Let’s get right to the point.
Adult coloring books are not art therapy.
They are not meditative.
They are not “mindful” -- whatever that really is supposed to mean.
Despite all the things it is not -- adult coloring is all the rage.
Ten adult coloring books are on Amazon’s 100 best-sellers list. Illustrator Johanna Basford has three books on the list; her “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” recently climbed to No. 10. And her not-yet-released “Lost Ocean” is already ranked at No. 75, thanks to preorders.
“Coloring books for adults are a wonderful avenue for stress relief,” said Jackie Harris, who recently completed her doctoral degree in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “As our lives are increasingly fast-paced and filled with high-pressure demands, something as simple as coloring between the lines provides an opportunity for grown ups to slow down, be creative and have some fun -- all without the pressure of judgment or accountability.”
Whether your preference is filling in elaborate mandalas, paisley-patterned wildlife or whimsical gardens with hidden treasures, the consensus is unanimous:
Coloring is relaxing.
And most importantly, enjoyable.
What it is not is a “waste of time,” say colorists (the term for adults who color).
More often than not, it is the exact opposite -- a constructive way to fill in the downtime wasted in waiting rooms, traveling in airports or standing by as your kids finish soccer practice.
Diane Keeler’s job takes her all over the country. She spends a lot of time on airplanes and trains. On a whim, she picked up Posh Vintage Designs coloring book and a pack of colored pencils in an airport shop.
“I found it to be user-friendly,” she said.
So much so, that she bought coloring books and pencils for her mother and 45-year-old sister, Melanie Miller. All three are hooked.
“I am able to disconnect and still stay connected to my surroundings,” Keeler said. “With reading, you are focused and don’t want to lose your place. With coloring, you are still aware of what’s going on around you -- you’re just a little removed. … Coloring is a good way to decompress and to relax.”
It’s also a conversation starter. Keeler finds when she’s in an airport or even on the train, and pulls out her coloring book and 50-pack of colored pencils, people stop and chat.
“People randomly approach me and say, ‘Oh, do you like coloring? I like coloring. I’m just starting it,’” Keeler said.
Some talk favorite coloring books. Others talk coloring utensils. And others just share the joy.
“I was on an airplane not long ago, when the lady sitting next to me said she and her sisters would get together and have a coloring party,” Keeler said.
Coloring is a social activity, said Aja Martin, general manager of Indigo Bridge Books.
“You can get together with friends and color together,” Martin said.
That was the inspiration for the store’s now monthly adult coloring days. Indigo Bridge provides the free coloring pages and colored pencils -- although people are welcome to bring their own.
Martin’s Facebook invitation for the first Adult Coloring Day garnered 400 RSVPs, although only a fraction of those people actually showed up, she said.
But September’s coloring gathering was considerably larger.
“We had people all over the store,” she said. Many of them were families -- adults coloring side by side with their kids.
The store holds its third Adult Coloring Day Sunday (Oct. 18) from 1 to 4 p.m.
“What we like about coloring is the self-care aspect of it,” Martin said. “People have increasingly stressful lives, and this is a way to relax a little bit.”
Some people go so far as to say that coloring is therapeutic, in that it frees the mind to work through problems, focuses people and inspires the brain’s natural yearning to be creative.
But those in the field of art therapy and psychology loudly dismiss any notion that coloring between the lines is in any way therapy or artistic.
“Coloring can do lots of wonderful things,” said Linda Marcy, Lincoln mental health counselor and art therapist. “It can feel therapeutic and healing. It can calm you down.”
But for it to be art therapy -- a therapist must be present and direct the session.
“If I have my girlfriends over and we do Valentine’s cards, it may be therapeutic, but it’s not therapy," Marcy said. "If I paint with my grandchild it’s fun. I have a good time. But it is not art therapy.”
That said, Marcy is not denying that coloring has many benefits.
“I think this coloring thing is more of a centering or grounding thing. It centers you. You can calm down and figure out what you’re thinking,” she said.
“The only harm in coloring pages is trying to do them perfectly.”
When perfectionism becomes the obsession, then coloring can be just one more negative stressor in your life.
Melanie Miller, sister of Diane Keeler, understands that tendency to put too much thought into coloring. All her life she has loved to color. But she never thought about intentionally coloring as an adult. Then Keeler gave her an adult coloring book and a box of Crayola Twistable Colored Pencils.
“If it wasn’t for my sister, I would just be thinking about it (coloring) still,” Miller said.
Now she colors regularly.
“I color in the evenings just to decompress,” the pharmaceutical company employee said. “I zone out -- and everything else goes away.
“The problem I have is that once I start, I can’t stop. I want to stay up all night and do it. I am constantly trying to figure out what colors go together, what I’m going to color next and get ideas for the other part of the picture.”
She admits it’s excitement not fretting that keeps her up night.
“It brings out a creative side that you lose,” she said.
Blogger Jackie Harris agreed.
“Spending a quiet hour with some freshly sharpened colored pencils and the coloring book of your choosing is a great way to set aside your never-ending to-do lists and have some fun,” she said. ”It the same benefit found in other hobbies … an enjoyable and affordable no-pressure distraction from everyday worries and cares.”