Adults coloring for stress relief
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Adults coloring to relieve stress, have fun
Creative hobby gains popularity as a convenient way to unwind, with or without the kids
BY BARBARA BROTMAN AND CORILYN SHROPSHIRE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Inside a North Side play gym, the scene was one of quiet bliss.
Women sat at a long table, quietly coloring in pictures in coloring books. It could have been kindergarten, only the paper cups with pictures of Elsa and Anna from “Frozen” were filled with wine.
“Wine and coloring — you can’t beat that,” Heidi Jacobson said happily as she headed over to take her place with a coloring book of her own.
This BYOB coloring party, hosted by a toy store owner for a meetup group of mothers, was evidence of the explosive popularity of adult coloring books. The traditional child’s activity has been adopted by growing numbers of grownups who find that coloring imparts a welcome sense of meditative calm.
Sales of the books — coloring books designed to be filled in by grownups, and beloved primarily by women — are soaring.
Katherine McHenry, owner of Building Blocks Toy Store and host of this recent party, has sold 800 since June. Three of the 10 top-selling books on Amazon are adult coloring books. The intricately drawn “Secret Garden” by Johanna Basford, widely credited with igniting the current boom when it was published in 2013, and her follow-up, “Enchanted Forest,” together have sold more than 13 million books worldwide, according to Laurence King Publishing.
“Adult coloring is one of the fastest-growing categories that we have,” said Alex Perruzzi, vice president of gifts at Barnes & Noble.
The books’ popularity is due to the fervent devotion of people like Emily Bower, a mother of two at the BYOB party who was coloring a tableau of rabbits and trees from “Enchanted Forest.”
“It’s really addictive,” said Bower, who often starts coloring at 9:30 p.m., after her children are in bed, and finds that she can’t stop. “I think, ‘I’ll do one more leaf; just one more leaf’ — and then it’s 11:30,” she said.
Fans say coloring is an easy, pleasurable way to reduce stress and focus the mind.
“It’s a perfect antidote to my brain going on and on,” said Sister Melanie Paradis, a Wheaton Franciscan sister who brings coloring books on religious retreats. “We’ve got so much coming at us all the time; it’s nice to be mindful.”
The testimonials are supported by science. A 2005 study conducted at Knox College and published in Art Therapy, the journal of the American Art Therapy Association, found that coloring a mandala — a circular form associated with meditation and spiritual transformation — or a plaid design for 20 minutes decreased anxiety — and that free-form drawing did not.
It was so effective, the study concluded, that coloring might be able to ease test-taking anxiety or fear of flying.
The key was coloring designs with structure, said Tim Kasser, professor and chair of psychology at Knox College and co-author of the study with Nancy Curry, a senior who conceived it. Anxiety is marked by feeling of chaos, he said. Meditation is successful at reducing anxiety partly because it is practiced with structured activities like chanting, mindful breathing or moving rosary beads.
Similarly, “we think that the structure of the mandala and the plaid design sort of countered that unstructured feeling by giving people something to focus their attention on,” he said.
At the party, where the air was filled with chatting and the soft sound of “scritch scritch” of pencil on paper, women echoed the study.
“It’s like meditation because you have something to focus on and you can let your mind go,” said Stephanie Cwik.
“It helps you forget about a lot of things,” said Ishani Patel, mother of a young son. “Like right now — is he sleeping? … I don’t care. My elephant is pretty.”
Some of the women were using colored pencils, which allow for shading. Others are partial to markers, including ones tipped with brushes.
They praised coloring as a creative outlet for anyone. It requires no talent, experience or skill; it produces a beautiful picture; and it doesn’t stoke feelings of inadequacy.
“I’ve never looked at a coloring page and said, ‘How did someone else do this?’ ” said Amber Liset.
It is an activity that can be done alongside kids, the moms say, and that promotes quiet concentration.
“My son watches me, and he’ll just bring his crayon box and sit for 20 minutes,” said Reemaa Konkimalla, whose son is 3. “Twenty minutes — that’s good.”
And coloring is inexpensive, said McHenry, who sells books, pencils and markers in her store’s two locations. She had set up a display of books for sale during the party. In addition to Basford’s intricate designs, there were books of mandalas, books of street scenes of New York and Paris, and volumes titled “Color Me Calm” and “Color Me Happy.”
The possibilities appear endless. There are coloring books of great works of art. One publisher produces coloring books of “Game of Thrones,” “Parks and Rec,” “Voldemort” and “Hunky Dudes” (in 2 volumes).
Crayola this month launched a line of adult coloring kits, “Color Escapes,” including illustration sheets, colored pencils and markers. “We thought, ‘Why not? Why isn’t Crayola playing in this space?’ ” said spokeswoman Erika Merklinger.
The Chicago Public Library has jumped in too. The Harold Washington Library Center is running its second round of an adult coloring raffle contest. Coloring sheets — made by a library staffer and her sister, both artists — are available on the library’s eighth floor along with pencils. Patrons can fill them in, have them posted on a library window and enter their names for the Dec. 15 raffle of a copy of Basford’s “Secret Garden.”
“We have a lot of repeats
— people who enjoy it and come back and color another image,” said Michael Peters, chief of the library’s humanities division.
But coloring fans can, of course, color anywhere.
Laurie Viets, of the North Side, carries coloring books and pencils in her purse. She colors in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices. She colors at a neighborhood coffeehouse. She colors during meetings of the local school council on which she serves, finding that it helps her pay closer attention.
“It makes me feel artistic,” she said. “And I’m not a great drawer or painter. But I’m a really good colorer.” email@example.com