The Adult Coloring Craze

The adult coloring craze took me by surprise, not because I found it silly or unusual, but because I had never stopped coloring in the first place.

In 1980, I’d discovered Dover Publications while browsing a bookstore in Charleston, South Carolina, where I then lived. I felt I’d been transported to Adult Child Heaven.  Paper doll books.  Coloring books with black and white plates of subjects like wildflowers, ancient castles, woodland animals, and reproductions of famous works of art.  It was simply marvelous!  I immediately bought a Victorian era paper doll book (paper dolls also being a passion of mine from childhood) just to enjoy the illustrations of beautiful antique clothes, and then two coloring books and the largest box of crayons I could find.

Just as so many adults are now rediscovering, that resurrected childhood pastime is the most soothing activity one could request. Those of us with almost no artistic ability whatever have the chance to invoke our inner Rembrandt.  Coloring can even, when needed, be the ultimate in recreational multitasking.  One can talk on the phone, gather in a group of friends to chat and gossip, listen to music, or even half-watch TV while coloring (reruns being perfect for this endeavor.)  I suspect that if doctors took brain scans of a person who was coloring, they’d find their brainwaves had gone into the same state as a meditating Buddhist monk, if only from the repetitive, gentle back-and-forth motion of the crayon gliding over paper.

My lifelong hobby of coloring has, over the years, seen me through some painfully difficult moments. Many of those pages of coloring books in Charleston were completed while my husband was on long deployments with the Navy. Trapped in an unfamiliar city, hundreds of miles away from family and friends, I colored to ease my loneliness and depression.  Somewhat ironically, years later, that same husband and I and our young daughter were out one Sunday afternoon at a bookstore where I bought a new set of coloring books; later that same day my husband walked out, ending our marriage.  The following morning I called in sick work (sick at heart counts, right?) and kept our daughter home from school.  She and I spent the day watching mindlessly trite movies and coloring.  I recall that I colored pictures in a book of wildflower illustrations. Not long ago, I found that same coloring book on the Dover website, and, for just a moment, seeing it reinvoked all the distress of that long, sad day.

Years later, when a long-term relationship had wound to its way to an inevitable but depressing end, I found myself once again spending far too much time alone. I developed the habit of taking my coloring books and crayons and colored pencils to various coffee shops, spending hours coloring and sipping coffee, in the company of others if not precisely with anyone. Adult coloring at that time wasn’t a widely-enjoyed pastime; I endured quite a few odd glances and outright stares.  It didn’t bother me, for the activity genuinely helped me make the transition yet one more time from “woman-in-a-relationship” to  “woman unafraid to be alone”.

Coloring in public no longer earns an adult looks of consternation, and my tote bag is filled with all the newest additions to the hobby: gel pens and markers and water paint palettes; colored pencils and the super-giant box of Crayolas. I attend Adult Coloring Hours at the local library, and sit down with a dozen other people who’ve found their artistic passions and need for relaxation satisfied by adding tints to a black and white page. I now own dozens of coloring books, from a size small enough to slip into one’s purse to oversize pages. Recently I found myself adding a birthday-present-to-me selection of coloring books to my wish list on the Dover website. When I toted up the probable price, I realized that getting everything I wanted was going to cost me well over $100.  I sighed and removed all but three of the most favored books.

When the current fad for coloring  ends, as it undoubtedly will, I won’t be finished with it, any more than I have been done with coloring for the past 30 years. I will go on finding pages of pretty pictures to illustrate in my own particular way.  And no doubt my hobby will see me through many more a lonely or difficult hour.

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