Just in time for the first National Coloring Book Day
on August 2, coloring for adults is not only acceptable — it's trendy. Funnily enough, to those who spend most days "staying inside the lines" at work, coloring (inside the lines, or out) has proven a welcome escape.
Zen Coloring Books' 'Color Me Happy.' (Race Point Publishing)
Though a pretty page may be the ultimate prize, the value of coloring can be found in the process itself. Many adult colorers, who are buying up these books in New Jersey and across the country, vouch for the power of the creative ritual to distract from daily stress and electronic overload.
"I view coloring as a simplified version of art therapy, almost as like a meditative behavior," says Francine Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist in Parsippany.
Of course, coloring books are historically associated with crayon-carrying children filling in pages adorned with images of their favorite cartoon characters. But Rosenberg says coloring can legitimately function as an "active" form of meditation, one that involves a physical activity, like origami or yoga.
"You're focusing on this one thing and the rest of the world starts to melt away," she says.
Since 2012, more than 3 million coloring books have been sold from Creative Haven, a line from Dover Publications
, the company sponsoring the coloring book day.
Dover, a company based in Mineola, N.Y., published "Antique Automobiles Coloring Book," its first book for adults and more experienced artists, in 1970. Today, its Creative Haven collection, part of a stable of 150 coloring books, includes edgier picks like "Steampunk Designs" and "Modern Tattoo Designs." In 2014, the company published a Grumpy Cat coloring book
. The tagline: "Color outside the lines? Good."
There are also classic themes like flowers and geometric shapes. Some of the pages are printed on translucent paper vellum, to mimic the look of stained glass when held up to a window. Pages are "perfed out," meaning they can easily be torn out for display, or printed on one side only, on heavier stock than the grainy coloring books of yore, says Ken Katzman, Dover's vice president of marketing.
While coloring can be a very solo activity, it can also work very well with social media — and socializing in general.
"We have thousands of people in the coloring community," Katzman says. They use hashtags to share their work on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as meet in person.
"People get together to do coloring in the way they do book clubs," he says. The sense of camaraderie in following an art directive parallels other trendy stress killers, like paint and sip studios
where friends and family meet for wine and easels.
Since coloring can be such a universal activity, the range of adult colorers varies. A college student looking to unwind during final exams. A hospital patient in rehab trying to strengthen motor skills. A 9-to-5'er pouring a glass of wine after work.
People would like to be creative and they just don't know how to go about it.
The work of Susan Bloomenstein, a graphic artist from Englewood, can be seen in both Creative Haven and Dover coloring books.
"I like visualizing what people can do with them," she says. She says she's noticed the surge in the popularity of the books, both on Pinterest and Instagram, where people post their finished pages, and through fan mail.
Bloomenstein says she's been wowed by how those who use her designs transform them completely, simply through the use of color and shading. All they needed was a pattern. "People would like to be creative and they just don't know how to go about it," she says.
As for the relaxation potential of coloring, the actual idea of de-stressing is the theme of some coloring books.
One selection from Art Therapy
transports its audience to an "enchanted forest," while another uses Buddha himself to guide you to artistic nirvana. Mandalas — designs of Hindu and Buddhist tradition that symbolize the universe and act as meditation aids — are a hot theme for coloring books, too. Zen-brand coloring books have titles like "Color Me Happy" and "Color Me Calm," boasting 100 pages of therapeutic scenes.
"Just on Monday, I went to see a patient in the waiting room and there she was, just coloring in a coloring book," says Francine Rosenberg, psychologist at the Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany.
That particular patient said coloring helped allay her anxiety, but Rosenberg sees the practice as a helpful tool in any effort to relax.
A Buddhism-themed coloring book from Art Therapy. (Jacqui Small LLP)
Plus, it doesn't hurt that coloring, a mainstay of childhood, may conjure memories of more carefree times, Rosenberg says. Memories potent enough to power a wave of creative nostalgia.
"In the last six months, it's just exploded," says Lizzie Auer, a category buyer at Chicago-based Blick Art Materials.
"The number of adult coloring books that are out there right now has increased, like, tenfold. We're in the process of adding a lot right now."
For both hobbyists and more advanced artists, with adult coloring books, the more intricate the designs, the better, she says.
Katzman, from Dover Publications, says the popularity of adult coloring books spurred the company's addition of a line of Spark coloring books for children.
"Within the past few months we've been getting a lot of people coming in asking for coloring books," adds Philip D'Martino, a store associate at Blick's retail outlet in Paramus. "It started around Christmas time."
Auer says it probably helps that more adults are learning that it's socially permissible to color, and not just in idle doodle time, but on purpose, and for coloring's sake.
"Maybe they're less embarrassed about doing it," she says.
Click below to download these coloring book pages