Yes, Vogue, Coloring Books Are a Thing. A Zen Thing
December 12, 2015 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I’ve never once felt moved to pick up a coloring book and go to town. Nor did I imagine that people in my social sphere were doing so. Were those Instagram-famous coloring parties a total anomaly? Or were my other friends also secretly brandishing markers in their spare time? Vogue writer Julia Felsenthal wonders if coloring books are actually a thing after reading Julie Beck's piece in The Atlantic.

As it happens, adult coloring books are a thing, largely because coloring offers portable, affordable, stress relief for many. According to Publisher's Weekly, the newest coloring book by adult-color-book queen Johanna Basford sold more than 55,000 copies in the first week after its October 27 release. All told, her coloring books have sold more than 1.7 million copies.

Adults are coloring more than collections of patterns. New and upcoming titles include I Love My Hair by Andrea Pipins, a Coloring Book of Braids, Coils, and Doodle Dos.

You might think that coloring books are largely uncontroversial. And you would be right, up to a point. Color Me Cluttered, A Coloring Book to Transform Everyday Chaos Into Art has not been warmly received by some who feel damaged by their relative's hoarding disorder, for example. One Amazon reviewer called the book "appalling."

For anyone wondering if there are any adult (as in NSFW or simply more mature content) adult coloring books, the answer is yes. Including The Fetish Coloring Book and Coloring for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book. Because, my friends, adult activity books are also a thing. Including adult dot-to-dot books. Who knew?
posted by Bella Donna (72 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite


 
Just spent two hours drinking tea at a friend's house colouring. He just got out of the hospital after a manic trip around town and I introduced him to colouring. Talking tonight we both agree that if you have a brain that goes down the "all the things wrong with my life and the world" street every time it is idle that colouring can be a life saver. Especially if you don't have the mental focus to read. So yay! Highly recommended from this mefite with worsening depression and their manic friend.
posted by kanata at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2015 [26 favorites]


Unless the clientele at Michael's is a lot more into pot than I think they probably are, then I don't think this is just a stoner thing, whatever Julia Felsenthal's friends might say.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:02 PM on December 12, 2015


Unless the clientele at Michael's is a lot more into pot than I think they probably are

This is shifting rapidly, I suspect, at least in some states.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 6:04 PM on December 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


Avid listeners of The Pen Addict podcast on Relay.fm have been hearing about it quite regularly, as Myke and Brad have both fallen down the adult coloring book well, and their annual holiday gift guide featured some recommendations.
posted by Punkey at 6:09 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Itchy-O sells a coloring book, in lieu of printing CDs (you get a digital download of the album as well), since it seemed a lot funner than buying something you may use just once.
posted by alex_skazat at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


And for Xena fans, the technically non-Xena "Amazons & Warriors Adult Coloring Book".
posted by worldswalker at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Dr. Yueh gets ready to poison Leto Atreides with his dartgun."
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 6:38 PM on December 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


I got my sister a coloring book of Regency fashion for Christmas a few years ago before adult coloring books got big and everyone mocked but then two hours later my sister is all, "GO AWAY I'M COLORING."

The publisher Dover has coloring books of all kinds of highly specific topics: historical fashion, historical trains, wildflowers of $Place, dinosaurs, fine art from $era ... they coat about $4 and are fun for kids who are super into something obscure and want a coloring book of nothing but $Obscure Animal, or adults who want to color in a particular genre. (Amazon carries them.) We sometimes grab place-related ones before a family road trip so the kids have something for travel and in the hotel that's thematically related.

I got my husband the Game of Thrones coloring book as a stocking stuffer this year.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:44 PM on December 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


It has definitely become A Thing, so much so that they have shelves full of coloring books at the checkout lanes of our local Wegmans and Whole Foods.

My problem is that I have a toddler who loves loves LOVES LOVES to color, so I'd have to share.
posted by lydhre at 6:48 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have more colouring books than I can reasonably work through in the next five years or so (which isn't that many -- I mean I can colour at most one picture a week if I'm doing it nicely and there are obviously many weeks when I can't colour at all).

Regardless, the other day I was in the art supply store (buying water colour brushes to use with the inktense pencils I got for Quonsmas) and I saw this (previously).

