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A Trend That Does Not Involve Shoes: The Adult Coloring Book

Got your crayons ready? Good.

04.06.16
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Adult coloring books have officially become A Thing.

They are not new. Black outlines that beg to be filled in with the focused dexterity of someone who has all of her motor skills have been around for as long as stationery stores have sold monogrammed envelopes and moms at restaurants with paper placemats have been asking waitresses for an extra set of crayons with a wink.

Coloring books are for everyone. In fact, unless there’s a giant blank penis begging to be shaded in a rainbow gradient, there’s not much else to label a coloring book “adult.”

**Except for marketing companies capitalizing on the small sneeze of a budding trend!

There have been worse things proliferating in the solar system of Trendy and Cool. Vaping, for example. Succulents. Fedoras. That “adult coloring” is now considered fashionable — even Vogue has one — is the least of any cynic’s worries. It might actually alleviate them.

Friends of mine who’ve thrown their pencil cases on the bandwagon liken their newly adopted coloring habit to a form of meditation. They tell me it relieves stress and promotes a sense of calm.

But is there actual science to this? I spoke with two art therapists and the creator of an actual coloring book to get their takes.

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Cheryl Walpole, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT, Senior Art Therapist at NY Creative Arts Therapists, speculates that the trend was birthed from “the need for folks to have an opportunity to find time for themselves, express themselves in a nonthreatening way or connect with their playful side.”

Her practice even has its own coloring book, “The Real Art Therapists of New York.” 

The goal: “to let the coloring community know the difference between coloring as a therapeutic activity and art therapy.” (It’s similar, but different.)

Walpole explained art therapy over email: “Typically, psychotherapy is a space for clients to explore problems without judgment. Art therapy adds another dimension to self-exploration by providing a concrete tool, the created art object, allowing an examination of life patterns through metaphor and symbolic expression.”

In a separate conversation, Dr. Christianne Strang, ATR-BC, President-Elect of the American Art Therapy Association, explained that while “coloring” may be a form of self care and a healthy distraction, art therapists aren’t using coloring books as actual therapy.

“When I work with clients,” she explained, “I help them decide what kind of art they need to do to express what’s going on with them. Art therapy is tailored to the individual and their treatment goals.” When I asked her if a client ever requested to just use coloring books, she told me that if that were to happen, she would want to explore what that need for safety meant. She’d wonder, “What’s the fear of moving outside of a coloring book and into his or her personal creativity?”

She also added, “If you want to color on your own and it feels safe and comfortable and you want to use it to ground you, that’s fine!”

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Not that a doctor needs to back a health-related trend for it to grow in popularity, but…if therapists aren’t prescribing it, then why is it catching on?

Payton Turner, the artist who created the book used in our feature image, credits the colorful trend’s rise to our need to detach.

“There is a tangible familiarity in coloring,” said Turner. “In our day-to-day lives, we’re confronted with an ever-increasing requirement to be tethered to our computers, to our cellphones. That feeling of pencil to paper is unique these days.

Choosing colors, sitting down with an intent to be quiet with yourself while doing a repetitive action that requires only minimal decision-making based on your own personal preferences — I think that can open a wonderful space in your mind that feels like meditation. You’re present, but you’re quiet. You are thinking, but it’s not stressfully strenuous. It’s wonderful.”

Dr. Strang and Ms. Walpole echoed similar ideas regarding coloring’s meditative properties, and Walpole credits this need to detach from technology as a reason (in addition to the mental health benefits) that adult coloring books may not just be a trend. She believes there’s staying power here.

“Creativity is healing and life-enhancing,” Dr. Strang said. In their own words, Cheryl Walpole and Payton Turner agreed.

Cool or not, sounds like a good reason to get out your colored pencils and paint the sky green.

Annie Costello Brown cuffs, Gurhan ring; “Every Little Thing” coloring book by Payton Turner. Follow Payton Turner on Instagram and check out her website. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis. 

For more information about the practice of art therapy visit: www.arttherapy.org. If you’re in the New York area and curious, check out NYC Creative Therapists.

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  • I love coloring and it’s therapeutic after a long, stressful day at work. I buy children’s coloring books for myself but I recently go my first adult coloring book. It was a book of patterns and they are fun to color! There is nothing wrong with coloring as an adult!

    Kiersten @ Autumn Country Girl

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  • I’ve tried so hard not to give into this trend but it’s a losing battle…I just love them and I know once I start they will be like Pokemon! Gotta collect them all!! =P

  • Aydan

    YES!!! I have been a huge fan of these over the years and have given them as gifts because I have realized that there are many others in my life who too would benefit from such a relaxing activity!

  • Lucy

    Just today Vogue posted about their new coloring book. A video is up on their Instagram. A cool way to design your own clothing through clothing that is already out there.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Their coloring book looks REALLY pretty. I love the old 20s Vogue covers.

    • Krista Anna Lewis

      Oh I need one of these. Helping Yvonne color was the highlight of my day.

