My Foray into the Adult Colouring Craze

Twelve million adult colouring books were sold in the United States in 2015. That’s eleven million more than the year before, and that increase alone points to adult colouring as being a fad–“a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.”

I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing at the exact moment they are doing it. So I read books and watch television series a few weeks after the hoopla about them dies down, and I have not–until today–done any colouring. (I know, I’m such a rebel.)

Is Adult Colouring Really a Fad?

There have been anatomy, botany and bird identification colouring books around since the mid 1960’s.

However, the first commercially successful colouring book was Secret Garden, published in 2013. Over a two year period, one million people purchased that book, captivated by Scottish artist Johanna Basford’s intricate drawings of topiaries, flowers, and items hidden in each scene.

Basford’s second book, Enchanted Forest, was published in 2015 and sold 250,000 copies in the first month.

Basford is considered the queen of the adult colouring book, but she doesn’t have a monopoly. The craft store Michaels carries 150 titles. Walmart has dedicated 4 feet of space to the books. And adult colouring books are consistently on Amazon’s list of top ten titles.

Adult colouring is big business showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So maybe it’s not a fad? Time for me to find out what all of this ‘exaggerated zeal’ is all about.

It Begins with the Image

There are adult colouring books available for almost every conceivable topic, from cats doing yoga to favourite swear words, mandalas to armchair travel.

You can choose from intricate designs where you are colouring in tiny spaces; open designs where you add your own patterns and textures to large empty areas, or symmetrical designs where your colouring is more repetitive.

Not wanting to plunk down the $9-$20 it costs for a full book, I opted for one of the hundreds of free pages that are available online.sea turtle colouring page completed in various shades of green, blue and purple

My choice, as you might expect, was a sea turtle. But if that’s not your preference, here’s a site linking you to 100 free colouring pages divided by theme.

The Right Tools for the Job

In the name of exhaustive research (and because I adore art supplies), I’ve done some searching and experimenting so I could give you this table of the pros and cons of various colouring tools.

Medium Pros Cons
Crayons Inexpensive, smooth, bold, most reminiscent of childhood Tip is not precise so useless for details, but fine for large areas; hard to sharpen
Coloured Pencils Most versatile medium – can colour as bold or as soft as you wish

Great for blending and shading

Expensive if you opt for good artists’ pencils like Prismacolor. (Here’s a review of six different coloured pencils.)
Markers Deeper colour and more uniform fill

Variety of tips available for different levels of detail

More difficult to blend and shade

May bleed through the paper

Some brands leave streaks. I’m told Copic markers don’t. I can’t afford them so don’t have firsthand knowledge.

Gel Pens Especially good for slick or dark surfaces

Dry quickly

Some have sparkles.

Lots of colour choices

Tip allows for colouring tiny details


Because of the bright colours, the sparkle and sheen, may be too much of a good thing for an entire page

Generally used for enhancement

Watercolour — paints, pencils or crayons Gives that ethereal look Controlling the amount of water can be a problem

Will probably lose the other side of the page to the buckling that comes from applying water

You can also combine many of the above options. I didn’t didn’t test them, but apparently copic markers and Prismacolor pencils work well together, as do Prismacolors and gel pens.

I opted to use my set of 48 Prismacolor pencils for my sea turtle.

Choose a Colour Palette

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to use all 48 of my Prismacolor pencils. I could have, but apparently it’s a good idea to predetermine your colour palette and to limit your colour choices to twelve or fewer.

I found a gorgeous site full of stunning colour palettes. I’ve saved some of them to my Pinterest colour boardย and the original site is here. Check out both, but please don’t forget to come back. They are that beautiful.

In my case, I went with all cool colours–blue, green and purple. That meant I used a few more than the recommended twelve colours. (See ‘rebel’ note above.)

Choose Your Technique

As a rookie colorist (I didn’t make that up. It’s what adults who colour are called), my entire goal was to stay inside the lines.

That’s not quite true. I did take a little stroll on the wild side by finally using one of the three blending pencils I’d purchased but never used. (I keep reading about blending pencils so every time I’m in an art store, I buy another one, forgetting that I already own a couple.)

After colouring each small section, I used the blending pencil to get rid of the little white spaces that inevitably remain. The blending pencil smooths out the colour and gets rid of the white dots. Nifty.

