So I was colouring in Benedict Cumberbatch’s face…
I have to admit, that isn’t a sentence I ever thought I would write or that it could ever be a thing I (and the world) could do. But it is thanks to the rise and rise of adult colouring in books. They have taken the UK publishing market by storm and as someone who always loved colouring in, I am a fan.
I still remember the day a teacher told me to colour in the lines. Until then it wasn’t something I ever cared about because the joy of colouring in wasn’t the same as the joy of colouring in perfectly. But as she told me something I realised two things:
1. This wasn’t ever going to be as fun as it was at that very moment
2. Adults understood nothing
Of course I was wrong on both counts. My teacher knew exactly how rewarding it would be for me to have neat pictures, pictures which made sense. Plus it was about time I learnt to colour in the lines and no, colouring in the lines isn’t inversely related to how imaginative I was. And of course the fun factor didn’t diminish but as I grew older it was something I did less and less. As an adult, colouring in is something I do almost never, and colouring pencils were things other people owned.
Now though, being an adult who colours is the only way to be an adult.
It’s what all the cools kids are doing and advocating. It’s also a wonderful way to relax: there is something so soothing about deciding which colours to use and the actual repetitive act of colouring something in is surprisingly meditative. When colouring books started emerging into the market in 2013 I don’t think anyone predicted that they would tap into the emerging and burgeoning fitness market.
Mindfulness and mental wellbeing is as much part of fitness as classes and leggings are and when adults started commenting on how relaxing colouring in was, how much it reduced their stress and anxiety, other people started to take notice.
Now almost every major publishing house in the UK has a list of adult colouring books and they regularly make top 10 lists in physical and digital retailers’ best seller lists.
It started with publications like Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, a book full of beautifully intricate pen and ink drawings which to date has sold more than six million copies.
Six million copies. Since then Basford has released two more colouring books (Enchanted Forest and Lost Ocean respectively) but the market has also expanded so much that any and all types of colouring books are available to buy not just those based on nature. You want to colour in Ryan Gosling and Benedict Cumberbatch? Then you can. Tattoos? Nelson Mandela? Typography? Parisian Street Style? Doctor Who? Harry Potter? Porn? The Royal Family? Books on all of these and more are all available for you to buy and colour in.
Russell Brand argued that this trend is an infantilising symptom of the Peter Pan culture.
I don’t doubt that he is right; colouring in is for children. But why does it have to stay that way? And why can’t adults colour in?
The ever increasing popularity of these books suggests something far more worrying than (very simplistically) adults want to be children, it suggests that so many adults are anxious and stressed and worried.
It suggests that traditional methods of combating stress are being supplemented with colouring in, something which is cheap and easy to do and doesn’t need any specialist tools except for some coloured pencils (unless of course you are the kind of person who needs to have the right green or the right blue). How can this ever be a bad thing? If they help with someone’s mental wellbeing, if they help to make someone less anxious, even if all they do is put a smile on someone’s face then I would argue that they are a good thing.