The colouring! The geekery! the Toronto love! What choice did I have? So that's 100 more pictures, which means a minimum of two more years of colouring. I've decided I will colour them in chronological order, the chronology being my relationship with each, not the opening of the branch. Once i'm through the dozen or so that I've had relationships with, we'll see.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


The publisher Dover has coloring books of all kinds of highly specific topics:

I have the Christmas Trees, Ugly Holiday Sweaters, and Tesselations from this series.

A friend of mine said she finally found her colouring book (having tried others and found they weren't quite right). The Anna Karenina colouring book. I haven't seen it, but I searched for it hoping the publisher had done other books and maybe one that I was more interested in than Anna Karenina. Nothing yet. But if you know of any literary colouring mash-ups, I have space in my colouring schedule around 2022 so I'm open to suggestions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:01 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The cast of Hamilton colors when offstage.
posted by tzikeh at 7:06 PM on December 12, 2015 [8 favorites]


The Fetish Coloring Book

I . . . okay. That's a thing!
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:16 PM on December 12, 2015


I really wish that coloring could be something therapeutic for me, because goodness knows I get stressed out about stuff, but I am very bad at coloring. In 3rd grade, my teacher kept me in at recess on a fairly regular basis because of my poor coloring on assignments, and told me that her 3 year old colored better than I did. It's the only time my parents have ever done my homework for me, because my mother loves coloring. I really wish this was something I could do, because there are so many cool and interesting and pretty coloring books, and I actually have a human evolution coloring book, I but looking at all those lines to stay inside of just stressed me the hell out and turned me back into a type-A 8-year-old who is failing at something in school no matter how hard she tries.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:30 PM on December 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Especially if you don't have the mental focus to read. So yay! Highly recommended from this mefite with worsening depression and their manic friend.

(Colouring books × audiobooks) + tea
posted by howfar at 7:33 PM on December 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


Last year, when there were two major deaths in my family in the autumn, I spent the fall coloring elaborate calacas with printed blank skulls from some website or another, plus mandalas, as well as playing with watercolor paints and Zentangle doodles. It was, as ways to help grieving go, incredibly effective.

Now, a year later, I am realizing I am going to need to figure out some formal storage for art supplies because they're getting out of hand.
posted by Sequence at 7:42 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


ChuraChura, your third-grade teacher was a first-rate jerk.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:42 PM on December 12, 2015 [33 favorites]


For anyone who doesn't feel drawn to coloring but is interested in the stress relief and focusing aspects:

Lynda Barry has her students draw very tight spirals while listening (to stories, to instructions, whatever) (as she's mentioned in interviews).
posted by kristi at 7:48 PM on December 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do some coloring and often, obsessively make stop motion videos of it.
posted by bendy at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2015 [40 favorites]


Those are great, Bendy. How do you do the videos? I assume since your hands so rarely appear and that it seems like one element is newly coloured in each shot that it's not just "picture every X" seconds. But stopping to take a pic every time you colour in a little dot must be maddening.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:18 PM on December 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ha, Iiohap, it's exactly that. I take a shot - webcam on a tripod and my lighting is really bad - every time I color in a bit. My photos go right into software that turns them into stop-motion video so that part isn't hard at all.

I did try the automatic (every 3-5 seconds) shots for awhile but either my hands were in every shot, or the camera didn't pick up every change.

It is pretty maddening and tedious, but it's a good way to pass the time. Plus you get really lovely pictures.

That said, I have at least ten videos that I haven't prepared for YouTube yet. More to come!
posted by bendy at 8:26 PM on December 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wow, bendy, those are great. While I'm not into colouring books (yet, anyway), I feel like I might get nearly the same benefit from simply watching your videos. Lazy? Moi? You betcha.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:53 PM on December 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


im fascinated by this fad. The advertising around it seems to focus mostly on the mental/medical benefits, instead of just offering it up as for what it is. I think hobbies and crafts in general are not as popular now as they used to be, and this is a pulling back on that.
posted by rebent at 8:54 PM on December 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


ChuraChura, my mother did my colouring homework because otherwise I would've failed. Failed colouring. For me, one of the nice things about growing up was that I would never have to worry about colouring again.

Game of Thrones might be a sign that this Christmas will be peak colouring book and it will soon join stamping in the unpopular crafts corner.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:58 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love these, but I haven't tried them out yet. I've seen a few bored cashiers coloring away, and that seems like a lovely way to pass the time.

