduing the entirety of my mind with one activity. If the front of my mind is occupied by the show, and the back is focused on picking colors and staying in the lines, there’s not room for much else. It’s a sort of mindfulness that’s more like mind-fullness.”

I found this last quite interesting. I wonder about this habit of multi-tasking and what it means for us that we don’t have pursuits to which we give our full and undivided attention. In later life I’ve become more engaged in artistic endeavors from painting and drawing to choral singing and writing. What I’ve found in all of these is that they require my full attention (maybe that reflects an aging brain!). And when I engage in such activities I truly feel more aware, more attentive.

I really don’t want to sound like an old crank, and I can see how coloring books can fill the time while watching a show, or waiting in an airline terminal–some activity that requires a certain amount of attention but not our complete attention. What I wonder is how long will this activity of filling in geometric shapes and mazes and figures occupy our attention? I wonder how many half-colored books we’ll see turning up in garage sales? Will used bookstores sell partially colored books?

I’d be curious what others think about this. I have to admit I haven’t tried this so I can’t write from the experience. I’d enjoy hearing from others, both those who tried adult coloring books and then put them down, and those who love these. When do you like to color and what does it do for you?

5 thoughts on “Adult Coloring Books

  1. I have just recently tried adult coloring books, so I can’t speak from long-term experience, but I have found them very enjoyable so far. I like to color while watching TV, like the columnist you quote, and I would agree with her statements about the experience. I also find that I feel a sense of accomplishment when I have created something beautiful, even if it’s just coloring a picture. Most of my dissertation goals are so long-term (as is the dissertation project more broadly) that it is not often that I get that sense of concrete accomplishment. It’s really nice to experience it, even if it is the result of something as small and inconsequential as coloring.

  2. I first heard that adult coloring books existed early last year. I immediately had flashbacks of sitting at a certain table as a teenager, coloring in very intricate, abstract coloring books, and how much I loved it, the colors juxtaposed and the pretty shapes. I got one for my birthday last year, and I’ve spent a few hours on Sundays working on it. I’ve read articles on how coloring increases mindfulness, reduces stress, etc., like the Atlantic article. To me, it *is* relaxing, and we are always looking for something that helps us relax and reduces stress. (My husband likes complex crossword puzzles and number games.) I am a chronic multitasker, so I usually listen to a podcast (sermon on Sunday!) while I color. Not sure I could *just* color, with nothing else to entertain my mind! And I love the result, the beautiful patterns and colors. I have a box of about 25 colored pencils, but I stick to 8 or so colors that I really like. (I felt guilty at first about not using the tan and other earth-toned pencils, but hey, this is my relaxing time, why not stick with my favorites colors?). It’s a big coloring book, and I probably won’t bother with the pictures I don’t like as much. It takes a long time to fill in just one, they are so detailed. But I plan to hang them in my office or bedroom, just to enjoy them. Not that they show any skill at all, I just… like the colors and the shapes. Definitely recommend to others with fond memories of coloring as a child.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences. And you should definitely feel free to stick to your 8 colors! You did receive your artistic license, didn’t you?
      What I do wonder with this trend is whether it might encourage some into artistic endeavors where you can’t multi-task. Going with my wife to draw and paint, or doing choral singing of demanding works demands all the brain cells I have and is truly mentally exhilarating and refreshing–so different from what I do the rest of the time!

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