A pink and blue Pegasus sits in my lap, and beside it, a green frog with a toadstool umbrella sits atop a snail. To answer your question no, I’m not losing my mind. While the Martha Stewarts and Chef Ramsays of the world spend their Covid isolation baking sourdough and DIYing everything within reach, I sit in my living room with a cup of green tea, Chris Garver’s “Animal Odyssey” colouring book, and a pack of felt tip markers.

When the pandemic struck, I went from being a struggling actor and barista, to just struggling. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken up many-a-pandemic activities to keep me busy in isolation, but re-discovering an old childhood favorite has been a source of comfort and stress relief in these trying times.

Photo by Customer Box

We all remember the adult colouring book craze of 2015, right? If you don’t, allow me to take you back. As quickly and mysteriously as it appeared, the initial rise in popularity of adult colouring books was quite short-lived. According to International Business Times, one of the first commercially successful adult colouring books entitled “Secret Garden” by Johanna Basford, was the catalyst of this movement. It sold 1.4 million copies in 22 languages between 2013 and 2015, going as far as outselling Harper Lee’s much anticipated “Go Set a Watchmen” on Amazon.

2015 quickly became “the year of the adult colouring book”, with a particularly large spike in purchases in November and December of 2015. It’s difficult to pinpoint a concise reason for this sudden interest in colouring for adults, but many bloggers and psychologists began weighing in on the phenomenon and many have been quoted speaking on the mental health benefits of this artistic medium. According to these sources, colouring for adults can: reduce stress, provide an outlet to disconnect from technology, and improve focus on mindfulness.

The more complex the drawing, the less anxious I become.”

While not being considered a viable form of art therapy, psychologists have cited the medium as a method of soothing anxiety symptoms such as stress and inability to focus. Colouring focuses one’s attention on the task at hand and brings us into a meditative state—the combination of repetitive gesture and predictability allows for a sense of mental calm. If you’re searching the market for a colouring book, you may notice that many feature Mandala art work, a geometrical form used to represent the “infinite universe” in Hinduism and Buddhism. This is due in part to Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and his Mandala Theory: he believed that in drawing/engaging with Mandalas we are inviting ourselves into a sacred space of wholeness and connection within.  

In her article for Oprah Mag, Culture and News Writer Michelle Darrisaw writes “The more complex the drawing, the less anxious I become. And Mandala books offer both complexity and a sense of calm, backed by Jung’s theory and extensive research.” From studies to blog posts, it’s clear that the influence of adult colouring books has been positive for most people, but has this trendy self-help activity withstood the test of time?

Photo by Swati H. Das

As someone who, like many, hopped on the adult-colouring-book-train in 2015 and quickly fell off, the rise and very quick fall of this phenomenon is a mystery to me. According to google trends, searches for adult colouring books plummeted starting in February and March of 2016, with small surges again in December 2016. From then on, the data seems to plateau. Book retailers such as Barnes and Noble in the U.S reported that in 2017, the drop in colouring book sales accounted for one-third of their sales decline.

So where does that leave us today? While it’s no secret that the popularity of adult colouring books is no where near what it was in 2015, this hasn’t stopped the production or enjoyment of the art form by any means. In fact, now colouring for adults can be an online affair! Apps like Colorfy, Color Therapy, and Sandbox have upwards of 25 to 80 thousand purchases in the iphone App Store. Like any rising trend there is bound to be a fall, but with the number of artists and publishers still producing these books, it’s clear that the market still exists—now more than ever during this pandemic, more people are seeking outlets that comfort, distract, and regulate.

I know that returning to my colouring books has been a source of simple pleasure and much needed escape, if only for a little while. Have you hopped onto the adult colouring book trend? If not and you’d like to start, shop local! The Book Wardrobe on Queen St. South in Mississauga has a wide selection of adult colouring books to choose from. Perhaps you’re an artist who wants to create your own colouring book? Stay creative, stay safe.


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