A few days ago my two best friends came over and instead of chatting like we generally do, they started colouring in an adult colouring book. The next day I gave two sheets to my 7 year old daughter and her friend and they became obsessed as well. What is it about colouring that is so fascinating and addictive?
Humans have understood the power of art since time immemorial. Ancient history has been depicted through paintings on the walls. Culture and traditions have been shown through art and sculptures through the years. But art has always remained elusive to the common man.
Over the years painting, colouring and art was seen as something only really talented people could do as a profession or children would do to while away time. In this hectic world where achieving something is necessary, art for adults took a back seat to learning and earning.
In recent times art has suddenly become invaluable again with artists coming into prominence and art being sold for millions all over the world. And a seed was planted of could we ordinary people become a part of this great art world? But who had the time and energy to paint, or make art? And even if we did, where could we start? Not all of us have great imagination. And a blank piece of paper is daunting and overwhelming.
So when in 2015 Johanna Basford, Scottish illustrator and “ink evangelist” released The Secret Garden, and Enchanted Forest, colouring books with intricate patterns of birds, foliage and a treasure hunt, suddenly people realised that maybe they could be a part of this art as well.
It sold 1.4 million copies and replaced a fiction novel as the number one best seller. Since then many more colouring books emerged and flew off the book shelves as well. Sonal Gandhi Head of Merchandising and Buying for Crossword book stores says, “Sales of these colouring books is catching on in India as well, though a bit late for our market as any such trend takes a while to catch on in our market. Publishers were not prepared for this wild fire tend/ sales. We are seeing weekly growth of 20-25%. It is here to stay.”
Suddenly colouring has become a fad. Colouring in to these intricate patterns not only resulted in a beautiful art form that one could hang on walls and be proud of, but what emerged was that people wanted to do it regularly and consistently because of how they felt while colouring.
Milu Chitrakar Gupta, photographer and housewife has been addicted to the Mandala colouring book, reaching out for it whenever she gets the time. “I find it calming and it takes my mind away from the stress of dealing with maids, cooking, and general life.”
Prerna Fogat, working woman and single mother said she didn’t have time for colouring but when she sat down with a colouring sheet she couldn’t stop. “It’s completely addictive.”
So why are hordes of people joining colouring groups and buying dozens of books?
Vivek Tejuja, Manager Content for Flipkart says, “I think it is because it eases people. It doesn't demand much like a novel would have. I think it helps relax people.”
Sonal Gandhi of Crossword Bookstores says, “The factors that are driving the sales of Adult Colouring Books are Fun, Nostalgia, Relaxation and Creativity. It’s a new way to relax one’s mind in their crazy schedules. People are always scouting for new things to do and are rather bored of usual suspects like movies and shopping. Or smart phones or tabs etc.”
Joel Pearson senior lecturer at UNSW in the school of psychology, USA says, “When colouring-in you look at the colours and spaces occupying those parts of your brain that might normally be involved in anxiety”.
“There seems to be a greater drop in self-reported anxiety for colouring-in mandalas and patterns compared to just drawing colour on a blank page,” he asserts.
But the American Psychological Association have no claims that colouring helps in being mindful, meditative or spiritual.
Supriya Nair, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of AscendPsychology says, “There is no evidence of catharsis, closure or restructure from this colouring art therapy. Art therapy is not going to help in long term effects of the person.”
She believes that even going out to meet a friend, shopping or a spa for the time it is done can be calming and fun. Art therapy needs to be guided by a therapist. The colouring books are not lab tested. There is no validation for the claim that it is in any way spiritual or meditative.
Therapy is defined as something done by a professional to a person who is suffering to give them better understanding, find closure, offer structure or relieve the core issues that are affecting their daily life. Supriya believes that colouring cannot do that. It actually might hinder the process or delay it. “You can be calmer sitting next to a river as well,” She claims.
“If someone is colouring and thinks they’ve resolved their issues, it might actually delay them from seeking help and might worsen cases of depression, anxiety, relationship issues, etc. Colouring cannot help change the neuro pathways of abrasive personalities and aggressive behaviour.”
However, people have shown developing virtues such as patience, attentiveness to detail, and receptivity to truth after they colour for long periods. But is it because of the colouring or the fact that they’ve made up their mind this is what the result should be and hence believe so when they’re done?
Vivek Tejuja says “I honestly believe that colouring books will not stay for long. It is a fad which might last for another year or so.” Ultimately every fad wears off and people will return to novels or find a new wave they would like to talk about and be a part of.
For now, colouring in these books might be the common’s man’s cheap therapy and it is important to bring mindfulness and spirituality into everyone’s life. If the colouring makes you believe that’s how you will achieve it, then by all means please pick up those colouring pencils. However if there are deep issues which unsettle you even after you’ve finished colouring, see a professional about your problems without delay. Colouring is a reasonable way of diverting your mind for some time but the mind is powerful enough to bring you back to your problems that will need to be dealt with at the core level. And that needs long term solutions.