How Adult Coloring Books Can Bring Out the Artist in You

Coloring books for adults are an intriguing new hobby, breaking into the mainstream like the young-adult fiction boom before them. 

How Adult Coloring Books Can Bring Out the Artist in You

Coloring books for adults are an intriguing new hobby, breaking into the mainstream like the young-adult fiction boom before them. Profiled by The New York Times and NPR, these aren't the coloring books of your youth.


The intricate pen and ink sketches inside books like Lost Ocean beg for color and allow for an exciting amount of artistic freedom. As the colorist, you can create a minimalistic, monochromatic work or a baroque drawing overflowing with lush vibrancy: How much and what kinds of color are entirely up to you. Adult coloring books are the choose-your-own-adventure novels of the drawing world.

Besides the fun of coloring, these adult books are said to have additional benefits. In scientific trials, adults who colored also experienced sensations of calm and were better able to focus after coloring. The effects are similar to meditation, but involve a task that, ironically, is easier than concentrating on doing nothing. Here are five reasons to join the adult coloring book trend.

And no doubt publishers love them. The author of Lost Ocean, Johanna Basford, has made her publisher very happy as the company struggles to keep up with demand for the book. So everyone is happy and all it took was some easy coloring. Well, that might be the problem.

Creating something we call art doesn't mean producing a sellable piece of work. It's about experiencing the joys and challenges of creation and elevating the soul to new heights.

If you've been anywhere near professional art circles, the crowd never tires of lamenting the dearth of arts funding in the U.S. compared to Europe. Anecdotally, I first noticed this in the Prince George's County shopping mall in Maryland. After some years abroad, I relocated to Washington, D.C., for grad school and in the shopping mall were enormous murals of children's drawings.

This is where I assure you I have nothing against children's art except when it comes at the expense of adult art. Because as the coloring books prove, art isn't just for kids. It's for adults too. And it's condescending toward children to teach them the importance of drawing, sculpting, painting, etc., only to discourage them from being artists themselves as they age and mature.

And this, I'm afraid, is just what adult coloring books do. They tell you that you can't create anything from scratch and must, ahem, color inside the lines. In every positive review of adult coloring books, there's a small child in an adult body who says, "Adult coloring books are perfect for me because I'm not artistically inclined." Well, if George W. Bush can oil paint, you can learn to draw too.

Creating something we call art doesn't mean producing a sellable piece of work. It's about experiencing the joys and challenges of creation and elevating the soul to new heights. It's more than the sugary success of coloring in someone else's drawing, no matter how impressive the original drawing is. If you enjoy adult coloring books, more power to you. We all need down time and a way to relax. But if you're judging yourself as incapable of something greater, have a glass of wine (for courage) and get thee to a drawing class.

Adult coloring books are like sex: It might be good for you physically, but it might demean the intimate nature of the activity, as Slavoj Zizek explains.

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