We were surprised to learn to that some of the most popular books on Amazon these days are coloring books for adults, with titles like
Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book and Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book. One bills itself as Balance (Angie’s Extreme Stress Menders Volume 1) . All feature mandala-like patterns and storybook imagery to color in. “Stress menders“?  Ahhh, we see why they are so popular. 

Johanna Basford
Johanna Basford

We remember our momentary childhood delight at Venus Paradise Paint-by-Number Coloring Sets — numbered colored pencils which you’d use to fill in the corresponding numbers on the template: et voila: A nice, somewhat-stilted artwork, exactly like hundreds of thousands around the country.


They were incredibly satisfying to complete. We could lose ourselves in their simple, very literal imagery, and the colors. But we don’t think we learned a thing about drawing or art or seeing. We WISH someone had said: Here, take this and figure out a way to change it, mess it up, MAKE IT YOURS, or better yet: here’s a blank piece of paper. MAKE SOMETHING!

Johanna Basford
Johanna Basford

A review of one of Johanna Basford’s popular coloring books raves:

Elaborate and challenging, Basford’s fans have found that completing one of her pages is as rewarding as it was filling in a coloring book as a child…This implicit satisfaction has awakened the nostalgia for childhood coloring in well over a million adults, who have reconnected with their youth, and creative side…”

Johanna Basford
Johanna Basford

And so we wonder, HOW these adults are connecting with their creative side? Or are they simply losing themselves in a very safe childlike view of life, where there are directions and limits, and orderly boundaries?  There’s nothing wrong with that. But for sure…

…It is much easier to color within the lines than it is to create our own designs. THAT can be incredibly scary and difficult, and we show us the limits of our talent, and open paths we never knew about.

What if you just started seeing what you doodle, draw, write, photograph, look at…

…What would happen if you wandered OFF the path…?

Note: The most illuminating part of this article is the Comments, which we recommend reading, for a much bigger view of this subject…(with  thanks to our very thoughtful readers).

via Kottke 


If you’ve found illumination, joy, or inspiration in this post, please consider supporting Improvised Life. It only takes a minute to make a secure donation that helps pay our many costs. A little goes a long way towards helping Improvised Life continue to live ad-free in the world.

Support Improvised Life ♥

9 replies on “Coloring Books for Adults: Do You REALLY Want to Color Within the Lines?

  1. “We were alarmed to learn to that some of the most popular books on Amazon these days are coloring books for adults”

    Yeah, so alarming! Yikes! What is the world coming to.

  2. I recently visited an end-stage cancer patient, a highly educated accomplished woman. While in the hospital, she took advantage of the craft classes on offer and had been doing simple needlework. She had never done any kind of handiwork in her life. She said she discovered that keeping herself busy this way, with her hands engaged and her mind focused, helped her relax. I can imagine that the coloring would have the same effect especially if one is intent on staying in the lines.

  3. Every Easter, I paint egg shells with acrylics–village scenes, oceans, flowers. This year, I drew zentangles with magic markers–complex black lines with random spots of red. They are stylish, gorgeous. Creative? Not very. Meditative? Yes! Like knitting. Doing them renews the creative spirit and makes me happy. (Wish I could send you a photo.)

  4. I bought my first Mandala Coloring book at Mt Angel Shalom Center a year ago, and I’ve enjoyed the pleasure it, and others now, have brought me in this time. To play with color, and allow time to relax into the flow. It actually has opened me to more creativity, and allowing time for such. I’m 60 years old, and cannot draw with any perspective, and I am quite contented with that. I find fabric arts, the kitchen and the garden as creative places. With sketched lines and colored pencils I get to practice laying on colors, coordinating and shading and it truly lifts my heart. It doesn’t take an investment, a place to display, and travels easily. I can scan through my few pages anytime and smile… remembering the colors of the desert hills, the rain forest, or the garden where I spent some time, and was inspired, rested, and gave thanks.

  5. I appreciate your comment. Thank you. You make an essential point…and that is, when you work on one of these books, you get into a state of “flow” which is invariably an illuminating one, and it shifts and sparks memories and ideas and rest, and most of all THANKS.

    And I agree, all that is like gold.

  6. I suppose I inadvertently brought up the question: What is creative? Your Easter eggs sound very much so. Buy perhaps more importantly, the process “renews the creative spirit” which is essential.

  7. I am a great believer in crafts and handwork of all kinds and have admired the work of some friends, now long gone, who did extraordinary tatting and quilting and knitting, usually, with a group of friends, so they could talk and be together and often share the work. What I loved about what they made was that each item was like a personal language and expression of the maker, woven through with their lives and history. After a point, when quilting kits came along, they opted for them, and the wondrous specificity of their work was lost. From their view though, it was an easier path that seemed to afford the same pleasures.

  8. I think you hit on something essential here expressed in the two words: safety and satisfaction. Too often daily life can appear just the opposite: perilous and empty. More than just a simple return to childhood, it may be that coloring within the lines is a deep kind of self-soothing, with a beautiful end result guaranteed by NOT having to go beyond the edge into dangerous waters. As Beth says, quiet, repetitive work, painting, slowly laying on colors, like embroidery, knitting and crocheting are tremendously satisfying tasks.

    I often think of the lonely pioneer women who, after a long day of chores in field and kitchen, despite being exhausted, looked forward to sitting down and stitching a quilt by firelight, seeing it grow day by day into something both beautiful and useful.

    I recall with great fondness my first paint-by-numbers painting kit that came in a box. Like the one pictured, it was a winter snow scene. For an eight year-old who had never seen snow, it was a revelation, and I studied the way shadows and light were created by juxtaposing unexpected colors with great fascination. There were a surprising number of lessons to be learned in that ‘canned’ exercise, which have stood me in good stead in later years.

    Thanks. Great idea for a post, Sally! Much to ponder here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *