If you haven't heard yet, coloring books are now a thing. OK, sure, we all had coloring books as kids, but now that we're all grown up, we're finding coloring books again, but not the "see spot run" type of coloring books, the pirate-on-the-ship coloring book that 3-year-olds scribble on, but books with pages of complex designs, fine lines and thin strips of blanks awaiting our choices of ruby, ginger or burgundy.
Adult coloring books are the hottest item at Karen's Yarn, Paper, Scissors, said owner Karen Crittenden. Her Saturday morning coloring sessions are popular enough that reservations are required and she's added a monthly evening session. This Saturday, more people than anticipated turned out for a coloring group at the Richmond Memorial Library.
"I find it very soothing to take a thing that is just black and white and turn it into something that is beautifully colored," said Lynn Bartlett Taylor during Saturday's event at the library. "Even though I'm not an artist, it makes me feel like I am in my own way."
Read articles or talk to participants and the common themes of why adults color in coloring books are it's meditative and it's a stress reliever.
In a recent article for Parade Magazine, psychologist Alice Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston, said one reason adults find coloring so relaxing is it engages the entire brain. It's impossible to multitask or worry about kids or money when both sides of your brain are absorbed in coloring between the lines.
“It’s impossible to worry about dinner or the laundry or anything else when your mind is completely engaged,” Domar explains. “With knitting or other crafts, you can watch TV or multitask, but coloring really requires you to be in the moment. And that makes it meditative.”
She suggests coloring to patients who need stress relief, particularly those who loved the activity as a child.
“Coloring brings you back to a simpler time. It’s pleasurable. It’s a chance to sit and be mindful -- and at the end you get this beautiful result. You have a real sense of accomplishment.”
Taylor said she gets totally absorbed in the pictures she's creating.
"It's very meditative," said Taylor, who started coloring with her grandchildren in 2004, then stopped for awhile, then came back to it after hand surgery as a form of physical therapy.
"I can't make pictures of my own but I can fill in the colors for somebody else and everyone turns out different and I can't see the picture when I start out, but as I add the color, it starts coming alive. It's like each picture has its own personality."
For somebody just getting into adult coloring, Crittenden said they have a lot of options, from whether they want to start with complex designs, what themes to choose (mandalas are popular, but there is a host of other subjects available from birds and flowers to fanciful landscapes and seascapes), the medium to use (pencils, markers, crayons) and whether the colorist has enough skill and experience to handle more artistic expressions such as gradients and shading.
"The biggest thing I don't want them to do is get frustrated," Crittenden said. "They'll look online. They'll look in the stores. They'll look at the picture books and say, 'I want to do that,' and a lot of those techniques out there take some time and practice and some skill."
New colorists can also get started cheaply, if they like, or make a pricier splash, depending on their budget.
"There are $4 coloring books and you can get a set of pencils for $7," Crittenden said. "It's not expensive to get into, but you can go upwards. I mean some of these coloring books, like this one, it's an actual book. That's $25, and you can go on up from there."
Part of the thing of color is it works both as a solo pursuit and as a social activity. Across the country, adults get together in small groups on a regular basis to color together. There are Facebook and Pinterest groups dedicated to adult coloring. Colorists loving sharing their work.
But seeing all of this public activity it would be tempting to think adult coloring is just a woman thing, but that's not the case at all, Crittenden said.
"I'm finding that a lot of men are doing it, too," Crittenden said. "The last time we had a set of insect coloring books in, they went out of here fast. A lot of women were buying them for their men. A lot of men color with their wives. They're like secret colorers. A lot of times on Facebook women will post and say 'this one belongs to my husband,' or 'my husband did this one.' The wives are posting about them. It's probably just that more women are open about coloring."
After all, men have stress, too.
Crittenden herself using coloring to relax her mind.
"I have the skill to draw this, but drawing this takes too much of my concentration," Crittenden said pointing to a design in a book. "If I'm coloring this, I'm coloring it at the end of the day. My coloring books are up by my bed with my pencil tin. When I do this, I'm doing this at bedtime. For me, it gets my brain to stop, because I have a brain that doesn't stop.
"It's going like all the time and if I don't stop it at bedtime, I can't sleep because my brain keeps going and going and going and going and going. Ideas just keep flying into my head. If I don't stop, it just keeps going and this helps my brain stop working enough so I can fall asleep."