There's also the Colour Me Good, Benedict Cumberbatch book, if that's your thing.
posted by Xere at 9:03 PM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Coloring is sometimes used as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, to help practice mindfulness or as a distress-tolerance activity. And it does indeed work.
posted by old_growler at 10:29 PM on December 12, 2015


This reminds me of the doodles I used to do on graph paper in high school and then I'd color in every square individually with my 12-ink-colors pen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:42 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Its taken off in Finland as well. I picked up one, full of curlicues and complex patterns for narrower pens.
posted by infini at 10:55 PM on December 12, 2015


a coloring book of Regency fashion

WANT! Where? How?
posted by infini at 10:57 PM on December 12, 2015


bendy, that's awesome!

About 10-15 years ago, I remember being surprised when I found out a friend (he was in his late 20s at the time) had coloring books and colored as a way to relax. They were coloring books found in the kids' section I think, not specialized ones for adults. I loved coloring books as a kid and he recommended that I try picking it up again, but unfortunately I didn't.

Then a few weeks ago when I was at a crafts store, I noticed coloring books for adults -- they were mostly all the pattern-based kind, and some of the same ones from the post. That got me looking for books that had less intricate pictures to color, with some kind of landscape or story involved (i.e. not just patterns)... line art not too segmented into detailed regions, but not super simple, either.

Eyebrows McGee, thanks for linking to the Dover coloring books list -- that's a much easier list to navigate than trying to go through their books on Amazon. And If only I had a penguin..., the libraries book looks excellent.

I still sort of remember my favorite coloring book from childhood -- it was on good quality, smooth paper and was all about how an airport worked, with pictures of the planes, the terminals inside and outside, the travelers, workers, etc. The art had a unique style and was obviously geared for young students but it wasn't super simple and had decent backgrounds. I wouldn't mind coloring something like that again.

Actually I'd really love to color something like a black and white version of Richard Scarry's "What Do People Do All Day?" For me it would fit right in that middle range between not too intricate and not too simple, yet still fun and with a story. I don't think that exists, but I do see some out-of-print Richard Scarry coloring books on ebay.

But if you know of any literary colouring mash-ups, I have space in my colouring schedule around 2022 so I'm open to suggestions.

Apparently there are Jane Austen-related coloring books...
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:12 PM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've also fallen into the coloring books black hole. A couple of links: Cleverpedia has the best roundups of coloring books (especially this HUGE list), and the best reviews blog I've found is Colouring In The Midst Of Madness, which shows examples of the inner pages and also gives an idea of the fine motor skills or eye acuity needed for coloring and how good is it for therapy purposes.

I'm happy with Johanna Basford (Secret Garden and Lost Ocean: I have the postcards for Enchanted Forest but I didn't like the art as much as Secret Garden), but I also keep a random vintage patterns art therapy book for messing around with the cheapo felt markers and brush-tipped markers, and I'm gathering visual refs for the Megamunden tattoo coloring book to get the style right. I'm also waiting for the Macmillan Alice and Liberty Patterns books to arrive in the mail.
posted by sukeban at 12:38 AM on December 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Coloring books have been a common form of activist art too. The Femme Coloring Book (with pictures of queer femmes) came out in 2008, and I just gifted my niece with Sometimes The Spoon Runs Away With Another Spoon, which redoes fairytale tropes to be more diverse in portrayals of gender roles, sexualities, and bodies (inc dis/abilities). A friend also produced People of Coloring which included line art from POC artists.
posted by divabat at 1:08 AM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This isn't the first time colouring for adults has been trendy -- well, at least to my young mind. My mother used to buy these large posters that came rolled up in black cardboard tubes, with felt pens included, and I remember her colouring them in the evenings during her down time.

I can't say I remember any of them being finished, but I remember the pictures having patterns very similar to those in the current run of books.
posted by tracicle at 1:55 AM on December 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heh, I just searched on Google and included "1980s" and they were the first item linked: DoodleArt.
posted by tracicle at 1:56 AM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I grabbed some coloring books to take to our family's internet free Thanksgiving. Big hit with my aunt and her two teens. My one complaint is that Secret Garden is not crayon friendly. (Requires a fairly fine tip)
posted by politikitty at 2:17 AM on December 13, 2015


I did the DoodleArt ones with a schoolfriend's family in the 80s. The idea of the poster was good because you could all start in different corners and kids could wander in and out of the process. (Good opportunities for Simpsons-style dad rage at non-approved or uncoordinated colour usage though - this 80s version didn't have the whole 'mindfulness' angle to it.)
posted by colie at 2:17 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm about to travel across the country to visit my aunt who is dying horribly from cancer and my three year old cousin I have yet to meet and to see my uncle for the first time in years. Months ago I bought a dragons coloring book and decided to save it for a "rainy day". Welp! Guess what I packed.

