At my local Barnes and Noble the other day, I noticed that an entire display by the door is nothing but adult coloring books. There were easily fifteen different ones on the shelf, each one offering intricate designs for frazzled adults to sit and color in hopes of restoring their sanity.
Apparently 2015 was the Year of the Adult Coloring Book, a publishing success story that very few saw coming.
But frankly, I — like a lot of moms, probably — figured this one out long ago. I’ve known for years that sitting at a table with my kids and coloring in outlines, be they of Sesame Street characters or Hot Wheels cars, is a very renewing and positive thing.
A few weeks ago, in fact, the boys and I sat down on a rainy Sunday to color. We had kids’ coloring books of the robot and cars variety; we had an old Ballet coloring book of mine from days long past (you find all kinds of things when you clean out your desk). I colored in the picture of the ballet “La Sylphide” as the raindrops fell and the boys and I took turns sharing a box of color pencils. A good time was had by all.
From a parenting perspective, there is something about coloring with your kids that leads to conversation. I’ve found that when we are sitting at a table, each with our head bent over a coloring book, conversation seems to go in directions I wouldn’t have expected and could never orchestrate myself. It’s akin to what parents of teenagers often say about driving; when you are sitting in the car with your kids, they tend to open up, maybe because you’re not looking right at them and that little bit of space makes it easier for them to venture into more difficult topics. I like that my boys will bring up random subjects over coloring books. I learn a lot about them when they do.
And for my own self, I find it enjoyable to do something that focuses more on the visual than the verbal. I adore writing and love playing around with words, but I find it renewing to branch out every now and then. There’s a school of thought that says that any creative pursuit, even if it’s not the one in which you specialize, helps you as an artist, and I have to agree. Doing things with pictures makes the words come more easily.
Some might argue that coloring in coloring books is a watered-down sort of creativity. I get that argument; coloring someone else’s picture is not as creative as drawing my own. But I’ve found that isn’t really the point, and that coloring books still shake something loose inside me. There’s actually a prayer analogy here; I like to pray with my own words, and I often do. But there are times when putting my own feelings (which may be a mystery even to myself) into words simply makes it harder for me to pray. Those are times when I turn to the Our Father or the rosary, glad that I can use someone else’s words and free myself from the self-imposed pressure of having to do it all myself. I let someone else draw the prayer lines and I move within them, some part of me freer for doing so.
So I can’t say I’m surprised by the success of coloring books among the over-twenty set. It’s a simple pastime that really isn’t simple at all.