I’ve been coloring ever since I was a kid. Note I said coloring, not drawing. I have very little talent at drawing something from scratch, but I’m very good at coloring in other people’s art. Even when I reached adulthood, I kept buying kid’s coloring books because there wasn’t anything else to buy. Now there’s a whole industry of “adult coloring books” and coloring has become cool. (And by “adult” I don’t mean dirty, although there are some of those. They’re simply more complex designs than you’ll find in your average Snoopy coloring book.) Who knew that all these years I’d actually been engaging in a cool hobby? Who knew that, for once, I was ahead of the trend?
People have often made fun of me for my coloring habit. I guess it must seem silly to see a grown woman with her box of 64 Crayola crayons going to town in a kids’ coloring book. (People who know me, however, use it as a barometer of my mental health. If they see the coloring books come out, they know things are stressful or upsetting and they should tread carefully.) I think these people are short sighted, and they definitely lack a sense of humor. Sure it might be silly, but there are a lot of benefits to coloring that some people pay big money in therapy, classes, and drugs to receive. I get them for a few bucks at the dollar store.
- It brings back soothing memories from childhood. Computers, tablets, and cable TV didn’t exist when I was a kid (or at least not in anything resembling their current forms). We had other sources of entertainment. Coloring was a big one. Coloring books, crayons, markers, and blank paper were always kept on hand for rainy days. Just the smell of crayons can take me back to that simpler time at home or at my grandmother’s house when the entire afternoon stretched before me with no stress and nothing to do but choose colors and fill in a masterpiece. Good memories are powerful.
- It solves problems. When I’m coloring, I’m not thinking about whatever is bothering me. I’m just thinking about choosing good colors and staying in the lines. Problems and anxieties fade away. Since I’m not constantly ruminating about problems, coloring gives my subconscious a chance to work on the problem and a solution often emerges shortly thereafter. Even if a solution doesn’t come up, I still feel better for having colored.
- It’s not digital. I spend all day on computers so it’s nice to turn it all off and work with something that requires me to use my hands in different ways and is easier on my eyes than a blue computer screen. It improves my dexterity and eases computer cramp. There’s something about doing things manually that shifts the brain and body into a different place that just feels better than the stressed out, hunched over computer world.
- It improves creativity. Coloring opens up my creativity in other areas of my life, particularly my writing. You wouldn’t think so, since coloring has nothing to do with writing, but working with color and shapes is creative and one form of creativity often feeds another. It’s why many artists and creatives often dabble in more than one creative hobby. Activating different parts of your brain helps you to see things differently and make connections that aren’t obvious. I get an extra boost if I’m coloring particularly fanciful art, as that sometimes leads to story ideas.
- It’s meditative. I stink at actual meditation. I just cannot sit still long enough to accomplish anything. But when I’m coloring, my brain shifts into a similar state as that achieved by traditional meditation. Everything turns off and becomes quiet, except the part of my brain that’s choosing colors and moving my hand. The rest of the world fades away and when the coloring is finished, I’m relaxed, open, and better able to deal with the world.
- It instills discipline and improves focus. It takes time to finish a coloring page properly and, if you want to do it well, it requires focus. It’s not something that can be dashed off or multi-tasked. Working on coloring books improves my “butt in chair” discipline when it comes to my writing or other work. The act of working quietly and intently carries over to other pursuits and improves my productivity.
- It’s playful. Adults don’t play enough. We’re too busy being serious and busy, but everyone benefits from having some play time in their life. Just letting go, doing something silly, and having fun is a worthwhile pursuit that adults don’t get enough of.
- It lets you make something, but requires no real talent or practice. So many forms of the arts and crafts require lots of practice to do well. Music, drawing, painting, knitting, pottery, writing, etc. all take a lot of time and practice to become proficient. That’s frustrating when you really want to create something but you don’t have the skills to do so. Many attempts end in more stress and anger when the project turns out terribly, or when you can’t think of anything to create at all because the blank page or canvas has you stymied. Coloring doesn’t require you to be able to draw or paint. You don’t have to really practice because as an adult you know how to stay within the lines. You can take a black and white drawing and turn it into lovely art with no real practice or talent. Just let your imagination go and color. It’s creativity without all the hang ups and learning curve.
Now that there are gown up coloring books and therapists are recommending them to clients, I guess coloring might not seem as silly to others. It’s kind of a cool hobby, now, and it’s nice to see so many people embracing what I’ve known all along. Not that it changes anything for me. I’ll still be dragging out my coloring books, it’s just that now I have a socially acceptable set of books to choose from if I want to color in public. But you’ll still find me working on Snoopy, Pooh, or The Jetsons in private. Laugh if you wish, but I’ll just revel in my sanity, improved productivity, and enhanced creativity while you do.