Not bestselling art books, or bestselling activity books, but bestselling books, period.
Now blockbuster franchises — like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Dr. Who — are publishing colouring books before Christmas.
And though claims of relaxation and stress-reduction have met with some backlash, a psychologist says there may be good reasons behind the colouring trend.
‘I just got hooked’
Kathryn Aberle, a retired communications professional in Vancouver, cracked open her first adult colouring book about a year ago, on a flight to New Orleans.
“That became my in-flight entertainment… and I just kind of got hooked on it,” she said.
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Filling in the intricate, nature-based patterns in her book by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford reminded Aberle of colouring as a kid, or doodling on the job.
“One of the things that kept me sane in long, boring meetings was doodling in the back of the notebook,… often quite wild, floral paisley things.”
Aberle is not a woman who would appear in need of a creative outlet — she also sings, knits, gardens and bakes — but she finds colouring relaxing, an undaunting portal to creativity.
“There’s just something about letting your mind wander to the array of pencils in front of you,” she said.
“It really does just calm you down, and you’re left with this beautiful thing.”
Calming claims questioned
Some of the 100-odd adult colouring titles now for sale in Canada make overt claims about their benefits, with names like “Calming Colouring,” “Stress-Relieving Cats,” and the “Colour Therapy Anti-Stress Colouring Book.”
And the backlash has come. Take, for example, an article in Psychology Today by an art therapist who proclaims, “Until proven otherwise, your colouring book is not an autopilot to a mindfulness or meditative experience.”
Indeed, Kimberly Sogge, a registered clinical and health psychologist in Ottawa, says she isn’t aware of any research on the effects of the books, specifically.
But when her patients brought up the idea of the colouring books with her — she said go for it.
“Colouring certainly has a lot of sensory engagement for us,” said Sogge, who specializes in mindfulness-based intervention. “I really encouraged the people who brought it up.”
Contact with beauty
The first step in mindfulness, said Sogge, is to “gather the attention,” pressing pause on the repetitive ruminating and anticipating that can dominate thoughts.
When that happens, “there is… a shift from the linguistic cortex to the somatosensory cortex — being grounded in the body,” she said.
The physical sensation of holding the pencils, and moving them on the page, could help someone make that shift, said Sogge — similar to how meditation practice focuses on breath or sensations in the body.
Some longtime psychologists are skeptical of the effects of mindfulness therapies in general, said Sogge, but she said there’s been an “amazing research explosion” in the past 10 years showing their potential.
She isn’t surprised that colouring books, with or without scientific backing, are riding that wave.
“The gathering of attention and the contact with beauty in the present moment can be a great beginning to changing stressful habits or self-sabotaging behaviours.”