Unless you’ve been living in an internet-free cave during the last year, you might have noticed the growing popularity of colouring books for adults – yes, for adults, that’s right :-). And I’m not talking about cartoon or franchise inspired designs, but intricate, detailed and complex illustrations created by artists.
I’ve been happily watching this space with interest over the last year. There has been increasingly more press about the benefits of colouring. And I am still blown away that my Colouring For Grown Ups board on Pinterest is my most popular board, with around 4 times as many followers as most of my other boards. But I really knew that it was a “thing”, when I walked into my local bookstore to see their front display table full of adult colouring books! And then again, when I saw a big display at a large department retailer.
Colouring in has become associated with the growing interest in mindfulness and seeking ways to destress and unwind in our increasingly high paced 24/7 lives. It’s even being used by companies to support staff in relation to workplace stress. And while colouring in can create some beautifully stunning results, is it really being creative?
What I love most about colouring in is that it’s so low cost and easy to start. You don’t need a whole lot of specialised equipment from a fancy store – just some colouring pencils, a sharpener, an eraser (if you must 🙂 ), and something to colour in. You don’t need a whole lot of skill – the majority of us would have spent a lot of time in our early school years colouring in and it’s not too hard to pick it up again down the track.
You can start and stop where you like. So you can easily use it for that 5 minutes when you’re in-between tasks instead of reaching for your phone to check your email or social media. I often sit down with some colouring in when I’m about to make a phone call where I’m most likely to be placed in a queue. So rather than pace the floor fuming to the elevator music and endless company promos, I can sit calmly and scratch away with the pencil. When the phone call’s over I can put away my colouring until the next time I’ll need it and I just pick up from wherever I finished before.
Judith Woods writes in The Telegraph how “staying between the lines can represent a refuge.” She quotes Sally Austen, a consultant clinical psychologist, who describes one of the benefits of colouring as “There is also – and this is probably quite significant – no element of competition or possible failure, which is quite rare these days.” Colouring in means that we don’t have to face the intimidating blank page, nor feel like we have to create a masterpiece. In many cases we are already starting with a beautiful lined illustration, so there’s no pressure on our drawing skills to create something wonderful from scratch.
Colouring in has an element of repetition to it, which is a nice way to get yourself into a relaxed or almost meditative state. So it’s a good activity to do when we want some downtime to mull over a work problem or find some inspiration to spark off new ideas (with divergent thinking). As we start to focus on the task of colouring in, we have the opportunity to zone out and let our subconscious mind wander and mull over the issue behind the scenes – perhaps bringing us a moment of insight as our brain makes a connection through the form of an idea. (Although on it’s own, colouring in shouldn’t be considered as a substitute for professional help.)
Colouring in is also a nice way to express ourselves through our choice of colour and how we interpret the lines on the page. For instance, in my Mandala Play Adventure I was able to create 30 different mandala designs from my one original colouring in page.
So is colouring in really being creative?
Being creative is basically about causing something to happen, producing something that wasn’t there before. However, I believe for something to be truly creative we have to bring something of ourselves, our uniqueness, to whatever we’re doing (otherwise it’s just a copy of someone else’s). There’s not much creativity in painting by numbers or when our heart’s just not in it.
So yes, I think that colouring in can allow you to express your creativity, your uniqueness. But I prefer to think of colouring in as the stepping stone, the starting point to really letting yourself express what lies within you. Which does mean starting with some form of blank canvas or slate. But it doesn’t have to be scary. You can start to draw freehand by sketching doodles, creating your own colouring page or drawing within the outline of a circle to create a mandala.
I think that colouring in is the perfect entry point to expressing ourselves through drawing (or almost anything) because it builds our confidence and skills. We get practice in picking colours and working out what colours we do (and don’t) like. We build our confidence and skill level in technical aspects like shading, cross-hatching, blending and building up colour. We also get used to starting, making time for ourselves, and hopefully doing this regularly (which is the basis of forming a creative habit).
But most importantly we start tapping into what brings us joy – because fundamentally, creativity is about coming home to ourselves and tapping into what makes us feel alive. (That is, we’re most likely to be creative when we’re feeling in flow, joyful and focused, as opposed to when we’re feeling stuck, drained and bored.) So as you colour in a picture take note of how you feel in your body. You can then use this feeling as a gauge to identify other times when you’re feeling in flow and joyful (and mostly likely to be creative).
So please go ahead and colour in. Then build on it to spark and unlock the inner creative and inspiration within you.
So are you a fan of colouring in? How does it make you feel?
Are you able to express your creativity (or are you just painting by numbers)?
When else do you feel how you do when you’re colouring in?
So what else could colouring in springboard you into?