When publishers released the new Harper Lee novel, they expected the sales of the book to go through the roof. What they did not expect was that their stiffest competition would come from adult coloring books.
In an unprecedented move coloring books occupied as many of eight of the top 20 slots in a spot-check of Amazon’s best-seller list this year.
“We cannot print them fast enough,” said Amy Yodanis, Quarto’s publishing group head of marketing. “We are getting orders of 60,000 at one time from some of our biggest retailers.”
The last time I picked up a coloring pencil was probably in junior school. Then too it was to add some color to monotone assignments that my teacher handed out to the class. I had this theory or perhaps misconception that art was always beyond my reach or scope and I believed that you needed some level of talent to pursue Art.
But when I saw a display of adult coloring books and pencil crayons at my local bookstore, I was intrigued and inquisitive by it all. I had heard the radio reports and had read the newspaper reports about how this hobby was taking the world by storm. I was still not entirely convinced by the hype so I hesitantly purchased a book and a set of color pencils and pens. It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting at my dining room table looking at the intricate patterns in my book and inanimately deciding on which colors would suit the picture best.
I gave myself fifteen minutes of this madness and then I would get back to some real work. Half an hour later I was still sitting at the table and by then I was telling myself just one more minute. That half an hour felt unbelievably quiet in my head and it made me feel ready for my next task on my to do list.
The bright colors I used in the picture made me feel a little upbeat and it had an all-round pleasing effect on my mood. I felt more relaxed and felt that I coped better with the stresses of the day. Co-incidence? Was I imagining all of us? Or is there a science behind all of this?
How coloring affects our brains
According to consulting neuropsychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Stan Rodski, coloring for adults makes perfect logic.
“Watching children and the way that they relax while coloring really prompted the thought, why can’t adults re-enter that space in a brain state?”
Dr. Rodski is the author of several coloring books for adults began actively exploring the idea when he realized that conventional relaxation methods were not working on some of his patients.
“I was struggling with executives, managers, people who would normally be referred to me with stress, who just found it enormously difficult to do deep breathing, relaxation or meditation,” he says.
Remarkably, one of the first psychologists to apply coloring as a relaxation technique was Carl G. Jüng in the early 20th century. He applied this through mandalas: circular designs with concentric shapes. They have their origin in India.
Coloring has a de-stressing effect because while doing it we focus on one particular activity, the focus is just on that and not any of our worries. The relaxation that coloring provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a rudimentary part of our brain involved in controlling sensation that is affected by anxiety.
Sahar El-Nadi, author of the book “Sandcastles and Snowmen” and founder of the popular Cairo coloring club, agrees that coloring for adults does alleviate stress and promote a sense of well-being. This is how she rediscovered coloring.
“I needed a creative activity to escape to for short intervals during the day,” says El Nadi,“or while on the road traveling or in waiting rooms between appointments. The systematic strokes of coloring pens and the constant creative process of color coordination is an incredible de-stressor. By doing so we switch off to the world and in this process we lose the stress we carry through in our daily life.”
El Nadi took this hobby one step further and self-published her own book of designs when she could not find a publisher who wanted to publish her book. They thought it was a joke. Her book “The Book of Joy” coloring book contains all original designs drawn by Sahar.
“The Book of Joy locally, is the first of a kind with original designs in Egypt,” she says, “and I joined a group of international artists to publish internationally. Right now I have one book in each market, and there are more on the way.”
An excuse to ditch the technology
Using art as therapy and a stress reliever are not the only reasons coloring books are so popular nowadays.
Coloring is also a great excuse to ditch the technology and do something tactile. Adults are constantly staring at screens: desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, etc. Whether for business or personal use, it has become very difficult to “disconnect.”
Even avid readers have switched over to kindles and tablets to consume books, magazines, and newspapers. Adult coloring book provides a great outlet to escape from all the screens while still entertaining the mind. And as hobbies go these books and pencils are compact and be taken along anywhere and there will certainly be no worries about running out of battery power.
Tapping into your creative side
And perhaps the biggest reason people are tapping into a creative side that they assumed it was just not there. El-Nadi says,
“In Egypt, we don’t take art seriously. Art classes at school are considered a “hobby” rather than a basic human skill. When you don’t practice this skill, you lose a large part of your awareness and your attention to the details of the world around you.”
Her coloring club continues to grow in number and young and old attend. Many say they finally found a family activity to replace dull TV evenings, so they can reconnect with their spouses and children again. Those who brought their spouses and children to the workshops said that they learn and have fun together. At the end of the class, the most common question asked is, “ When will we meet again?”
Coloring book for adults continue to ascent to the top of bestseller lists around the world. This trend is not showing any sign of going away any time soon. Putting aside the health benefits which are a bonus, at the end of the day coloring in is good for you, because it is so much fun.
And remember you don’t have to be an artist to produce a masterpiece.
First published: April 2016