The Ink Stained Pearl vs The Coloring Book
There’s nothing that we love more as human beings than reliving our childhood. For most, it heralds to mind a simpler time without the responsibility and stress that comes with the title of adulthood. So the advent of the “adult coloring book” was not at all surprising. I was quite the Pensive Pearl at first. Do we have nothing better to do with our time but color? And of course with any new trend comes the boom of marketing departments capitalizing on our every sentimental whim (There’s a barrage of “color your own” sets hitting the market lately. Even Crayola is now producing a line of adult coloring pencils. Like really, how different could they be from the regular ones? But I digress.) Despite my skepticism, I could not deny the invasion of adult coloring books popping up in every craft, book, and housewares store. It made me think: Is this more than a frantic attempt to be a child again? Maybe this trend is not solely a gimmick to make money off the over stressed and under appreciated. I bit the proverbial bullet and gave it a whirl.
Color me Intrigued. While I did not take to it right away, I was determined to give it the old college try. And somewhere along the process, I became a coloring convert. I felt calm and at the same time alert. The design was intricate enough to be challenging but not overwhelming. And there was indeed a sense of satisfaction when I colored the last little circle in my design. This was not taking me back to childhood at all, this was different. There was a mind body connection here. Turns out, many experts say the exact same thing. Coloring is not so new of a trend, and it can have actual psychological benefits.
A Colorful History. While this trend is newly finding its way into our grown up living rooms, it’s not new to another grown up place: therapy. Carl Jung is credited as being one of the first to pioneer this type of therapy. His focus was on Mandalas, or the pattern of circles in the universe. Jung ascribed to the eastern philosophy of circles representing wholeness in ourselves, the universe, or other aspects of our life. He maintained that having his clients design and color mandalas could help with diagnosis and thus lead them to their personal wholeness. This type of therapy is still used today, with several therapists advocating drawing and coloring as a stress relief, to help the patient feel more comfortable opening up and putting trust in their counselor.
Color me Relaxed. The theory is that coloring, which involves both the use of logic and creativity, activates two areas of our cerebral hemispheres benefiting our vision, coordination, and motor skills. It also helps the body get into a meditative state, lowers anxiety levels, and helps us to focus on one singular task instead of our problems.. All of which contributes to a relaxed and happy mindset. A study done in 2005 by the American Art Therapy Association adds some weight to this theory. The study had several students color structured forms, while several others doodled on a blank piece of paper. The group given structured coloring saw a higher reduction in anxiety levels.
Article after article touts the healing benefits of coloring. The stress relief, the mindfulness. Does that mean you should run out and join the nearest coloring group you can find? (coloring groups are a real thing guys! What will they think of next?) Maybe, but not everyone is buying into it. Some psychologists are calling foul on coloring as personal therapy. One of which being Cathy Malchiodi PhD.
Color Me Skeptical. While several are on the coloring book bandwagon, Cathy Malchiodi is skeptical. She maintains that it does not classify as Art Therapy. The process of Art Therapy has many well documented benefits of increasing cognitive abilities and attention span, and lowering stress hormones. However, true Art Therapy involves creating something from your own imagination, not simply coloring within the confines of another’s art. Malchiodi goes so far to say coloring can form obsessive habits, leading the colorist to become fixated on finishing every last page. True Art Therapy should help to form a relationship with the patient and their counselor, not just their coloring book.
Color me Opinionated. It may be just as simple as this: do what makes you happy. Maybe coloring is not a recognized form of art therapy. And more power to you if you can get out there and sculpt, doodle, paint, etc. but if coloring in some shapes or a fancy bird makes you feel relaxed, focuses your mind, and gives you some peace then there is no downside to that. Companies will always capitalize on consumer hype (and honestly shame on the marketing department at Crayola if they didn’t leap on to this trend and create their own line of adult markers!) but your hobby is your hobby. No therapist can tell you it doesn’t calm you down. To Malchiodi’s point, stressful situations can grow obsessions. So maybe group sessions and stocking your drawers with every book released may not be the healthiest choice for you. As with all things in life, balance is key. Find your balance and grow from there.
A Colorful Shopping List. Now that we’ve learned coloring can have a positive effect, the question remains: how do I begin? Here are a few things to consider:
- What should I color with? Figure out what type of tool speaks to you. Colored pencils? Gel pens? Fine tip markers? Try them all out, see what works for you, and shop around. As mentioned, Crayola now has an adult set. Find them here . Or you can head to your local arts and crafts store and shop around for some unique colors like aqua and mustard. I ended up mixing and matching, using some typical Crayola colors with some unique sets. Many colorists mix up their media, using colored pencils for the shading and markers for the fine details.
- What do I want to color? The key is what is going to relax and challenge you. If you lean more towards structure, there are books full of geometric shapes. Beware though, some are so intricate even the most organized of brains can get overwhelmed (take it from me, I had a small Pearl breakdown over all the tiny little boxes!) For the free spirits there are whimsical designs or my personal favorite “Dapper Animals” which consists of animals wearing fancy clothing (it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen). More practical? Try these books of cities or animals. Want to be taken on an adventure as you color? These high end coloring books by are filled with wonder as you follow tiny characters through clocks and forests. Bit of a nerd? Color in Harry Potter or Doctor Who. There is even a coloring book called “Exotic Chickens.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
- A Moment on Mandalas. A large portion of coloring book options are based on mandalas, the circle patterns we talked about earlier. While these designs are intricate and beautiful, they all stem from eastern religious backgrounds. So if you are not looking for a spiritual experience, these may not be the books for you.
Whichever coloring path you take, this simple activity can lead to relaxation, stress relief, and can be a useful coping mechanism. Or it can simply be a lot of fun. I appreciated author Julie Beck’s description of coloring as “something to do with my hands while I watch Netflix.”
So have fun with it! There are no rules here. It’s your coloring book and no one can tell you how to do it. You don’t even have to color in the lines if you don’t want to! Like any journey it’s not how it ends its how you color it along the way.