I also remember that before I left for college my mom and I bought one of those huge coloring posters, you know, the ones that have a lot of tiny details and black to cover up where you go outside the lines? Mom and I spent that summer coloring it and I hung it on the back of my dorm room door. While we colored it we talked about basically everything she and I could cover with regard to leaving home and what I could expect and all that college stuff. Would we have had these conversations had we not colored? Doubtful.
posted by Mizu at 3:14 AM on December 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


OMG - - are coloring books a gateway drug?!?
posted by fairmettle at 3:43 AM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Regency fashion coloring book: I'm not sure if I gave her "Empire Fashions" (which includes Empress Josephine) or "Godey's Fashion Coloring Book." They're both Dover.

If you type "dover fashion" into amazon, you'll see that they have $3 and $4 fashion coloring books for basically every European and American fashion era and modern fashion era (including ones dedicated to "First Ladies" and "Kate Middleton"). Dover's whole schtick with coloring books is, "If someone made a line-drawing reference book about it, we can turn it into a coloring book." They literally take out-of-copyright Sears catalogs from before the photography advertising era, and simplify the line-drawn illustrations to turn them into "Everyday fashion from the 1920s, as seen in Sears Catalogs." So they also have a lot of botanical and mechanical coloring books, and a lot of "famous buildings" with line drawings (president's homes, european castles, great cathedrals). They have a very detailed coloring book on the history and development of the sword! With different swords and the armor the guys using them wore.

I really can't say enough good things about the world of delightful randomness that is Dover's ultra-specific coloring books. They're nice to color in, they cost about the same as a "regular" coloring book you'd pick up at the toy store, they typically ship free with Prime (and not as an add-on), and you can always, ALWAYS find something related to your (or your giftee's) interests.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:42 AM on December 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


My "thought blocker" is speech - podcasts, R4, NPR, World Service. Has the advantage that you can listen to it while driving or falling asleep.

But if I was going to pick one of these up at the supermarket checkout, what kind of pens/pencils/brushes should I get?
posted by Leon at 6:54 AM on December 13, 2015


Doodling: Gentrified!
posted by blue_beetle at 6:58 AM on December 13, 2015


This thread has made me sad that all my good art supplies are on another continent. Fortunately it's only a week 'til I am back on that continent too- but another two weeks until I manage to be in the same place as said art supplies.
I wonder if my markers still mark?
posted by nat at 7:16 AM on December 13, 2015


Ooh and a more useful question-- I know my wonderful colored pencils still color. But paper that's good for markers and paper that's good for colored pencils is often not the same. Are any of the books people mention above particularly good for (prismacolor, IIRC) colored pencils?
posted by nat at 7:18 AM on December 13, 2015


I kinda started coloring before it was cool. And kind of fell out of the habit, but I'm back in again and the selection is much better now. No more plain abstract mandalas, I'm coloring mermaids, crazy gardens on a black background that I'm doing all blacklight-ish, cities, etc.

I'm thinking of bringing one to work, to help fill in compile/test time instead of web surfing.

But if I was going to pick one of these up at the supermarket checkout, what kind of pens/pencils/brushes should I get?

Pencils probably (we've had success with Crayola, the Target store brand, and Artist's Loft). They never get ink on you or other pages, they don't soak through pages, they let you shade and blend, they are easier to fill in fine details with, and you can run them right over detailed black lines without obscuring them.

Gel pens are fun too though where there aren't fine details. They come in all kinds of crazy neon and metallic inks, and don't need to be sharpened.

Fine brush markers are probably out unless you're doing single-sided pages (and have something to protect the next page), are extra-patient and steady, and there are relatively large shapes without tiny details. Maybe some kind of Micron type pen would work, but those are expensive.

