Colouring Inside the Lines

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Adult-themed colouring books are wooing the cultural creative generation.


For many adults, for many years, it was a guilty pleasure, and maybe even a bit of a secret.  Not that there is anything to be ashamed of – there is nothing wrong with retaining a childhood passion, a creative outlet.  But there would be the occasional funny look or arch comment when friends or family members realized that the colouring books and crayons that were being purchased were not intended for the child in the house.

shutterstock_355290932Some adults never outgrew the love of colouring.  In the last few years, the rediscovered and restorative practice of colouring has moved from fad to trend, to what appears to be a newly acceptable creative outlet that is being embraced worldwide.

It used to be that you could find adult-themed colouring books at independent bookstores that catered to the creative intellectual reader, like Prairie Sky Books and McNally Robinson Booksellers.  Most adult colouring books at that time were geometric patterns, mosaics, mandalas, or reproducing the works of the Masters of fine art. They were often somewhat unsophisticated and poorly executed, with thick lines, and poor quality paper that would not hold up to felt-tipped pens, or pastels or even vigorous wax or pencil crayon techniques.

For a brief period in the mid-80s, you could get adult colouring books that were printed on translucent paper; tape your finished product on your window pane and have your own stained glass gallery.  Art Deco and Art Nouveau themes were especially popular in this format.

Today, there is no limit to the topics one can colour as adult colouring books have penetrated mainstream consciousness.  You can purchase an adult colouring book on almost any theme – from paisley patterns to Mexican sugar skulls.  There are period or historic designs, rampant floral patterns, and the ever popular mandalas – abstract, Hindu, Celtic.  You can wander through enchanted forests, dive into lost oceans, or explore tropical jungles.  If there is a fan base, there is a colouring book – especially in the nerdy/geeky realms of fandom – Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and beyond.  Many animals have their own colouring books, with art in various styles – dogs, cats, owls, elephants, fish, butterflies, hummingbird. Want to colour people? You can colour famous physicists, presidents, royalty and superheroes.

Colouring books are found nearly everywhere.  Home Hardware has a rack of them, as does Michaels Craft Stores.  Therapeutic practices stock them as part of their retail offerings; FloatCalm had three titles for sale, appropriately themed around calmness, happiness and stress-reduction.  Online booksellers have a broad selection of hundreds of titles – including titles of questionable taste, such as Swear Words, Kinky Sex Phrases and Adventurous Sexual Positions. Different brush strokes for different folks.

Today’s adult colouring books are often printed single-sided, in a perforated binding, and on high-quality paper – all the better to enable the artist to frame their masterpiece.  With colouring book titles in the top 5 best sellers on Amazon, it is no surprise that the sales of quality colouring pencils and other supplies have increased – by double digits, according to Faber-Castell, one of the leading manufacturers of mid-to-high quality colouring pencils. The demand for larger sets of high-quality pencils with more colours has created a demand-exceeds-supply situation in some countries, causing manufacturers like Faber-Castell, Staedtler, and Stabilo to run additional shifts to meet production demands.  There are also ancillary supplies like pencil cases, blending stumps and precision pencil sharpeners that are natural add-ons to the purchase of the colouring book and crayons. It has become a multi-million-dollar business, with no signs of stopping. That 12-pack of Laurentian pencil crayons just won’t do – you need the Prismacolour set of 150 pencils priced upwards of $260 CDN. You NEED seven shades of pink. Nine shades of blue.  How can you colour when your genius is limited by a lack of pigments?

Renoir likely felt the same way. Keep calm and colour on.

shutterstock_73194628Why has adult colouring become such a trend? Psychologists and therapists theorize that colouring is a return to safe, self-determined play that has an impact on the most mature areas of our lives by giving the mind a break from the pressures of adult life, and immersing one’s mind in a creative process.  Colouring frees the mind to wander, yet the colourer feels engaged, occupied and productive. Their creativity can be unleashed as they determine the colours used, the degree of shading or blending, limited only by their imagination and physical tools.

Colouring is fun.  It can be a solitary activity, or done with others present.  The smells of pigment touching paper, whether pencil lead, wax crayon, pastel, felt marker or paint, can evoke nostalgia for the simpler times of childhood.  Colouring is also relaxing because it is easy.  There is no stress involved beyond the decision of choosing to put a colour inside a particular area. Shaded from light to dark. With a cross-hatch pattern subtly in the background.

Many people feel a creative urge, but do not possess or have not nurtured their latent artistic talent.   By colouring “inside the lines” of another artist’s sketch, the colourer has the ability to work with colour, texture, and pattern to create something truly personal and unique – without having to be good at drawing.  Colouring gives you something to do with your hands  while you are binge-watching television programs.  Some of us knit, some of us colour, some of us colour when our hands get tired of knitting.

Not everyone is a fan of this new adult colouring craze.  Even though there are colouring books for Bible stories and Bible quotes, some fundamentalist Christians have taken aim at what they perceive to be a dangerous diversion.  The problem isn’t with colouring – it’s with what is being coloured.  And they aren’t talking about the swear words wrapped in floral garlands and ribbons like an old-fashioned Victorian embroidered sampler.

The problem is with mandalas, which “may be used to focus attention, as a spiritual teaching tool, to establish sacred space or as an aid to meditation or trance induction” (Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism).  One Christian blogger, The Last Hiker, writes that “focusing on mandalas is a spiritual practice where you merge with ‘deities’ – this practice [colouring mandalas] opens the door to demons… [you are] knocking on the door of a false temple.”  The Last Hiker goes on to explore Carl Jung’s teachings on mandala symbolism and identifies Jung’s involvement in alchemy, astrology and mysticism as something not desirable.  In The Last Hiker’s opinion, mandalas create an open portal to demonic invasion, and by colouring or meditating on them, one invites “the spiritual hosts of wickedness … into our homes and into our subconscious minds” and so they should be off-limits to the practising Christian – just like yoga.  Different brush strokes for different folks.

PrintNo matter your spiritual beliefs, there is a colouring book for you –and for the secular humanists as well.  Mandalas for meditation, of course.  There are Goddess-themed colouring books, Wiccan ones, books that draw on the rich history of Judaic objects, art, and traditions.  Islamic themed colouring books are usually mosaics, in accordance with their beliefs prohibiting images of sentient beings.   The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has an app that allows you to download pages and colour images related to their religious history.  There are several other non-spiritual-specific online colouring apps as well.

Whether you, as an adult, colour for stress relief, or for improved manual dexterity, or as a meditative practice, for spiritual contemplation, or simply because you like to play with colours, there is a colouring book that is waiting for you.  Get inspired by the thousands of pages posted on Pinterest by other “inside the lines” artists.  Buy yourself some good pencil crayons and a decent sharpener.  Make it a ritual, or just keep your hands busy while watching Game of Thrones (while colouring the Game of Thrones colouring book.) And then, when you’re done – sign it like you are Rembrandt and put it on the fridge. Or better yet, frame it, and create your own gallery.  Embrace your inner artist as a colourist.  Just don’t press so hard you tear the paper!

From The Globe and Mail:
Colour the world with these printable colouring book scenes (for adults)

Susan bio picSusan Hurrell sees the Sacred in strange and wonderful places in popular culture.  Fascinated by new spiritual movements, she is a contributing editor to The Aquarian.


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