There is no shortage of colouring books right now. Over 12 million were sold in the United States in 2015, compared to one million the year before, according to global marketing research firm The Nielsen Corporation. Even sales of pencil crayons are on the rise, with a 47 per cent increase over the same period. One might guess American elementary schools are returning to a more hands-on approach to their art curriculum. But the more likely culprit is the unexpected explosion of adult colouring books.
This growing trend that we often associate with our childhood appears to have been started by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford. In 2013, Basford was hired to create a children’s colouring book, but she decided to design one aimed at a more mature market. While we’re not entirely sure of her reasoning, we did learn that Basford is busy; she’s immersed in new colouring book projects to the point that her publicist made it clear she’d not be taking any more interviews at this time.
So what is it about these colouring books that people seem to connect with? Many publishers and retailers make a case for their parallel to art therapy, which engages clients in creative tasks to help treat many different forms of stress.
Sarah Brodie, an art therapist at The Arterie in Toronto, understands the appeal but isn’t convinced on the long-term stress relief of colouring. “Within my collective of art therapists, to be honest, we tend to eye-roll at the colouring book trend. I think we really just aim higher. We’re looking to capture people’s own creative process and leverage that to gain better insight into that person.” So on its own, colouring in a book by no means replicates the depth or rigour achieved through art therapy. Brodie sees the act as far more comparable to a hobby like knitting or embroidery — enough of a distraction to keep your hands busy and slow your mind.
Science and psychology aside, the medium continues to grow and diversify. Some illustrators are looking for alternative, more unexpected approaches to the stress-relieving act of colouring. One such illustrator is Chris Piascik, whose work pushes how energetic and vibrant illustrations can be.“I love colouring books, and the idea of catering to things adults would appreciate is awesome. That said, when adult colouring books began popping up everywhere, I thought it was kind of silly, not to mention a lot of them are just awful. Once I got past the mass of bad, though, I realized there are a lot of cool ones as well.”
The ability to focus on filling each space helps clear the mind of racing thoughts.
His book The Huge & Beautiful Trumptivity Coloring & Activity Book caught our attention for its combination of stress-inducing content with stress-relieving activities. “By approaching the content in a lighthearted manner with ample jokes and tongue-in-cheek humour, we’re able to address serious concerns about [Donald] Trump and his ideas.”
As for the practical application in question around this activity, Chris has his own take on the issue. “As someone who has suffered from anxiety, drawing has always provided me with a sense of peace. However, a blank sheet of paper can be hugely intimidating. My peace comes from the process of drawing, but that doesn’t happen until I can overcome the difficulty of starting or deciding what to draw. People who feel that they can’t draw are able to experience a similar peace through the process of colouring an existing image. The ability to focus on filling each space helps clear the mind of racing thoughts.”
The act of colouring can be a very personal thing. Some have happily left the activity in their early years, while others who see value in picking it up again as an adult can’t fully explain why. Like most new things, trying them out is really the only way to know if they do anything for you. Leave it be as a colourless symbol of your stance against this unlikely craze, or attack it with the rigour of a seven-year-old in the hopes of recapturing that childlike sense of aimless relaxation. It’s entirely up to you.