Understanding the Craze Behind Adult Coloring Books

mandala_469492-047Recently I was invited on the Good Day Show in Philadelphia (Fox news) to talk about adult coloring books. It was my first appearance on television and what I quickly realized is that a 5 minute segment feels like 30 seconds when you’re in front of the camera. It will probably take me a while to fully process that, but since I’m back to writing I’d like to elaborate on some more points about the awesomeness of this simple form of art making.

  1. Coloring books are accessible. When you are provided with the structure of an outline, it’s almost like you intrinsically know what to do. The guesswork and intimidation is virtually gone and it’s easy to jump right in.
  2. The designs are sophisticated and can be meaningful. While the cliched images that you find in children’s coloring books such as rainbows and bunnies can be endearing, the adult coloring books offer more intricate designs and at times more mature themes. Johanna Basford who created some of the most popular coloring books out there including Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest and the upcoming Lost Ocean, started off as a graphic artist and all of her work is hand-drawn, which is pretty impressive when you look at the details. The thing I love about Basford’s books is that she eventually encourages you to step outside of the lines and begin to engage in your own free design. This way you have the safety of being able to return to structure as you learn to break free on your own. Another popular theme in coloring books is the mandala which is the sanskrit word for circle. And the use of the circle is nearly universal in the artwork of ancient cultures. Coincidentally, the circle is also the first shape that children learn to draw. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, often turned to the mandala as a sacred symbol in which to explore and value his own inner world as well as those of his patients. Click here to see images from Jung’s manuscript, The Red Book.
  3. They are playful. I’m not sure how many people know this, but play is the work that children do. Children engage in play in order to understand and make sense of the world around them. As adults we continue to learn new things and are often introduced to new and unexpected situations. We still need to engage in play to figure things out! So maybe we don’t need to play dentist with our neighbor anymore because we’ve already mastered that one, but I think that coloring and doodling provide a means for this sort of figuring-it-all-out type of play on a much more subtle level through the use of color, lines, shapes and metaphor.
  4. Curative factors. Not only do you have the chance as an adult to prove to your parents and teachers, that yes, you actually can color within the lines (something that I am not necessarily an advocate of), there are other benefit as well. When you complete a page in a coloring book, the resulting picture reflects back to you that you do indeed have the ability to engage in the creative process as an artist. Basically, you just collaborated with another artist to create a finished product. Maybe somewhere along the line – probably in childhood – someone (maybe you) told you that you can’t draw, or that your art doesn’t measure up somehow, but here is your chance to prove them – and yourself – wrong, and get back into the swing of things.
  5. They can be relaxing and meditative. Probably the most beneficial thing I can think of about coloring books is the meditative space they can take you to. Coloring in this way can be methodic, rhythmic and stimulating. Maybe it’s the combination of using both left and right brain functions that keeps you attentive and on task. As you get lost in the process, you might find that time slips away as you seemingly think about nothing at all.
  6. Health Benefits. Let’s first take a look at some of the statistics. Somewhere around 40 million people in this country struggle with anxiety. And somewhere around 6 to 7% of the population is suffering from major depression. So here’s my opinion: if you really want to see some health benefits with coloring, I highly suggest that you add mindful awareness into the mix. Check in with yourself to be sure that it doesn’t become just another source of avoidance or frustration. Bringing just this little bit of intention into your practice can make a big difference. It may be surprising to learn that some people really just do not know how to relax and so these people will need to practice with intention. This may mean that you need to learn some additional techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. The more you improve your ability to relax, the more the anxious part of your brain will begin to relax naturally on its own. If you are in the depths of depression, any movement can feel like a monumental challenge so intention is called for here as well. Coloring in coloring books is easy, stimulating and non-threatening. You don’t have to move a mountain, you just have to sit up and engage. What’s it like to hold a crayon or pencil in your hand? How does it feel to absorb the colors? What’s it like to allow yourself to replace “I can’t” with “I can”? You might be surprised to find that the smallest steps can take you a long, long way. Click here for more information about how mindfulness can  actually change the structure of the brain. 
  7. Stimulate further creativity. When you allow yourself to step into the unknown world of visual art making, you are creating a scenario where you can begin to engage in conscious exploration, problem solving, and learn to think outside of the box. And I believe that these are all great things that can be extended to  enhance any area of your life.

If you would like to try out some coloring pages for free before investing in the books, click here for some designs that you can download from the internet. Johanna Basford also offers a freebie from her new book, Lost Ocean, to her fans on facebook.  Or click on the mandala above and you can download it onto your computer. 

You can also click here to see my segment on the Good Day Show. Side note: not sure what happened at the end of the segment there, but certainly coloring in the company of an art therapist is always a great idea 🙂

Copyright 2015 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.