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These gorgeous coloring books prove they are not just for kids anymore

We have an evening ritual in my house. Around 7 p.m. each night, my son and I will sit together in my office, turn on our favorite Pandora station and then we begin to color. This is serious stuff. Don’t look for cartoony coloring books here. No. Instead, we use watercolor pencils and artfully fill in blank spaces of intricately drawn flowers, bugs or birds. To be honest, my son only joins me every so often. I’m the real colorer here, and apparently, I’m not alone. There has been a recent rise in popularity among adults who have taken up coloring, and it’s not hard to understand why.

Coloring books aimed at adults are full of incredibly detailed illustrations that — no pun intended — draw you in. The experience of focusing on filling these pages with color can be meditative, allowing you to zone out for a while and focus on one very specific thing. For me, coloring is actually helpful in staving off anxiety as it forced my brain to be trained to one specific, skill-oriented task. Plus, the product is a gorgeous picture. What could be better?

Like me, Janine Kalesis, a food stylist from NYC, uses coloring as a form of art therapy. “It’s nice to get lost in doodling or drawing to clear your mind and let your inner child come out to play,” she explains. “The quiet time with a palette of colors fills you with a freedom and tranquility that relaxes the soul.”

Mary Hendrie, a yoga teacher from Maryland, likes that coloring is a way to be creative with no consequence or judgment attached. In addition, there’s a sense of escapism that coloring provides. “I like coloring silly pictures or fantasy creatures — things that take me away from thinking about everyday grown-up problems,” Hendrie shares.

In the adult coloring circuit, Johanna Basford is somewhat of a celebrity. Her two books, Secret Garden* and Enchanted Forest*, are in high demand, and both books have been back ordered in the US, both online and in stores, for a while now. But these popular books almost didn’t come about.

“I had no idea how the book would be received. In fact, I was quite tentative about the book deal and almost backed out at the last minute,” Basford tells SheKnows. “It was a big risk doing something so different. We didn’t realize there would be a worldwide demand for books like this; we weren’t even sure if adults would want to color in! My ambition was always to just create a beautiful book that I myself would love to own and color, then hope a few other people would feel the same and buy it.”

Johanna Basford at her desk

Photo credit: Johanna Basford & Laurence King

As far as the extreme popularity goes, Basford has some theories. Like many of us who love to color, she agrees with the notion that it’s a great way to de-stress. “Everyone’s lives are now so busy and so digital,” says Basford. “I think coloring offers a welcome opportunity to unplug and allow yourself to be completely immersed in a task without the constant chatter of Twitter or the lure of Facebook.”

Basford also acknowledges that everyone has a creative spark within them but that some need an opportunity and some encouragement to allow it to flourish. And lastly, there’s the element of nostalgia that’s involved. Basford notes that “…coloring gives hardworking grown-ups the opportunity to play and to indulge themselves in an activity which likely reminds them of more carefree days.”

Colored in page of a Johanna Basford illustration

Photo credit: Johanna Basford & Laurence King

*Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford are published by Laurence King.

More on art for adults

Colouring could be just the therapy you need to manage stress
Recovery through creativity
Makeup artist turns her eyelids into works of art

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