Colouring books are for kids, right? Not right now.
In a surprising new global trend, adult colouring books have been flying off the shelves over the past six months as grown-ups all over the world pull out their old sets of Faber Castells.
Far from the books of our childhoods, these grown-up versions feature intricate patterns designed for adult hands. A whopping five of the top 20 books on Amazon’s bestseller list are adult colouring books.
At the head of the pack, Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford has sold more than 10 million colouring books worldwide since she published her first book, Secret Garden, two years ago.
A global craze
“The adult colouring book trend continues to gather pace,” says Tess Knight, general manager of retail at The Co-op booksellers.
“We colour in for many different reasons – it is extremely relaxing and appeals to all ages and interests. We expect it to be our bestselling range for Christmas, as it has been since mid-year.”
According to John Purcell, head of product and chief buyer at Booktopia, the adult colouring book trend originated in France before jumping oceans to the UK, China, Brazil and Australia.
Purcell says the trend is driven by our growing need to unplug from a digitised world – even though, ironically, many creations end up being shared on Instagram.
“It has a lot to do with how busy everyone feels and the advent of smartphones,” says Purcell.
“Colouring is so off the grid – it’s such a novel experience these days to be completely disconnected.”
Mental health benefits
Clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers says colouring in is a form of mindfulness that can help to combat stress and anxiety and improve mood.
“Mindfulness is being engaged and present in each moment of our lives,” he says.
“Any activity where we need to pay attention can bring us into the present moment so something like colouring is just as good as meditating in some ways. When people think of mindfulness they often think of meditation so something like colouring is a really fun and playful way to cultivate mindfulness.”
And while staying in the lines helps, it’s not the end goal. “It depends on the person and their abilities,” says Dr Chambers. “Colouring in in any way is going to bring some benefits, and perhaps the more we try and stay in the lines the more focused we may become.”
But Dr Chambers cautions that while the benefits of conventional mindfulness are well understood, scientists are yet to fully investigate the benefits of informal mindfulness practices like colouring in.
In one of the few books authored by a scientist, neuroscientist Dr Stan Rodski has published an adult colouring book dubbed ‘colourtation’ – a hybrid of ‘colouring’ and ‘meditation’.
After working in schools and observing how colouring in helped children to relax, Dr Rodski decided to investigate whether the effect was replicated in adults. His laboratory tests found that colouring in was a viable alternative to traditional relaxation methods like deep breathing.
“I started to produce different pictures and the pictures that involved places and things actually created a little bit of torment because we’re competitive beings, and when the pictures didn’t work out the way people liked they became competitive with themselves which caused more stress,” explains Dr Rodski.
“So I went with the idea of geometric patterns as neuroscience tells us the brain likes patterns, repetition and habit.”
He has since sold 25,000 books online in Australia and had just signed a deal to distribute the series in the UK, US and Europe.
Not sure where to start? These five books will spark your addiction.
1. Lose yourself in Johanna Basford’s Lost Ocean, an underwater-themed colouring book ($24.99).
2. Prepare for the upcoming Star Wars movie with Star Wars Art Therapy ($27.95).
3. Indulge your crazy cat lady side with Cat Therapy ($22.99).
4. De-stress with Emma Farraron’s The Mindfulness Colouring Diary, which has sold more than 150,000 copies in Australia this year ($19.99).
5. Get festive for the holiday season with I Heart Colouring: Christmas ($9.95).