Look at Life: Adult Colouring Books

5th May 2017

Zen and the Art of Colouring In

By Grace Fuller

RELAXING, I find, is very hard work. I envy the people who can just switch off, empty their heads of everyday worries and chill out. Even as a child I struggled to settle my restless mind. If I watched television I’d need to play patience or embroider or pod peas for my mother at the same time, in order to feel sufficiently stilled. The only thing that ever kept me fully happy was a book.

I’m no different now, though I rarely pod peas these days. On impulse, in search of a new ‘slow down, you move too fast’ technique, I thought I’d try colouring. I am behind the curve, of course. Soul-soothing via filling in pretty patterns on pre-prepared pages has been all the rage for the last few years. Think it’s for your kids? Think again. Googling ‘colouring books’ returns choices for adults ahead of options for children.

But how do you choose your theme or title? Even the local convenience store has half a dozen or more on its shelves; high street stationers offer row on row, with romantic, sentimental names like Secret Garden, Lost Ocean, Magical Jungle and L’Esprit des Alpes. They promise spiritual escape and artistic adventure; The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people manages to tick all the boxes in one title. Several of the ones I browse through seem to get progressively easier rather than harder – shouldn’t it be the other way round, or am I supposed to be getting so chilled that by the end that I won’t have the capacity to keep to anything except the most basic swirls?

And is it a valuable use of time? I’m guessing a therapist would say that if that’s my reaction then I’m exactly the sort of person that colouring books are targeted at. But the voice of my Year 6 teacher echoes in my head with a verse she made us recite regularly: So here hath been dawning Another blue day: Think, wilt thou let it Slip useless away? – after which we had to chant, with feeling, ‘No, I will not.’ I rather think Miss Banks would not be impressed with the colouring culture.

You do have to concentrate though – which isn’t necessarily a good thing. At least you can take your eyes off knitting, for example, and glance up at the tv screen (okay, you might forget to K1, P1, K2 together, but you can unpick and retry; using an eraser on your drawing just doesn’t cut it). Colouring in means you have to watch exactly what you’re doing. Yes, I know that’s the idea, but when you’re time poor you need to fit in multiple relaxing activities at once.

And with a tendency to obsession, I’m worried I could become addicted. There aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week etc, as it is. If I’m staying up after midnight and indulging my natural night owl to get just one more picture finished, my life is going to become more complex and crowded, not less.

I do try it though. And it doesn’t relax me. For a start, my pretty pencils (bought ten years ago with no purpose in mind) make almost no impact on the slightly glossy card. I purloin some gel pens from a passing teenager and try again. Better – but still demanding. Way too challenging. Nobody told me you need to be Good At Art.

How do you cope when enthusiasm or ineptitude mean you’ve gone over the line? How do you disguise the mistake? What do you do when you realise you should have made the first segment lime instead of aqua? I feel my anxiety rising. And bending over the paper (dipping and raising my head to get my varifocals to work properly) certainly isn’t reducing the tension in my shoulders. I might as well be on my laptop.

Then there’s the problem of what to do with my masterpieces when they’re finished – do I keep them? Frame them? Put them away carefully in acid-free paper for safe storage? Or do I screw them up and throw them in the bin? All the options strike as sad in one way or another. Something else to worry about.

It all feels pointless – and I know that pointlessness is the point, but it really is no fun. Colouring might be credited with reducing one’s blood pressure, but, sadly I think it’s only raising mine. Maybe I’ll take up tapestry next.

Find Your Local