Adult coloring books, perceptual lattices, and Altair Designs
December 15, 2017 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Where did adult coloring books come from? Well, The Little Folks Painting Book (1879) begat Buster’s Paint Book (1907) begat A Coloring Book: Drawings By Andy Warhol (1953) begat The Executive Coloring Book (1961) begat The Gay Coloring Book (1964)...and so on, right down to the amazing Altair Designs of the 1970s. And that's where close packing of circles, the tile makers of Morocco, and perceptual lattices come in, thanks to the authorial partnership between an aspiring mathematician and a practicing psychologist. Roger Burrows remembers the origin of Altair Designs.

Bonus, from Burrows: Altair Designs Complete A Circle
For many years I’ve wondered where the original structure was that inspired the development of Altair designs.

Daud Sutton, a specialist in Islamic Design, sent me an email from Cairo just a few days ago. He has found found the original structure – a latticed window – that has inspired so many of us...

A window’s lattice was constructed in about 1356 CE in the Mosque- Madrasa of Amir Salf al-din, Sargatmish in what is now, ‘Old-Cairo.’
posted by MonkeyToes (14 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
One of the most o_O conversations if my librarian career occurred due to Adult Coloring Books.

Patron: Do you have any of those adult coloring books?
Me: No, but we are looking into them.
P: You should order them.
M: We probably will, but we need to figure out the logistics.
P: What do you mean?
M: If we can make copies of pages for people to color. We don't want people coloring in the book.
P: But I want to color in the book.
M: Yes, but other people may want to color, so we are thinking about setting up a copying serv-
M: But if you do that, nobody else can color in it?
P: They can color over my colors.
M: Okay? How would you feel if you borrowed the book from the library and somebody colored in it?
P: I would complain. Obviously.
M: ... ... Okay. I'll pass your suggestion along.

We never purchased any adult coloring books.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:05 PM on December 15, 2017 [70 favorites]

Aw man, haven't thought of Altair Designs in years and years. I have fond memories of being gifted an Altair book and colored pencils one Christmas when I was around 10-12. Spent rather a lot of time with that book. Now I have to wonder if it's a source of my lifelong love of abstract design.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:29 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I sniff derisively at your shards and patterns (well, no, not really) and direct you to the one true late sixties source of coloring books at Bellerophon. I call your attention in particular to Japan and Mesoamerica, and also Mexico.

I know the late, great, Greg Irons produced an American Revolution coloring book for them too, but sadly the online marketing here does not hold a candle to the Altair site above, so I can't tell offhand if it's still in print.

Seriously, Altair didn't even rate in my experience of seventies psychedelic coloring material. Admittedly, I was a first grader, so possibly your use of the term 'adult' is here apropos. OTOH I do sort of cringe from what a coloring book designed and marketed as 'adult' in 1973 might have connoted.
posted by mwhybark at 6:14 PM on December 15, 2017

hm, reflecting, that Irons book might have been more likely published by Troubador Press in SFO.
posted by mwhybark at 6:20 PM on December 15, 2017

Um, I'm not seeing how Burrows thinks that Bourgoin 151 looks anything like that jali screen in the second link. The screen does a series of elegant 8-6-8 sided transitions, while Bourgoin's is almost all four-sided with lumpy transitions.

This sort of thing is extremely my shit, so I'm glad it pointed me to a pattern book I'd never heard of before: Moorish remains in Spain
posted by scruss at 6:23 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was expecting a discussion about adult colouring books to include a mention of The Cunt Coloring Book.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:33 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

This is also extremely my shit. I adored Altair Designs as a tween and have been in a lifelong swoon over Moorish-style geometrics ever since. Great post; thanks!
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:41 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

GrammarMoses, you might like this mind blowing Girih Animation thing.
posted by smcameron at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

And there's a paper, here: Decagonal and Quasi-Crystalline Tilings in Medieval Islamic Architecture (pdf).
posted by smcameron at 8:16 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Gay Coloring Book, 1964, in its entirety, with additional advertising materials. Probably NSFW. Definitely amazing.
posted by darksasami at 9:57 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

(Altair Designs link requires Flash)
posted by ardgedee at 3:49 AM on December 16, 2017

robocop is bleeding, I just snorted water on my work monitor having read that comment. Oh my, I needed a good laugh/smile. Thank you for that share. :)
posted by Fizz at 5:52 PM on December 16, 2017

Wonderful post! I had tons of Altair Designs books in my youth and spent many a happy evening colouring them in.

I found one at a charity shop recently that wasn't completely coloured in, and have set it aside for a quiet evening!
posted by vickyverky at 7:36 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whoa, I had completely forgotten about those Altair books. I still don't really remember colouring in them, but the patterns are so familiar.
posted by lucidium at 8:52 AM on December 17, 2017

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