Colouring books for adults emerge as a new cultural trend and stress relief tool

Colouring books for adults are recapturing a popular childhood pastime with a twist. 

Scrolling through #adultcolouringbook on Instagram, it’s clear that this phenomenon is becoming more than just a passing craze.

This popular item is flying off the shelves. Adult colouring books by author Johanna Basford have been listed among the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon since April 2015, selling over 10 million copies worldwide. There are nearly 250 different adult colouring books available online through Indigo.

Quinn Kerr, a business student at Mount Royal University, connected to this craze when she received her first adult colouring book, Color Me Stress Free by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter, as a gift.

“I still manage to struggle colouring in the lines… I thought that would have been easier by now, but I guess I’m still not that artistic,” says Kerr, who has been engaging with the new trend since Christmas.

“[The books] are good to get your mind off of the outside world and just focus on colouring,” she says. “It’s just like being a kid again!”

But don’t be fooled by the simplicity associated with colouring. According to Buzzfeed, one of the top recommended adult colouring books to purchase is the Tattoo Coloring Book by Ollie Munden. This is Munden’s first colouring book and incorporates influences from both Japanese and classic American style tattooing to create a rather complex artistic experience.

These top-selling adult colouring books by Johanna Basford are each available at Indigo, online and in-store, and online through Amazon.
Photo by Savaya Shinkaruk
Munden says he stripped the colour from these tattoo designs so people can engage in the creative process of filling in the design like a tattoo artist. Instead of ink, they are able to make use of other colouring tools like crayons, markers, or even paint, to express their emotions.

“I’ve got a big interest in how [the adult colouring trend] is doing, and I am working on another one right now,” says Munden.

But these books aren’t only about a trend; they are also an effective form of therapy.

Therapeutic art

Like many others, 23-year-old Rudi Skrudland uses colouring books as a way to relieve stress.

“I heard about adult colouring from a teacher who said that it was a good way to relieve stress and get your creative juices flowing,” says Skrudland.

Joanne Bano, a member of the Canadian Art Therapy Association, echoes this sentiment. She considers adult colouring books a genuine form of therapeutic art because “it invites free expression.”

“When students, patients, and individuals are engaged in creative and expressive art, it has a therapeutic effect on them. [Colouring] can calm the mind and activate the creative sides of the brain. [In North America] we tend to be more focused on the left-brain function, the more academic function. So it really synergizes our brain, the left and the right, [and] in that sense I find it a way of self-healing,” says Bano.

Creative art therapies became popular in the 1930s and 1940s when psychotherapists noticed that self-expression through nonverbal methods, like colouring, could be a helpful mechanism for people with mental illness.

Research also points to the usefulness of colouring books in therapeutic settings.

According to a 2006 study about therapeutic art at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, 92 per cent of subjects, the majority of whom had leukemia (29.2 per cent) or lymphoma (32.6 per cent) and had been diagnosed within the last three years, reported a positive experience.

The study concluded that “the sessions distracted [patients] and focused their attention onto something positive.”

Quinn Kerr is all smiles showing a page in her colouring book she received from a friend as a Christmas present. She just started this page, and enjoys working on it when she is stressed with school.
Photo by Savaya Shinkaruk
“[Art] creates a physiological response in that it calms the heart and even the pulse. It has a physiological affect and a cognitive affect. It also has mindfulness in that it can be a form of meditation,” explains Bano.

However, Bano reminds us that the term “therapeutic” is very subjective. As in most forms of therapy, not every individual will find colouring activities psychologically beneficial, calming or meditative.

Back to basics

Children, it seems, have always understood the value of sitting down to colour and with adults rediscovering colouring books, a retro trend has taken hold, says Rudi Skrudland.

“With all the trends nowadays, everyone is going towards retro,” says Skrudland. “They are trying to bring back the same trend with the colouring books and using the same concept as how kids used colouring books. It brings back memories of being a kid — I feel like a kid when I am colouring, and it is nice to be like a kid in a mature setting.”

Colouring books were once a simple activity children indulged in to pass the time. However, this seemingly juvenile activity has been redesigned with the advent of adult colouring that gives the modern adult a creative outlet to balance out our busy lives.

sshinkakruk@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail by Savaya Shinkaruk.

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca