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Staying within the lines in a chaotic world

When it comes to adult colouring books, there are two camps. The first disdain the waste of time; the second believe it’s a godsend. Me? Well, after a good few months of being a card-carrying critic, I’ve achieved a volte face more normally associated with the higher echelons of politics… I love it. There, I’ve said it; I’ve come out of the colouring closet. And it turns out I’m not alone: what was once considered a shady pastime is now a red hot craze…

A year ago, no respectable grown up would have dared been caught colouring cats and crocuses. But it seems we’ve all been tickled pink by a mania that’s appeared from the blue. Now crafting groups, coffee mornings and even bloggers have embraced the idea, and publishers everywhere are catering to the demand. With Amazon leading the way (adult colouring books now consistently feature amongst their bestsellers) you can snap up The Official Game of Thrones edition (frequently bought with the Harry Potter and Tolkien colouring books), Star Wars Art Therapy (with, according to one shady reviewer, “112 identical Yoda heads that you can colour in different colours”), or even the Swear Word Colouring Books (Colouring Books For Adults Featuring Stress Relieving Filthy Swear Words).

Flora (landscapes are huge) and fauna (cats and dogs are favourite) seem to be topping the lists at the moment, closely followed by patterns – a genre I much prefer, as I don’t feel constrained in my choice of colours (having started my colourful explorations with Johanna Basford’s highly acclaimed The Secret Garden, I’ve since run out of green). Of course, the main idea behind adult colouring is that it’s relaxing – a chance to stay neatly within the lines in an otherwise chaotic world. And the selection strongly reflects this collective need for stress relief: the Can’t Sleep Colouring Book (soothing sheep), Balance and Calm (pretty patterns), and – for the really, really stressed – Making Friends with Anxiety: A Calming Colouring Book (subtext: put down the Valium, pick up your paints).

Well, it’s certainly working for me. There’s nothing I enjoy better – not even knitting is as peaceful – at the end of a 16-hour work day than collapsing with my stash of pens and pencils (thank you Jumbo!). And Monica, a great friend and former psychiatric nurse, agrees. She advocates adult colouring as “a brilliant way to reduce stress, it takes you back to the simple pleasures of childhood; it’s not known as ‘art therapy’ for nothing. Personally, I get so absorbed in it I forget all my worries – it helps the brain switch off while also giving a sense of achievement.” And while she admits to no particular artistic talent, she wisely notes that “colouring requires no special ability – it’s not competitive in any way, everyone is successful at it, and it’s calming for both mind and body.”
Calming, it seems, is the operative word when it comes to colouring. Like me, most of the devotees I spoke to have high-stress jobs, endless responsibilities and little time to relax. Kathie, for example, is Head of Admin at a well-known school in Nicosia, and works “all hours of the day and night. I was a complete workaholic, busy till two in the morning each day,” she reveals. Until, that is, a week of illness…

“My first thought when I came across adult colouring books was ‘who on earth has the time to sit and do that?’ But being ill, there wasn’t a lot I could do – so I hunted out my Christmas present and gave it a go.” Cat-lover Kathie is now diligently working her way through Cats Colouring for Mindfulness, and admits it’s “great fun. When I’m colouring, my brain switches off – it’s such a relief. You start concentrating on the colours, and getting between the lines; it brings a bit of extra colour into your life, I suppose.”

Amanda is in a similarly high-profile position, and has also discovered that “having something so absorbing that you can pick up now and then is a great stress reliever. It’s something you can do with the radio quietly playing in the background, and it’s just so relaxing at the end of the day.” Her colourful experience began – as for most – at Christmas, when she unwrapped Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland. Now, well through the book, she’s on the lookout for more and has heard that “Public is the place to go.”

A spot of research proves that Amanda is on the right track. Public boasts a whole area dedicated to adult colouring books and, according to the store’s Head of Department, they’re flying off the shelves. All the best sellers are in stock – including Johanna Basford’s trilogy in both Greek and English– and have sold in their hundreds to local colouring fans. A little more investigation reveals that Cyprus even has its own colourful celebrity: Abi Daker. An acclaimed illustrator who specialises in architectural and travel illustration, Abi – who lives in Paphos – has been specially commissioned to produce Landmarks of the World: Color Your Way from Barcelona to Beijing (a book that I, with my love of clean lines and inanimate objects, am eagerly anticipating).

In fact, as more and more of us are casting off our clouds of concern and colouring our way to calm, it seems there’s only one group who’ve been left in the dark. Men. Amazon may offer titles such as Intrepid Colouring for Burly Men and Slinky Tart (billed as ‘The naughty colouring book for men’), but sales are slow. Having never met a man who would freely confess to being a colouring fan (though I did once know a bloke who spent hours painting toy planes), I don’t think this is a trend we’re going to see anytime soon. Anyway, what have men got to be stressed about? Let’s leave colouring to those of us who really do need a break. Now, hand me my felt tips and leave me alone…

Adult colouring books are available from Amazon, as well as many local bookshops including Public. Landmarks of the World: Color Your Way from Barcelona to Beijing by local illustrator Abi Daker and published by Lark Books will be released in May, and is available for pre-order on Amazon at a cost of £10.50

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