Sharpen your colored pencils and take the caps off your gel markers. There’s a new – and yet still old-school – way to de-stress and break free of the digital world.
It goes like this: You color. In books.
OK, so there’s nothing new about coloring someone else’s illustrations – you’ve been doing it since you were old enough to grasp a crayon. But what’s remarkable is the steadily rising popularity of coloring books for adults (as opposed to adult coloring books, which as you might imagine are a completely different, more prurient endeavor).
In Charlotte, you can find them at specialty gift stores like Paper Skyscraper and craft chains like Michaels. At Franklin Square in Gastonia, a large display of greeted Michaels shoppers at the door last week.
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Amazon counts coloring books for adults among its top sellers: At this moment, there are four in the top 10, including British illustrator Johanna Basford’s popular “Secret Garden” and its follow-up “Enchanted Forest,” published earlier this year. “Secret Garden” has sold more than 1.4 million copies and has been published in 28 foreign editions.
Pop culture has taken notice: This fall, Bantam is publishing a coloring book based on “Game of Thrones,” with 45 illustrations overseen by author George R.R. Martin. (One imagines that coloring in this book will be a lot less relaxing than spending time shading in Basford’s tranquil gardens; maybe buy a few extra red markers).
Coloring in Charlotte
Meghan Huntley-Talwar, a 32-year-old freelance writer and Charlotte native, started coloring during a big career transition earlier this year. “Coloring gave me a way to ease into my new, undefined schedule each day with a bit of a creative jumpstart,” she said.
It makes her feel like a kid again. “When I was little, I had a lot of imagination,” she said. “I could sit (coloring) for hours, making up stories as I went.”
It’s not much different for her today. The time she spends coloring is brainstorming time and helps in her writing.
Huntley-Talwar has three coloring books: “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book,” “Dapper Animals” and “Stress Less Coloring: Paisley Patterns.” She also cops to having one coloring book intended for “actual children” – Lisa Frank’s “Playtime Kittens Giant Coloring and Activity Book.”
Huntley-Talwar points out a significant difference in kids’ coloring books and the adult variety: “The drawings are ridiculously detailed and intricate,” she said. She doesn’t finish a page in one sitting. “Like all good Virgos, I’m a perfectionist, so I tend to focus on one section at a time and getting it to look just so,” she said.
Tracy Russ, 47 and a principal at Solid, a Charlotte-based brand and communications firm, finds therapeutic benefit in his coloring books. “It is definitely a guilty pleasure in the same way fast food is. I’m one of those people who has colored pencils, crayons, paints and brushes that I play with, knowing I missed the boat on real visual artistic talent.”
Donna Frasca of Charlotte is in the color business. The 53-year-old interior designer prints her own coloring books from line art images on her computer. Coloring is “freedom and a break from adulthood we all need,” Frasca said.
She has a long desk in her office with colored pens and coloring pages and enjoys taking coloring breaks during her work day. She plans to eventually have her drawings bound into a book.
Why it can help
Lacy Mucklow, the art therapist who co-wrote “Color Me Calm” and “Color Me Happy” with artist Angela Porter, had previously used mandala designs – a spiritual symbol often found in Hinduism and Buddhism – in work with her patients. Pre-made designs are helpful because some patients freeze when asked to draw something of their own, she says.
“When there’s a session that’s agitating or difficult, or they’re dealing with traumatic stuff and need to calm down and refocus back into the present time, the coloring always does a good job,” she said. “With the more detailed designs, you really have to focus your mind and be in the present. ... That helps people relax. Seratonin is released, and when that’s released, calm happens.”
But for most people, coloring books perform a simple task: They allow you to relax and forget what stresses you out.
“I think a huge part of what’s making them so popular is that it’s such an absorbing, relaxing activity,” said Millie Marotta, illustrator of “Animal Kingdom” and the upcoming “Tropical World,” due out in September from Lark Crafts.
“It’s been a great way for people to get away from computer screens, iPads or whatever,” she said. “We spend so many hours of our lives these days glued to a screen. It’s nice to see people step back into something more hands on.”