Crayons pretty much suck.
posted by Foosnark at 7:18 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


These pysanky style cards and colouring books were done by a dear friend of mine and I think they rock. But I may be biased.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:27 AM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


ChuraChura I am the worlds shittiest colorer. I bought some coloring books and pencils and immediately started stressing the fuck out because I can't stay in the lines or choose the right colors. I hated coloring as a kid for this reason. But I decided to do it anyway as a way to be kind to the kid I used to be. A re-parenting of sorts. I still look at some of the pages and think they're not the prettiest but I am able to enjoy the process.
posted by mokeydraws at 7:31 AM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


At our church kids Halloween party, there was a coloring table none if the kids cared about. Their socially awkward parents found it very helpful as a way to have something to do that made chatting less stressful, though. Soon we were all gathered and relaxed. I think including legos and clay would have made it even better to include non colorers.
posted by emjaybee at 7:56 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Coloring with my kids is fun. By myself I'd much rather read.

The cultural perspective on coloring is interesting. I was reading Ramona (the Brave, I think, or Ramona and Beezus--one of the first books, when she's in K) with my daughter and Ramona and the kids are told that coloring is "not creative" and they should draw instead. I'll try to find the reference ...

Crayons pretty much suck.

Crayons do not suck but for these "adult" coloring books with tiny little pieces to color, pencils are much better.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Noticed how much of thing this was the other week when I was browsing art books on amazon and saw how the dominated the listings and then a bit later the huge section devoted to them in WH Smiths. Dead easy to get snooty about them but I've heard from a friend that they can be very therapeutic for mental health problems.

Meanwhile I'll just be over here spending hours hand rendering digital paintings. Which is TOTALLY DIFFERENT.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2015


I recently did one of those "paint a simple artwork and drink wine" evenings and I wonder if this is related? My painting kind of sucked, but everyone else's did too, and the point of the wine was to make you not care. It was surprisingly fun and low-stress. The instructors were obviously decent painters but very patient with the fact that none of us were.
posted by emjaybee at 8:23 AM on December 13, 2015


I've sometimes wondered if there was a place where Tom Tierney was a mega-celebrity. This must be that place.
posted by acrasis at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fine brush markers are probably out unless you're doing single-sided pages (and have something to protect the next page), are extra-patient and steady, and there are relatively large shapes without tiny details. Maybe some kind of Micron type pen would work, but those are expensive.

Stabilo point 88 (0.4mm thick) and Staedtler Triplus are affordable, and I've had also success with Maped fine point markers which are even cheaper (at least in Europe. I see all of them a bit more expensive in Amazon, I swear the Graph'Peps 20 marker set cost me under 8€.). But for big areas I've also used Stabilo point 68 (1mm thick).

For pencils, I have a swank Faber-Castell watercolor pencils set but Staedtler Ergosoft are wonderful to hold in your hand. This is an adult hobbyist (not serious artist colors) line, the Staedtler Noris series pencils are for kids and cheaper but I found mine a bit gritty.

And something I remembered after my former comment: Vogue UK does have a coloring book, too :D
posted by sukeban at 8:52 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


My neighbourhood art shop ran a colouring book workshop. That's not how I'd spend $30, but apparently it was very popular.
posted by bibliotropic at 9:36 AM on December 13, 2015


I was reading Ramona (the Brave, I think, or Ramona and Beezus--one of the first books, when she's in K) with my daughter and Ramona and the kids are told that coloring is "not creative" and they should draw instead.
Yeah, that was a thing, I think. My mom got my brother and I something called, I think, The Un-Coloring Book, or maybe it was the Anti-Coloring Book, which had all sorts of little activities which were supposed to stimulate creativity and not make you stay within the lines like a good little foot-soldier for conformity. Basically, people have been angsting that kids are doing it wrong since always, and kids have kept doing whatever they thought was fun since time immemorial.

Anyway, I'm going to visit my brother and his family next week, and I'm thinking about getting some of those Dover coloring books and a set of nice colored pencils. My nephews and I don't really have a common language, so it's always a little hard to find stuff to do together, and I think that grown-up coloring might be a good thing. I hope they don't think it's too babyish, though: they're 8 and 6, and the older one might think that coloring is for little kids.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:53 AM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had the Anti-Colouring Book in the 80s too! And look how I turned out.
posted by colie at 11:50 AM on December 13, 2015


I don't use a coloring book-me and straight lines don't get along. But there are lovely ink , watercolor and paint pencils you can buy at your local Dick Blick or on amazon. For about 12$ you can absent mindedly be Pollocky or Warhollian or Manet-esque. It's soothing and fun. And the magic of art is that when you do it just for you- it can be as beautiful as you want it to be.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 12:23 PM on December 13, 2015


There is some great information (from AskMe) about pens and pencils and crayons here.
posted by merelyglib at 12:52 PM on December 13, 2015


Bendy, i wonder if you can invest in a foot pedal of some sort for your camera.

