In 2007 Johanna Basford, a British illustrator for Nike and Absolut Vodka, released free a series of desktop wallpaper. Soon, people began downloading Basford’s wallpaper, claiming that the act of coloring in her work calmed them.
As word of Basford’s therapeutic art spread, she was approached by Lauren King Publishing, a publisher who was interested in having her create a line of children coloring books.
Basford however, had different plans.
“For years people have been telling me that they would like to color my monochrome creations, so I pitched them a coloring book for grown ups,” she told BuzzFeed News. “At that time coloring for adults wasn’t the global trend that it is now, so they were understandably a bit skeptical.”
Basford released her first adult coloring book in 2012. Since then she has sold over 2 million copies (wow). She currently (Dec, 2015) has three of the top twenty best selling books on Amazon, and is accompanied by four other coloring books that round out the best seller’s list. Amazingly, over the summer her books held the top two best selling books on Amazon were her’s.
But do adult coloring books actually work?
Of course, adult coloring books could just be another example of our generation refusing to grow up. Adult summer camps are now a thing, as are adult preschool classes. Could this just be another fad?
Yes, it could, but adult coloring books as a stress-relieving tool has the backing of science.
Before the coloring book craze came to be, the famed psychiatrist Carl Jung used art in the early 1900s as a relaxation technique with his patients. Jung had patients color in mandalas: circular designs with concentric shapes similar to the windows of Gothic churches. Jung would use his patient’s art work to understand their emotions.
While I wouldn’t go as far to say that using a midnight blue vs. a navy blue in a coloring book is a sign that you’re moody, adult coloring books are a useful decompression tool.
As a person colors, they use logic when coloring within the lines and creativity when deciding what color match best. The small, precise coloring movements activates the cerebral cortex, which relaxes the part of brain that controls emotion and stress.
In other words, when we color we focus on the coloring and not our worries.
In addition calming affect, coloring has also proven to help adults connect with their inner child. In 1966, Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist, studied Charles Whitman, the famous killer who gunned down 48 people from a tower at the University of Texas.
Brown discovered that as a child Whitman rarely was allowed to play. This finding spurred Brown to study 26 more mass murderers, which showed that 96% of them had a similar history of having very little playtime in their childhood.
Using his study, Brown went on to write a book showing a correlation between how much play we experience and our success in the academic world, our ability to reduce stress reduction and innovate at work.
In other words, more play equals more success in life.
So then why aren’t Moon Shoes or Tamagotchi’s popular among adults? Because coloring books, unlike most toys, are guided. You don’t have to think when doing it. There aren’t any instructions or rules. And there’s not an overwhelming blank page to think about what to do next, or thousands of choices to pick from that cramp your brain.
Following the pattern in a coloring book is soothing. It’s a niche activity that you do while watching Netflix. No thinking. Just doing.
So go ahead. Get yourself a coloring book. You can blame your purchase on science. You’re welcome.
For all you coloring noobs, here’s a link for Basford’s top-selling book.