Adult Coloring Book Omni

Colored by © Alessandra Carvalho
Colored by © Alessandra Carvalho
I got back into coloring a few years ago, after students in my sociology of education course designed a team learning activity based on a day in preschool. Coloring was one of the activities they gave us to do. Everyone at the coloring table remarked how incredibly pleasant and calming this activity was! Not long after, I went to the local art supply store to stock up on colored pencils and ordered a couple of mandala coloring books online. I also found and downloaded free mandala coloring art from some websites that I share with you in this review.

A couple of my women friends are also fond of coloring, and I had a suspicion, given the proliferation of adult coloring books on Amazon, as well as in the mainstream craft stores (Michael’s, A.C. Moore and Joanne Fabrics) that this was turning into something big. Then a few weeks ago (July 10, 2015 to be exact), the Parade Magazine bundled with our Sunday newspaper ran a cover story on coloring for adults—that’s about as mainstream as you can get!

Currently adult coloring books seem to be aimed primarily at women. Certainly the predominant forms of artwork tend to the kind of themes that women would likely find more appealing than men. And women tend to be wired in a way that makes fine motor movements like coloring a bit easier. But good grief! Why shouldn’t men also enjoy and benefit from working with colors and shapes? Let’s get past this gendered idea of what the hobby entails.

Typing “adult coloring craze” into Google brings up recent articles in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles TimesDaily Mail and The Guardian, suggesting that it’s happening in the UK as well as the US. Catching up on some magazine reading this weekend, I chanced upon a brief article in the April 2015 issue of The Atlantic, titled “France: Coloring Books for Existential Angst.” I had already found one of the very classy-looking Art Thérapie coloring books (published by Hachette starting in 2012) in my Amazon perusals, so this was really just confirmation that the craze has hit France, as well.

Coloring is a craft that anyone can do without special training. While lots of colors are nice, you can get started with just a few colored pencils. It’s certainly a lovely way for parents to spend time with kids, as well as for adults to spend time together or alone. It can be very calming, and it works both sides of the brain. You can color just for the enjoyment of doing so, or you can color with the intent of hanging or sharing your masterpieces. And some really are quite lovely!

While these books and the whole adult coloring experience is being marketed as a way of managing stress, I can think of a few instances where this might not be the result. For example:

If you start a coloring project while you are fuming over something, you may have difficulty quieting your mental chatter enough to focus on the coloring.
If you are a perfectionist and you make a “mistake,” your irritation with yourself may override the intended calming effect.
If you have a tight grip on your pencil so that your hand cramps, or you’ve already spent time during your work day doing something like grading papers, you may not find coloring as the best way to manage your stress.
If you have vision impairments, you may have difficulty seeing the lines. It’s best to manage physical tension with exercise. Choose designs with larger shapes and/or bolder lines if you are having difficulty seeing.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. That’s part of the process.

I prefer colored pencils as the best option for coloring. For some people, fine-tipped magic markers or gel pens work too, although I prefer to have more control over the brightness of the colors than I can achieve with pens or markers. For most of the adult coloring book art, crayons are too thick, as are pastels. Some designs could be colored with watercolors, but those require greater skill to use and are a lot messier and less portable than good old colored pencils.

The number and variety of these coloring books is growing by leaps and bounds. Most are very affordable, which is nice for sure. Here are my suggestions on what you might want to consider as you make your choices:

Are designs printed on one side of the page or on both? If they are printed on both sides of the page, you might want to photocopy the pages so you can color them one-sided. There are two advantages to working on one side of a page: you don’t have to decide which side to show and you avoid having pressure marks from your colored pencil on the back side design.
How heavy is the paper? To a point, heavier is generally better.
How textured or smooth is the paper? The effects with colored pencils are very different!
How complex are the designs? Some are very simple, some are incredibly complex! Especially if you haven’t done any coloring or similar fine work (cross stitch embroidery or quilting, for example) in a while, I recommend that you start with something simpler until you get the hang of it. Or try a color-by-number design!
How heavy and dark are the lines for the artwork? Some are much heavier and darker than others. It’s likely a matter of personal preference as much as anything else. Heavy dark lines may make you think of stained glass, which isn’t a bad comparison. I prefer relatively fine lines so the colors blend together better.
How is the book bound? Most of them are staple bound, typically 50 or so pages long. They don’t quite open flat. Some have a spiral binding that enables them to be open flat. A few are bound with glue. These typically don’t stay open very easily.
How is each page attached to the book? If you desire to remove pages to display or share your work, how easy is it to do that? Some are perforated for ease of removal. If you are so inclined, you can usually break apart the coloring books that are staple- or glue-bound for easy removal.
Below are thumbnail reviews of several different adult coloring books I have sampled:

