When the going gets tough, some people turn to colouring as a way to switch off. Here, behavioural scientist Nevsah F. Karamehmet and illustrator Emma Farrarons tell us why adult colouring books work – plus, nine of the best to try.
15th April 2020
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What do adult colouring books do?
“They offer a wonderful way to have a break and bring the joy of art into your everyday life. Colouring is easy ‘me time’ that doesn’t involve anything more than pencils and paper. It’s as simple as that – there’s no need for experience. Think back to your childhood days where you would get lost in a world of drawing and colouring. That’s the experience that’s recreated with these adult versions.” – Emma Farrarons, author of The Mindfulness Colouring Book
“The aim of colouring books, drawing or writing are all the same: expressing our emotions and getting free of them. Things grow where the attention flows. We humans are meaning-making machines: we give meaning to everything, especially our emotions. The problem is, the more you try to run away from them, the worse it gets. So, changing where our attention is and doing things that don’t necessarily require much attention, like colouring, help us get free of emotions – such as stress and anxiety – we might be experiencing.” – Nevsha F. Karamehmet, behavioural scientist
Why are they so popular?
“There are many aspects of adult colouring books people like. For one, they are practical and simple to use. You can dip in and out as you like. You can spend as little as five minutes on a page or hours. A pocket-sized series also means you can do it on-the-go. You can even use just one pencil to colour a page by varying the pressure to increase the light and darkness.” – Emma
“Colouring and drawing work especially well in times of stress, anxiety and fear. They are popular because colouring is one of the easiest, quickest ways to relax, calm down and get centred.” – Nevsha
How do they act as a form of meditation?
“People from all walks of life have told me how relaxed they feel when colouring: a friend of mine used it in hospital during her contractions and a Danish archery champion used it to help her focus between each competition. When you pick up a pencil to draw or colour a page, you become present in the moment. You’re concentrating so much on drawing a line, filling in shapes or on the colours, that you think of nothing else. Your mind goes blank and is in a peaceful state. All you hear is the sound of the lead scratching the surface of the paper. That is mindfulness.” – Emma
“Any experience that expands our consciousness can be called meditation. When the mind calms down, the body starts relaxing and we start experiencing different levels of our consciousness, so yes, colouring can be a form of meditation.” – Nevsha
Why is now a good time to get into colouring?
“This period of social distancing is a particularly good time to put wellness front and centre. Give yourself five minutes or more to switch off from digital distractions, the media or the daily grind. Find yourself a comfortable and safe space, sharpen your colouring pencils and give in to the world of colour.”. – Emma
“It releases stress, anxiety, panic and fear. Colouring will take your mind away from today’s reality – or whatever you are watching in the news and on social media – and will help calm you down and get back in the moment.” – Nevsha
What tools do you need?
“Invest in high-quality colouring pencils. Ones which comes from art specialists tend to be more pigmented and creamier, and come in hundreds of shades. Water-based brush pens are also preferable as they can fill in the most intricate patterns. They tend to come in primary, secondary, rich, muted, pastel and neon colours.” – Emma
Is it something you can do with children too, or is it best done alone?
“You can absolutely do this with children. One mum messaged me to explain how she and her little one are enjoying colouring side by side. She has her ‘adult’ colouring book and her daughter has her Peppa Pig version – it’s their special quiet time together. Teenagers have also said they use colouring as a means of relaxation during school exams. And teachers use it to explain mindfulness to their students.” – Emma
“Both. Like any meditation practice, it is something better done alone. It will have a deeper effect if done solo, but can also be practiced as a family game where family members can connect, enjoy the moment and bond together.” – Nevsha
Inspired? Here are nine of the best adult colouring books to try…