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.
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!”
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?
“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.