For those who are more advanced colorists, there are dozens of YouTube videos about blending and shading. Here’s just one –a 30 minute video of 12 blending techniques for coloured pencils.

Decide if You Want to Colour Alone or With Others

I opted for colouring alone while watching television, but there are people who colour together at work on Friday afternoons; online meetups where everyone colours and then shares their results, and colouring parties complete with wine and colourful appetizers like rainbow salsa.

Why the ‘Exaggerated Zeal’ for Adult Colouring?

Proponents of adult colouring tout these eight benefits:

    1. Nostalgic and fun, evoking memories of the simpler times of childhood.
    2. Good for people with anxiety issues because the soothing, repetitive nature of colouring calms the amygdala (part of your brain responsible for the fight or flight response).
    3. Creative because you can colour the page however you wish, and it’s impossible to mess up. If you do feel you’ve messed up, just turn the page.
    4. Meditative because you are doing the same motion over and over, and the task has a predictable result. This lulls you into a relaxed state.
    5. Therapeutic because you are engaged in creative visual expression.

Everyone can escape from stressful life situations to find inner peace simply by playing with colour.

Jean Haines
  1. A stress reducer–“The motion of crayon or pencil moving back and forth within pre-made boundaries is perceived as a form of containment, mastery and mind-numbing escape from the here-and-now.”
  2. Inexpensive. It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money on art supplies.
  3. Low tech, which is especially beneficial for people who spend a lot of their day staring at screens.

Not Everyone Shares the Enthusiasm for Adult Colouring

Many of the above benefits come from the experiences of colorists and therefore can’t and shouldn’t be disputed. As art therapist Drena Fagen concludes,

“Any creative endeavor that can in some way help somebody discover something about themselves or find a space that makes them feel safe and comfortable, or allows them an opportunity to be with their own thoughts, I don’t see how we can criticize that. It seems like it’s only bringing good things to the world.”

Others aren’t quite as positive, pointing out that adult colouring is:

  • Therapeutic without being therapy–Therapy is rooted in a relationship with a therapist.
  • Meditative without being meditation–Meditation and mindfulness are cultural and spiritual traditions that have proven health benefits. No such claims can yet be made of colouring.
  • Creative without being creation, artsy without being art–Colouring instead of making art is like “the difference between listening to music and playing an instrument.” However, there is some evidence that engaging in a mindless activity, like colouring, can lead to productive mind wandering and creative problem solving.
  • Not a stress-reducer if you are a perfectionist and believe there’s a right way to colour a page, or have difficulty staying in the lines.

My Experience

I enjoyed my colouring experience, but didn’t love it. Playing with colour appeals to me. I like tasks with clearly defined parameters and a guaranteed decent result. I found the colouring mostly soothing and relaxing so, for me, it definitely qualifies as self-care.

It’s possible that there’s another colouring page or two in my future, but I won’t be dashing out to buy colouring books. ย Collage making feels more creative to me, although that could be because I was only concerned with staying in the lines when I coloured. I suspect the experience would have been quite different if I’d focused on blending or shading my picture. But because I didn’t challenge myself too much, I was starting to feel quite impatient near the end of the process; an end which, at times, felt like it was never going to arrive.

What do you think? Do you colour?ย If so, what sorts of images do you prefer? What tools do you use? What benefits do you experience? Please let us know in the comments below.

And calling all Profound Journey tribe members – If you colour the same sea turtle image I did and send it to me at, I would love to post a gallery of our unique renditions in a future update.ย 


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  1. Hi Karen,Tribe member here! ๐Ÿ™‚ Challenge accepted, lol, I just downloaded and printed the sea turtle to color. Once it is colored I will take a picture and send it to you.

    Thank you for this great in depth article Karen. I found out a lot of information that I never knew before.

    I have bookmarked the 100 free coloring pages website so I can keep going back. I must admit, though, I have already downloaded and saved a large number of the images (I found it just as addictive as Pinterest to be honest) and now have a folder on my desktop titled Coloring Pages To Print. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I agree about the price of some of the books out there…insane really considering it is all in black and white. My thought is that the publishers and artists are taking full advantage of the craze right now. Perhaps as time goes on and if interest starts to wane a bit the prices may come down eventually. One thing is certain it doesn’t look like it will be doing that any time soon. ๐Ÿ™ Oh well, until then I will print off the pages I want and make my own collection. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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