Well maybe you should be! The benefits of coloring is a real craze that’s sweeping the adult world. It’s calming and healthy, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.
I’m not sure where it all got started but certainly the world’s first best-selling adult coloring book was Secret Garden by Johanna Basford. I purchased a copy when I was last in London, UK.
Here’s a colored-in page from it:
Basford’s works of illustrations are widely recognized and can be found in products such as wallpapers, beer bottles, and even tattoos. She has worked for Sony, Starbucks, Chipotle, Absolut Vodka, and The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
But it was with the publication of Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book in 2012 that her life changed. Now, with a second book follow up, Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book, she pretty much owns two slots of the top art books on Amazon. [as of today, she has #9 and #11, down from a few months ago]
Basford, who graduated from design school in 2005 and is based in Scotland, has turned her lovely ink drawings into coloring books “for grownups.” And they’re wildly popular, selling millions of copies.
If you’re like me, you didn’t realize the benefits of coloring for adults was a trend. What is it about these books that has made them so popular with adults? For starters, The Guardian (a UK newspaper) calls them “terribly therapeutic.” The once-niche hobby has now grown into a full-on trend, with everyone from researchers at Johns Hopkins University to the editors of Yoga Journal suggesting coloring as an alternative to meditation.
The Health Benefits of Coloring Books
Here in the USA, it was left to childhood favorite Crayola to cash in on the trend. The famous crayon makers launched a set of markers, colored pencils and a collection of adult coloring books, Coloring Escapes.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a mental health profession in which the process of making and creating artwork is used to “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”
However, it is important to note that using an adult coloring book is not exactly the same as completing an art therapy session. “Coloring itself cannot be called art therapy because art therapy relies on the relationship between the client and the therapist,” says Marygrace Berberian, a certified art therapist and the Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Graduate Art Therapy Program at NYU.
Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? Like it or not, the first research on using coloring as therapy is generally believed to have only begun as recently the mid 90s, according to Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.
Despite the fact that coloring and art therapy aren’t quite the same thing, coloring does offer a slew of mental benefits. “Coloring definitely has therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety, create focus or bring [about] more mindfulness,” says Berberian. Groundbreaking research in 2005 proved anxiety levels dropped when subjects colored mandalas, which are round frames with geometric patterns inside.
An example of a mandala
Just like meditation, coloring also allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus only on the moment, helping to alleviate free-floating anxiety. It can be particularly effective for people who aren’t comfortable with more creatively expressive forms of art, says Berberian, “My experience has been that those participants who are more guarded find a lot of tranquility in coloring an image. It feels safer and it creates containment around their process,” she adds.
But simply doodling, surprisingly, isn’t even in the frame. It had no effect in reducing the other subjects’ stress levels.
How to Get Started
Want to give it a try? Do keep in mind, if you’re dealing with significant mental or emotional issues, art therapy is going to be more effective than coloring solo. But for those who just need a hobby to help them chill out, these books could be the ticket.
According to ColoringBooks.net, adults should skip the crayons and go straight for the colored pencils (precision is everything when it comes to tuning in). And Crayola has a complete guide that shows how to take your tools up a notch by blending colors, shading and adding highlights and lowlights to your newfound masterpieces.
I don’t recommend you waste time and money by purchasing a kids coloring books, in the false belief you’ll be saving money. I just don’t think you get any benefit at all from books that are not intricate and attractive, which Basford’s certainly are.
Everything is hand-drawn, just pen and ink, really floral, very intricate. Every illustration has little things hidden in it, so it might be a rogue butterfly or a little half-hidden robin, or, you know, a cheeky little squirrel gathering nuts. But no matter what the picture, there [are] just layers of depth and detail. …
Johanna Basford, creator of Secret Garden, with sample pages
Let me finish with words from Johanna Basford:
“My work has always been black and white and hand-drawn. I work as a commercial illustrator, and for years my clients have been telling me when they see my illustrations that they wanted to color them in. So when my publishers initially approached me to do a children’s coloring book, I said I’d actually like to do one for adults. You can imagine how quiet they were, because coloring in for grown-ups just wasn’t a thing then. It wasn’t a trend.”
Well, it is now!
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P.S. My (team) aka “Prof’s Angels” love this online application called “Colorfy,” they use it all the time as another way to enjoy the benefits of coloring. You can download it for free on your smartphone or tablet by just clicking the link above.