Sounds a bit silly, really, doesn't it? Adult colouring? Hmmm. Perhaps a pastime for people with not an awful lot to do? But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps it's the perfect antidote to the stress we adults insist on subjecting ourselves to every day. After all, compared to other methods of relaxation it's cheaper than a Swedish massage and less fattening than a cream cake.
So why colouring in, as opposed to, say, a good book? Well, pleasurable though it is, reading doesn't free your mind the way that colouring in does. Like it or not, it requires a certain amount of concentration; if your mind wanders (and it really shouldn't, otherwise you should probably try a different book), you lose track of what's going on. Indulging in a spot of inking, however, doesn't require much thought beyond choosing which picture to colour in, and which colours to use. And it's exactly this type of repetitive, methodical occupation that allows the human brain to relax and loosen up and wander away with the fairies a bit, inducing in its owner a feeling of peace and contentment. It's then, when the brain is immersed in a metaphorical bubble-bath with a glass of wine to hand and Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo (if that's your thing - other music is available), that solutions to problems become apparent, or previously insurmountable-seeming situations appear a little less daunting. Colouring in seems to have the same meditative effect as repetitive sports such as running or swimming. There is a lower capacity for calorie-burning, of course, but at least there's less risk of spraining an ankle or drowning.
It's also, in a way, a retreat to childhood. After all, colouring in is what kids do. But how does regression to being a child again help with stress-busting. Well, there are lots of advantages in being under sixteen: children don't have the millstone of a mortgage around their necks; they don't have to deal with insurance companies; they happily eat slabs of white bread spread thickly with butter without fear of an instant heart attack. So, in a small way, undertaking a typical childhood occupation is a way to shake off the shackles of adulthood and enjoy a period of peaceful creativity. It's undemanding, there are no qualifications required or deadlines looming, and you can't do it wrong; nobody is standing over you waiting impatiently for a result of some sort.
So why has this particular form of relaxation gripped us with enough enthusiasm to spawn practically a whole industry devoted to the provision of paraphernalia for adult colouring (or 'art therapy' as some would have it). Many blame the French. They have turned from cooking to colouring, if you look at recent book sales in France, and the benefits of using colours to calm down, instead of food, have succeeded in making their way across the Channel. We like their food and their wine and their fashion designers, so why not their methods of chilling out and winding down?
It's non-intrusive, for one thing. Colouring in doesn't disrupt your day; you don't have to religiously put aside, say, an hour, to do it, like you would if you'd booked an exercise class. That sort of organisation engenders its own form of stress, as you worry about fitting in all the other things you have to do around your 'hour of relaxation'.
It's creative (admittedly so is knitting, but there are only so many woolly jumpers a person can own or foist upon others), and because you're a grown-up, you don't have to stop at simply blocking in white space. You can try blending, or hatching; you can use ten different shades of green for a single leaf; you can be minimalist, and use a single colour to fill in only some bits of the picture. And you can then either keep your creations to yourself, or decorate your house with them.
It provides escapism. Adult colouring might not be as exotic as two weeks in Tahiti (it’s a magical place), but it IS a way of forgetting that you're the CEO of a multi-national: you can swap your pigskin briefcase and pin-stripes for lounge pants and a hoodie, and ditch the laptop in favour of a colouring book. If you really are a CEO you can probably afford Tahiti as well. And you can colour in on the plane!
You don't need any special equipment, like a Jacuzzi or a recording of whale song (nice though those are). There's no reliance on electricity (apart from a light, perhaps, on a winter's evening, though there are always candles…) and you don't need to GO anywhere, although you can if you want to: colouring in is very portable.
And it's cheap. Well, it won't break the bank. While an intricately-illustrated adult colouring book and a pack of good quality pens may work out a bit pricier than a few yoga classes in the village hall, at least it won't involve shoe-horning yourself into Lycra or trying to touch your forehead with your knees. Colouring in is definitely cheaper than a twenty year old bottle of malt. Or a bungee-jump, if that's your idea of chilling out. It's even free if you have a handy three-year-old that comes complete with crayons, and you don't mind colouring in the parish magazine.
You'd be forgiven, due to the very nature of it, for thinking that the cult-following engendered by adult colouring would be spear-headed by young mums. Surrounded as they are by small people and the daily frustrations that go with trying to be The Perfect Mother, this is entirely understandable. But you'd be mistaken. While colouring in does seem to be more popular with the female of the species, they are by no means necessarily parents. Or young, for that matter. Facebook is alive with countless pages where persons as diverse as dog trainers, academics and hospital consultants swap tips and techniques for adult colouring. The problems life throws at them - be they caused by poodles, students or patients - may be very different, but the methods to deal with them are the same: get out the colouring pencils and have a moment - five minutes, half an hour, the time it takes for adverts to run on the telly - of mindful meditation.
Although the phenomenon of adult colouring has bounced into our consciousness only in the last few months, in reality colouring in among adults has been around for a long time. Tales abound of aunts on babysitting duty offering to 'help' a small nephew fill in a racing car, and of grandparents cooped up in a caravan on a wet weekend in Wales passing the time with their grandchildren's crayons. And - while not strictly 'colouring in' - who hasn't doodled madly, or added a moustache to an unwitting celebrity's magazine photograph while on the phone or during a boring meeting. So all you closet colourers out there - come out, come out. It's now OK to be seen doing it. You don't have to make do with a small person's colouring book either, with its simple pictures and dodgy paper; you can have your own stuff - beautiful, intricate designs, far too complicated for the under 10s - and nice, slim pens and pencils in vast colour ranges, nothing chunky or waxy. Because we don't stock crayons; well, not many anyway.
But we DO stock lots and lots of excellent quality colouring pens and pencils. Staedtler's Triplus Fineliners have metal-clad tips with a line width of just 0.3mm - perfect for tiny little fiddly bits, or when you want to colour one space in with lots of different shades. And when you want to block in a nice big bit, try the less delicate Triplus Colours, with their meatier 1.0mm line width. The ink in both types of pen is water-based yet they can be left uncapped for a few days without fear of them drying out. And the range of colours is outstanding: everything from Bordeaux and Violet to Silver Grey and Warm Sepia.
So if pencils are more your thing, Staedtler can cater to you as well, with their Ergosoft Colouring Pencils. Like the Triplus pens, the barrels are triangular and therefore comfortable to hold. But they also sport a very tactile soft coating, which makes you just want to pick them up and use them. Which is good if you're setting out on a colouring-in fest. This coating also serves to reinforce the lead core, which means less chance of breakage. They come presented in a sturdy plastic case, which stands up for ease of pencil-perusing. And the range of colours. Well, just what you'd expect really - lots. (Including Van Dyke Brown, whatever that is…)
So the next time you find yourself stumbling through the front door after a hard day's work, head a-buzz with stuff you haven't done, have forgotten to do or simply don't want to do, try to steer yourself away from the drinks cabinet and home in on a packet of pens and a colouring book instead. Your liver will thank you. And so will we.
7 July 2015