Coloring Mandalas (Volumes 1-4) Susanne F. Fincher
Shambhala began publishing these in Cover of Susanne Fincher’s Coloring Mandelas2000. Fincher is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and art therapist who uses mandalas as a therapeutic tool. Each book in the series features a brief introduction and bibliography; each has a different theme. So, for example, the first book in the series is organized into twelve “stages” that represent personal growth, according to Jungian psychology. While the designs are all circular and relatively simple, many of them are based on authentic yantras (an ancient design used as a focal point for meditation). Each design has a brief legend printed on the back side of the page that explains its origin and purpose. The books are spiral bound, which makes for easy opening, and the designs are printed on one side of the page, which makes for easy sharing. Befitting the designs, the books are square in shape, ten inches on a side. Each book in the series runs under $20, and the publisher offers a 33% discount for any three. Susanne F. Fincher has a website.

Dover Publications Creative Haven Series
Cover of Marty Noble’s Art Noveau Animal DesignsDover Publications, long known for publishing affordable hobby books, offers the vast Creative Haven line of adult coloring books. These come in a great variety of themes, many of which were designed by men. Although there are mandalas galore in the series, there are also flowers, animals, birds, butterflies and geometric patterns. A few of the Creative Haven books are even color-by-number, for those who aren’t quite feeling confident enough to choose their own colors. The binding on these books is primarily glued, so they aren’t easy to keep open, which can be a problem. The designs are printed on one side of the page and according to the Dover Publications website, the pages are perforated for easy removal. Because the books are 8 ½ by 10 ½, inches, the designs will also fit in a standard size frame. The lines are of medium thickness on most designs. As with most Dover publications, these books are an affordable $5.99 each.

A visit to the Dover website reveals that this publisher has other lines of adult (and older child) coloring books, as well, including series focused on fine arts, nature, history, and design. I have in my collection a Dover coloring book called Goddesses, drawn by Marty Noble, who seems to have done quite a few of these. This book is staple bound, which makes it very easy to hold open, and the standard 8 ½ X 10 ½ inches in size. The lines are of medium thickness on most designs. The artwork is printed on both sides of the page, which could be a problem unless you color with a light touch. There are 30 separate designs, each of which includes a sentence or two describing the deity illustrated. The goddesses represent many different cultures, and the designs are really quite lovely. This particular coloring book retails for $3.99.

Pomegranate Communications
cover of Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals coloring bookPomegranate Communications, which began life as publisher of the posters used to advertise 1960s rock concerts, now offers many fine art products, including calendars, postcards, and (more recently) a very handsome line of adult coloring books and coloring cards. The only one of these I currently have in my collection is Buddhist Paintings, but their website offers a delightful assortment, including Diego Rivera: Detroit Industry Murals, which I will certainly acquire very soon! The books are staple bound, which makes them easy to open. The designs are printed on one side and the size of 8 ½ by 10 ½ inches lends itself nicely to framing. The lines are of medium thickness on most designs, although quite a few of the pieces in the Arabian Nights coloring book offer an excess of black ink, not as outlines but as filler. Each design is reproduced in a small color version of the original artwork, which is quite handy, as is the source list for the artwork. The coloring books are $7.99 each, while the cards, which are packaged with envelopes and a few crayons in a metal box, run $12.95. Although the cards appear to be aimed at a child market, I can easily imagine adults enjoying them, as well.

Jim Gogarty, The Mandala Coloring Book
Cover of Jim Gogarty’s Mandela Coloring BookPublished by Adams Media, artist Jim Gogarty’s The Mandala Coloring Book is a great bargain, offering 100 relatively complex designs for under $10. The artwork is printed on one side of the page and the paper is relatively heavy, as are the lines on the designs, giving a stained glass effect when you color them. The binding is glued, rendering the book a bit difficult to open, and the size is somewhat odd at 7 15/16 by 9 1/8 inches. Gogarty has very recently released another coloring book, titled Stress Less Coloring, which features another 100 designs. Jim Gogarty hosts a website where you can download mandala designs as printable jpeg files for coloring.

Johanna Basford, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book and Enchanted Forest: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book
basford_secret_gardenIllustrator Johanna Basford’s coloring books Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, published by Laurence King, have attracted quite a lot of media attention. These attractive volumes, complete with dust jackets, each run about a hundred pages in length. They are printed on both sides of heavy, high-quality cream-colored paper. Some designs fill the pages, while others leave white space, often with the challenge for the colorer to fill in more details. A few designs run across two pages. These books are presented as puzzles, with hints provided at the end. While they are glue-bound, they stay open pretty easily. They run 9 7/8 inches on a side. They are clearly intended to be colored as a whole and kept together—these are not stand-alone designs! While they are fairly complex, I think they would appeal to older children as well as to adults. While these are listed at $15.95, they are steeply discounted on Amazon.

