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Coloring Books Aren’t Just For Kids

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By: Margaret MacMillan

Coloring teaches children all the colors in the rainbow, the items in nature to which each belongs, how to combine colors to make new ones, and how to use colors for contrast or to compliment one another. When a child colors in a coloring book, they learn that staying in the lines makes for a clearer more defined picture. Speaking for myself, I can say coloring, as a child, brought me joy. I loved selecting any color I fancied to make a butterfly, flower, or rainbow as bright and beautiful as I wanted. Coloring calmed me. When I colored, I don’t remember thinking about anything else. Any worries I had were seemingly washed away. My mind was on my coloring alone. 

When I was done filling in the spaces with my chosen hues, I felt a sense of accomplishment, usually. Sometimes I regretted my choice of color for something and wished I could do it over again. That experience, however, taught me to think twice about using that color for something similar in a future project. I took my coloring seriously.

It’s hard to remember how old I was when I stopped coloring, but at some point I did. Now, I wonder why. Probably because, once you reach a certain age, coloring is no longer deemed acceptable. I do know I was well over 10 when I stopped, because I got into some fairly sophisticated designs. 

Today, when I sit and color with my grandchildren, I find they are the ones who are ready to stop before I am. Completing the image I began is important to me, but my desire to continue to color goes beyond that. I still want to see what the completed image will look like, find out how well I chose my colors, and feel the thrill of seeing those colors come alive in the simple rendering of my grandchildren’s coloring book. I also want to experience the calm, joy, and sense of accomplishment coloring brought me when I was a child.

Happily, for many of us, it is no longer taboo to color past the age of 10. Adult coloring books, utilizing more detail, subject matter, and imagination than we could ever have thought possible, are now available. Magic gardens; stained-glass windows; mandalas; fantastical beasts; whole cities, real and fabricated; ocean life; and many other fanciful designs are waiting for us in stylish coloring books.

It turns out that all the reasons I wanted to color when I was a child and still crave now are the very reasons I should pick it up again. Therapists don’t regard coloring as art therapy because it isn’t done in concert with a therapist. They do, however, believe it to be therapeutic.

Coloring Reduces Stress
When we color, we’re focused on the task at hand. As we choose our colors and begin to make the image we’ve chosen come alive, concerns and anxieties slip away. We’re in the moment thinking only about what we are creating. It doesn’t matter if we’re six or sixty; coloring has the same effect on us. The relief it provides us from the stresses of daily life is palpable and calms us as adults just as it did when we were children. Because coloring takes no specific artistic skills, the process also provides a low-stress way to unlock our creative potential.

Coloring Has a Meditative Quality
Coloring mandalas is seen by some as a form of meditation. Mandala means circle in Sanskrit and has been used to facilitate meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism. Finding a quiet place to color is beneficial to the meditative nature of coloring mandalas. As the geometric shapes and symbols within a mandala are colored, the person doing the coloring often experiences a sense of well-being. The repetitive nature of the process puts us in an almost trance-like state allowing us to block out distractions. For those who aren’t good at meditating, coloring, because it quiets the mind, may be a good alternative.

Coloring Is Enjoyable
Coloring takes us back to our childhood, a time most of us think was simpler, when we didn’t have the worries of adulthood weighing us down. Because many of us abandoned the process long ago, returning to the act of coloring allows the same childlike joy coloring once gave us to resurface. It also makes us feel a little like we’re playing hooky from being grownups, because, while we’re coloring, we’re doing something we associate with being a child. With that sense comes the happiness and comfort we get from returning to a familiar place.

For those of us who want to bring the joy of coloring back into our lives, it’s easy to do so. No longer do we have to wait and do it with our grandchildren, and no longer do we have to keep our colored pencils and crayons tucked away in a dark corner of our closets. We can now go to our bookstore or local art supply store and happily scour through a large selection of coloring books created just for us until we find the one that’s perfect. Once we’ve found that perfect coloring book, we don’t have to hide it under our coat as we walk to the check-out counter for fear of seeing someone we know. Chances are, with the current popularity of adult coloring books, they’re buying one, too.

Though coloring takes no specific artistic skills, the process is still creative and imbues us with a sense of happiness and accomplishment. 

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