Adult Coloring Books Test Grown-Ups’ Ability to Stay Inside the Lines – Wall Street Journal
While returning a book to the public library in Dormont, Pa., recently, Anastasia Mustian spotted a flier promoting a new activity there: BYOB coloring-book parties. She snapped a picture of the flier and texted it to several friends.
On the appointed evening, Ms. Mustian grabbed her coat, snatched up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and told her teenage daughter she was heading out to color. “My daughter was like, ‘Really? Coloring?’ ” Ms. Mustian said.
Yoga, Zumba and CrossFit weren’t enough to calm us down. Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga
may have helped for a while, but they are part of the electronic-device world, with its upsetting emails and Facebook
rants. So, seeking solace in a scary world, some adults are heading back to kindergarten.
Bill Sannwald, manager of the North Park Branch of the San Diego library, began noticing earlier this year that when parents brought their children to craft sessions, they weren’t just watching the children smear glue and glitter into sticky messes. “They were saying, ‘Well, let me make a little something too,’ ” Mr. Sannwald said. One mom twisted pipe cleaners into bug shapes. “I could tell she was really proud of it,” he said.
Mr. Sannwald decided to start craft programs for adults. The library recently offered Stress Relief Through Doodling. Now he is preparing to join hundreds of other public libraries across the country offering coloring sessions for grown-ups.
At the Dormont library, Ms. Mustian, a 49-year-old mother of two, was so absorbed in coloring an intricate elephant that she nearly forgot her wine. She and her friends agreed that coloring was a potent stress buster.
“It’s just mindless and fun,” said Diane Barna. “There’s no right or wrong.”
Seated across the table, Krista Reed said: “No one’s critiquing you.”
Eight of the top 20 selling books on Amazon currently are coloring books designed for adults. These books tend to be much more finely detailed than those for children. Popular topics include animals, fish, flowers and mandala spiritual symbols.
Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., a British publisher, says it got the ball rolling. “A staffer said how embarrassed she was to see her mother coloring and getting enormous enjoyment,” says Michael O’Mara, founder and chairman. “We thought, ‘Why not have a stab producing a coloring book aimed at adults?’ ”
The result, “The Creative Colouring Book for Grown-Ups,” was published in the U.K. in May 2012, boasting high-grade paper and sophisticated illustrations. In 2016, says Mr. O’Mara, the house will offer adult coloring books that include a frame. “I’m in love with words and I love literature,” said Mr. O’Mara. “Now I’m known as the guy who publishes books with no words.”
A month after “The Creative Colouring Book for Grown-Ups” went on sale in the U.K., it was published in France by Hachette Pratique, an imprint of Hachette Livre, under the name “Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress.” It was published in the U.S. in 2013.
“We thought that coloring was close to the art-making process used in art therapy by psychologists,” says Anne Le Meur, editorial manager for nonfiction reference books at Hachette Pratique. “It has real antistress effects like mindfulness and meditation.”
The current queen of the category is a shy 32-year-old illustrator, Johanna Basford, who works in the attic of her rural home near Aberdeen, Scotland, and used to draw pictures for vodka bottles and book covers. Her “Secret Garden” and “Enchanted Forest” coloring books, published by Laurence King Publishing Ltd., are among 2015’s top 20 best-selling books in the U.S., according to Nielsen BookScan. She has said she likes to “hide little curiosities within each illustration.”
Ms. Basford jumped to a different publisher this year, striking a two-book deal with Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Her newest title, “Lost Ocean,” was published in October. Her fans bombard her with online suggestions. “People seem really keen on an outer space [coloring] book,” she said. “I have to remind them that space is essentially a big black mass.”
The coloring fad also has a stressful side. Mia Galison, owner of eeBoo Corp., a New York-based designer of educational toys and other products, in August noticed a spike in demand for colored pencils. Since then, her sales of the pencils, including a 24-piece set that retails for about $13, have been three or four times higher than normal, and she keeps running out. It takes about six months between making an order and receiving the pencils from her supplier in Taiwan, so she is struggling to guess how strong demand will be in June.
“There’s a risk that the fad will abruptly burn out,” Ms. Galison said, but she hopes to establish a longer-term niche in high-end colored pencils.
Jenna Gaydos, who works for a commercial real-estate firm in Chicago, received an “Enchanted Forest” book and 64 Crayola markers as a wedding shower gift this year. The 27-year-old prefers to sit alone at home when she colors, sometimes while listening to classical music. Before the advent of adult coloring books, she occasionally bought the children’s variety but found them too simple.
“Some people like to work out,” Ms. Gaydos said. “I like to color.”
In San Diego, Elizabeth Mansur, a health and wellness coach, holds monthly two-hour “Color Yourself Calm” sessions in her home for up to 10 people. The fee is $5. First, she said, “we sit and meditate for five minutes to calm everybody down.” Then come introductions, tea and cookies. Cellphones are turned off. Ms. Mansur plays calming music and lights lavender-scented candles. After the coloring, the participants show one another their pictures and discuss “their feelings about it,” Ms. Mansur said.
Randi Levin of Bergen County, N.J., also was quick to see the potential in coloring. Ms. Levin calls herself a transitional reinvention coach (“a fancy way of saying life doesn’t play out in a straight line”). In October, she began holding two-hour Recoloring Life workshops for $30 to $50 a person. “We talk about what colors mean and why you might gravitate to a certain one,” Ms. Levin said.
What happens when adults tire of coloring? Little, Brown & Co., a publishing division of Hachette Book Group, thinks it has the answer. In January, it plans to bring out the first two books in a series of connect-the-dot titles for grown-ups.
“A lot of people think that’s where this will go,” said Carina Guiterman, an assistant editor. “We haven’t seen the end of creative expression.”