Basford has a new coloring book, Lost Ocean, forthcoming from Penguin.

Christina Rose, Dreamcatcher series
Cover of Christina Rose’s Deam CatcherChristina Rose’s Dreamcatcher series, published in the UK by Bell & Mackenzie, is very similar to Basford’s books, although the designs are slightly less complex and feature more black ink. In addition, the artwork itself is confined to the facing pages, while the backs of those pages contain little aphorisms, such as: “Wisdom begins in wonder,” and “If you can dream it, you can do it.” The paper is high quality and bright white. These coloring books also run about one hundred pages in length. The dimensions are a standard (in the US at least) 8 ½ by 11 inches. The books are glue-bound, and like Basford’s, are clearly intended to be colored and kept as a unit. They retail for $7.99. The titles currently available are A Soul Bird’s Journey, Life on Earth, The Tree of Life, and Mindfulness. Rose has created several other coloring books, most of which have the words Doodle & Dream or Anti-Stress Mind Healing in the titles.

Angie Grace, Extreme Stress Menders
Cover of Angie Grace’s Extreme Stress Menders: BalancePattern artist and colorist Angie Grace is a prolific creator of several lines of adult coloring books, self-published via Amazon’s CreateSpace. I have her Extreme Stress Menders V. 1: Balance, but a visit to Amazon reveals at least one more title in that series, V.2, Centered. I also found a set of Extreme Coloring books with titles like Wow and Cool, as well as a more extensive series of Patterns, which are all-over-the-page repeat designs, including Flowers, Whimsy, Quirky and Bling. The designs are all complex and quite beautiful, with lines of a medium thickness. These all run 8 ½ by 8 ½ inches, a very handy size. If Balance is any indication, these are all printed on one side of the page on very decent paper; there are 50 designs per book. Although the books are glue-bound, the glue seems to have some flexibility—I notice these pages stay open more easily than some of the other coloring books I’ve reviewed. The suggested retail price is $11.95.

Wendy Piersall, Coloring Animal Mandalas and Coloring Flower Mandalas
Cover of Wendy Piersall’s Coloring Flower MandalasWendy Piersall refers to herself as a professional coloring book maker and Spirograph artist. (Aha! So it’s a Spirograph that some of these artists are using to make those repetitive designs!) I have two of her books, Coloring Animal Mandalas and Coloring Flower Mandalas, both from Ulysses Press. Two more titles, Dream Mandalas and Ocean Mandalas, are forthcoming as of this writing. Her designs are more representational than those of many of the other mandala artists mentioned in this review, but these are still mandalas in the sense that they are circular designs with some repetition of motifs around the circles. The artwork is attractive; the designs are printed on one side of the page. The books, which run 7 ½ by 9 1/8 inches, are staple bound for easy opening. The suggested retail price for the books in this series is $10, but they are also discounted in many locations.

Pepin Artists’ Colouring Books
Cover of Pepin Turkish Designs Colouring Book I first discovered the Pepin Artists’ Colouring Books at the art supply store where I buy my colored pencils. These are published by the Pepin Press, founded by the Dutch graphic designer Pepin van Roojen. These are in a class by themselves. Each book in the series features just sixteen designs, printed on very high quality, slightly textured art paper, 9 ¾ by 13 inches in size. They are bound in such a way that each design can be easily removed for coloring and framing, which is probably a very good idea. The designs are largely based on original art work. The outlines are very fine, light gray lines, so that after the work is colored, a casual observer might not even notice them. Although pastels are one of the suggested coloring media, I think I would use something with a finer tip, given the complexity of the designs. I have three of these (Arabic Designs, Turkish Designs, and Still Life Bouquets), but there are many others in the catalog, including quite a few based on fashion drawings. Suggested retail on these is $16.99.

Coloring Designs Websites
There are also numerous websites from which you can download designs for coloring. Several of the artists I’ve mentioned above have free designs to download on their sites. I’ve listed a few others below. Because this is such a growing field, you may easily discover more.

The first website I discovered when I started coloring was Steven Vrancken’s site. Based in Lier, Belgium, Vrancken is both an artist and a musician, and he offers downloadable meditation music to accompany the designs.

After the coloring book story appeared earlier this year, Parade Magazine launched a site that offers free sample pages as .pdf files from a variety of popular coloring books.

Jen Walshaw’s site Mum in the Madhouse links to nearly twenty sites that offer free pages to download.

I find myself following much the same behavior with coloring books that I do with fiction. When I see something that interests me, I buy it, or at least add it to my wish list. I have already accumulated enough coloring books to keep me busy for countless hours. I promise myself that the time will come when I will color nearly every day. We shall see about that . . .

About Donna Bird

I am a former lecturer of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine in the beautiful Portland area, where I have lived since 1992.