On media for colouring book use, I also have some gelly roll gel pens. Not a whole set, but a 3-pack of metalics, a white, and a clear sparkle. I also have some blues and greens for accents in places.

I use the metallics for metal stuff (not colouring in large things, but details like nails, or metal handles on buckets or hinges on doors). The metallic gelly roll pens really are metallic, not like the supposed metallic pencil crayons, which don't really have a metallic look at all, IMO.

I use the white to A) Correct mistakes (just use the white pen to draw over the stray coloured line) B) Erase bits of the picture that I think need erasing (e.g. some mountains that I decided to give snowy peaks, I went over the outline of the mountain above the snow-line with the white pen so instead of snow-blackoutline-sky, it's now just snow against sky.).

The sparkly I use for sparkly light-reflective stuff. For example a spider-web -- trace over the black lines with the white pen then go over the lines again with the clear sparkle. Instead of a spiderweb in black outline, it's a spider web that glistens in the light. Ditto dandelions that have gone to seed, or the occasional detail on a christmas tree.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:24 PM on December 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


So weird the tangential paths of fads… The first "adult" coloring book I remember being big was the Gangster Rap coloring book back in 2007, 2008 or so. There have been a bunch of others, though rarely as intricate as Basford's.

But as for doing something with your hands while you watch TV or whatever, yeah. I totally get that. I often screw around and sketch while I watch TV, or when I'm stuck with writer's block. Similar to McLuhan, since I write and work with words all day, I tend to think of that as very "loud" — involved, irascible, detailed, sequential or narrative — and think of drawing or visual work as "quiet," in that it's atemporal, that I can make it first and worry about interpretation afterward, and can be done without a lot of conscious intent.

I do think my hippy upbringing colors (no pun intended) some of my reaction to the framing of this stuff — the notion that coloring is "hard" or that you can fail at it by picking the wrong colors seems kind of alien to me. I mean, if you want to be able to display the finished pieces, I guess, but then just make copies of the pages and play around. And fundamentally, I feel like people wildly overestimate the difficulty of drawing — like, there's this narrative that has people saying that they're no good at drawing or no good at art (here seen as then justifying buying coloring books) instead of recognizing that they're unpracticed at it. Almost anyone can draw serviceably well if they spend a little time at doing drawing exercises (like, spend five minutes drawing straight lines down a page. You'll get better at drawing straight lines and perspective pretty quickly; spend five minutes drawing circles or curves, you'll get better at drawing circles and curves, etc.). Being able to understand color is handy and a skill, but it feels like some of the folks in the articles are using the presumptive irony of adults coloring to insulate themselves from a fear of failure, instead of recognizing that no one is good at drawing unless they practice and it's OK for sketches to look wonky. The two most important principles if you want to get good at art are: Have art supplies you enjoy using handy, and remember that art supplies expire if you don't use them. Past that, it's just practicing techniques that interest you until you feel confident with them.

"In 3rd grade, my teacher kept me in at recess on a fairly regular basis because of my poor coloring on assignments, and told me that her 3 year old colored better than I did. It's the only time my parents have ever done my homework for me, because my mother loves coloring. I really wish this was something I could do, because there are so many cool and interesting and pretty coloring books, and I actually have a human evolution coloring book, I but looking at all those lines to stay inside of just stressed me the hell out and turned me back into a type-A 8-year-old who is failing at something in school no matter how hard she tries."

Your art teacher was a goddamned moron and was likely not good enough to teach older kids technique but too bitter to be trusted with younger kids. The next time you get a coloring book, look once at the page to get a rough sense of where the borders of the shape are, then just take crayons or pencils or pastels or markers or whatever you think are pretty and make areas of color without looking at the page at all. Focus on how the crayons (or whatever) feel in your hands — try different pressure, try different grips, try using the tip to draw lines or shade with the sides, but don't look at the paper at all. Just get used to making marks and not having them have to look like anything. After a while — maybe set a timer, so that you know when you're "done" — look at the page. It's going to be a big goddamned mess, but there are going to be places where things look cool — you'll see nice overlaps of color, or areas where the coincidence of the image on the page and your coloring implies an interesting meaning, or even just getting a sense of what things look like when you try different pressures. Give yourself permission to throw away the paper if you want to, or keep it if you want. But the important things are: 1) You're in control, not the coloring book or your teacher; 2) You're playing with materials, not trying to make a finished piece; and 3) Learning where your hand is when you're not looking at it is a really valuable skill that's really hard to learn without making a ton of ugly shit. As you get better at that skill, you'll be better able to draw things that you see since you'll be able to keep looking at them while you draw. (In fact, that's probably one area where coloring books teach a bad habit — they really encourage looking at the page a lot, rather than at something else, especially when you fall into the tyrannical rubric of staying inside the lines.)