  • Giovanna

    I really enjoy coloring, and have seen adult coloring books everywhere lately. I also gave in and have purchased one, half way through the book and it is something I do to relax. I love it, thanks for sharing this post. I also have a blog that I think will resonate with you, would love to get your feedback 🙂
    xo
    http://confusedgirlinthecity.com/blog/

  • samhallie

    My boyfriend and I take our coloring books on vacation, to the park, and color together every Sunday! Sometimes we multitask and listen to a podcast too 😉 It’s nice to have company but still have your own little creative/meditative space. Love it Amelya

    • Amelia Diamond

      Bud time!

      • samhallie

        now the buds gotta have a color sesh!

    • Coloring or doing paint by numbers while listening to podcasts is one of my favorite ways to unwind

    • gross! that’s cute!!!

  • I highly recommend Paint by Number. There are a lot of kits on Amazon and it’s easier on your wrist

  • Yvonne Dunlevie

    Humble brag: those are my hands. POINT OF THIS COMMENT: I actually got to color in the middle of the day for this shoot and it was as soothing as listening to sudden rain on spotify while lying down with a heating pad.

  • Erin Khandjian

    Just got my first coloring book this week.. definitely excited to use it now. How does a gal get her emails to actually go through to HR concerning careers with MR? I’ve considered some pretty crazy subject lines after hearing Mattie Kahn talk about “cold call” emails…

    • “HEY PEOPLE HIRE ME ASAP WHAT ARE YA CRAZY???”
      Just kidding, don’t do that.

  • Andrea
  • I’ve been doing this for years! I actually just bought my mother and “Outlander”-themed coloring book for her birthday, and she loves it!

  • Coloring is like acting. Your creativity is within the confines of someone else’s vision, but you still have some power in the execution

  • Colouring is the collective favourite lunchtime activity at my office!

  • mollie blackwood

    I teach art to kindergarten through 8th grades and I’m pretty sure I enjoy coloring more than they do. Sometimes (most of the time) I do the projects I teach with them because I need an escape… from them. Kidding. Sort of.

    • Amelia Diamond

      That sounds like such a lovely job but it also must be really exhausting

  • I’ve been reading non-stop for one of my classes, it’s the most reading I have done in a long time, not to mention the other courses I’m taking. As a gift to myself I will be taking a two week hiatus at the end of the semester where I AIN’T READING SHIT and I’m just going to draw and knit, before diving into summer classes. OH MAN I can’t wait.

    • Also, I’ve been taking #ootd photos and in Chicago’s bi-polar spring weather it’s kind of like coloring by numbers.

  • get yours – they’re school of life approved. (and better than a xanax & a glass of wine). http://bibelotandtoken.com/collections/paper-prints/products/the-school-of-life-colouring-as-therapy-posters?variant=3694108101

  • Svenja

    Coloring for adults used to be just mandalas, which is not for me. The new ones with architecture and fashion are fantastic for rainy days or long train rides.

  • Rachel

    It’s stationEry!!

    • Amelia Diamond

      nuts!

  • Emily Levitt

    I was so surprised when I saw this on Manrepeller! I work for a boutique children’s toy company called eeBoo and we make *the best* colored pencils in pretty boxes. We saw a huge demand for them in the last year — it was kind of nuts. Stores were calling asking us to sell them everything we had! I think @ameliadiamond:disqus you might like the upgrade from your crayola crayons! Nice to send the trend pop up on something I read myself.

    • Amelia Diamond

      OooooI I love colored pencils in pretty boxes!!

  • Isabel

    Woah. Last week at like 2 AM I spontaneously Amazon ordered one of these and I love it. No ragrets! There’s something about filling in endless paisley patterns that fills the void in one’s life, eh?

  • YasQueen

    I want a coloring book!…and one of those fuzzy velvet coloring posters.

  • BK

    I don’t know, I’m sorry, I just can’t get into adult colouring. It seems so…unproductive. Colouring in the lines may be good for alleviating stress/anxiety but it isn’t really something which you develop and evolve, is it? It’s just colouring. I compare it to other fine motor handiwork I use as stress relief, such as knitting, crochet, needlework, weaving etc. These are therapeutic activities which do require some practice and patience, but also offer opportunity to play with colour and be creative. You also build skills and knowledge which you retain forever and give you a finished product at the end of it, eg a scarf, blanket, needlepoint image of some cool shit that you can either a) keep for yourself to show off or b) foist upon unsuspecting loved ones. (Furthermore, when the world collapses after nuclear apocalypse, I can leverage my sewing skills instead of sexual favours in the unsophisticated bartering system which will overtake the current exchange of goods for legal tender I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS MORE OFTEN THAN I CARE TO ADMIT)

    • Amelia Diamond

      (my secret is that I hate coloring, especially in between the lines. I much prefer to draw. but not everyone finds drawing relaxing! it’s a personality thing.)

  • Perry Chan

    Anyone Up For… grabbing some coloring books and crayons and making an afternoon of it?

    http://www.anyoneupfor.com

  • meme

    Ok but can you please colour that lion more neatly? It’s making me anxious.

  • Meirav Sela