Finally, with all this print about this fad, I'm gonna get in on the ground floor of the next one: Time to start making Paint By Numbers for adults.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on December 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


In a sea of flowers and mandalas, I found the Martyrdom coloring book to be more up my dark alley.
posted by quince at 2:22 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Weren't paint by numbers already for adults? I seem to remember as a kid thinking that they were way too hard for kids.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:26 PM on December 13, 2015


I could maybe get into colouring (and I'll admit it, I just googled "Art Nouveau colouring book" just to see what was out there) but for the fact that it has the same drawback as video games: lack of a worthwhile, useful result. I mean, I guess you could frame pictures you coloured and hang them on the wall, but I don't see that look working unless you hung them in the kind of room that isn't decorated to such a high standard anyway: a basement recreation room, a study, the bathroom. Knitting and other forms of needlework fill that "something relatively mindless you can do to relax" niche for me, and I get to put the things I make to good use.
posted by orange swan at 5:02 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a kid I loved the Infamous Women coloring book. Examples: Agrippina. Queen Boudicca. Eadburga. The Empress Irene. Roxelana. Mata Hari. And many more…
posted by Lexica at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2015


I was coloring a few years ago, and quickly learned that I find the detailed, lots-of-tiny-regions-to-color, must have sharp pencils, type of coloring book to be fussy and no fun. I find it way more fun to get one that has big designs and color it with crayons. It's much more about the physical enjoyment of the coloring motion in the moment, not about making a million little decisions toward an artistic finished product.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


orange swan, I have found the coloring book for us! In the words of Homer Simpson: "Practical aaand alluring!"
posted by bakerina at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay I will be the dissenter - I have no interest in colouring books, or zen tangles. None. And I say this as someone who loves colour, and choosing what colours to use where, and excuses to buy pens and stationery. And as someone who is happy doing 'finicky' things for fun (I used to find setting type by hand a wonderful, fun thing to do). Not knocking it for others - we would be a boring place if everyone loved the same things - but count me out of this movement/trend. I'll be over in the corner reading or knitting. Show me your lovely work when you are done.
posted by Megami at 10:43 PM on December 13, 2015


Knitting and other forms of needlework fill that "something relatively mindless you can do to relax" niche for me, and I get to put the things I make to good use.

Yeah, I was thinking myself that cross-stitch, while it's more complex to get going and fiddlier as a task, leaves you with much nicer results.

Plus, if you like old video games, it goes perfectly with classic pixel-art.
posted by rifflesby at 11:10 PM on December 13, 2015


"Okay I will be the dissenter - I have no interest in colouring books, or zen tangles. "

OK, but just saying you don't like it and aren't going to take part in a trend is kinda shruggo. Either you've got a reason that's salient, or you're just declaring that no thank you you won't live your summer in a yurt, when nobody's been packing your yak saddle.
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 AM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also - haven't got these yet, but they look perfect for the non-tiny-detail school of coloring.
By Theo Nicole Lorenz:

Fat Ladies in Space
Unicorns are Jerks
Dinosaurs with Jobs
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:47 AM on December 14, 2015


I can't believe no one's mentioned The Cunt Coloring Book!

I love coloring books, adult-rated and not, and am really excited to see more awesome ones become available. I love coloring, I love altering coloring books or mixing them up with collage elements, I basically love anything that involves crayons and scissors.

I think other than the above-mentioned Cunt Coloring Book, my favorites are More Altair Design, Fat Ladies In Space, the Johanna Basford books, and this old one I have from childhood that's all snowflakes. I also have a ridiculously awesome coloring and activity book about punk bands.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just got two coloring books and colored pencils for Hanukkah. Crazy.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:20 PM on December 15, 2015


I sent my sister a Star Wars colouring book for Christmas. I know she's going to love it. I may buy one for myself.
posted by Jalliah at 1:32 PM on December 15, 2015


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