East Bay Adults Are Coloring

Sottish artist Johanna Basford has unleashed a coloring craze that grown-ups are going nuts over. Break out the crayons.


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The adult coloring book author who started it all: Johanna Basford.

Photos courtesy Laurence King Publishing

Got a new trend for you—coloring. Or maybe it’s retro, not new. The old-fashioned hobby of coloring, still a standard in preschool and kindergarten circles, has been updated and repackaged for adults.

“Our sales of coloring books have taken off in the last six months,” said Kathleen Caldwell, owner of A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland. “We’ve always carried a few coloring books that appeal to adults, but now we have an entire section devoted to it and a wide variety. I’ve sold seven already today.” Among Caldwell’s best-sellers is the Secret Garden illustrated by Scottish artist Johanna Basford—the artist and book that launched the adult coloring craze.

The initial print run for the Secret Garden, Basford’s first coloring book, was about 8,000 copies in the spring of 2013. Subsequent print runs were about the same. The build up was gradual, and sales increased by word of mouth. “Today, our print runs are in the hundreds of thousands, and we can’t keep up with the demand,” said Debra Matsumoto, the marketing manager for Laurence King Publishing with distributor San Francisco-based Chronicle Books. By the end of this year, 10 million copies of Basford’s coloring books (yes, she has released a second coloring book) will be in print worldwide.

What’s the attraction? Basford’s coloring books have a grown-up look and feel. The books are printed on heavy paper that resembles an artist’s sketchbook, and her designs, intricate, hand-drawn black-and-white illustrations of birds, bees, butteries, flower and fauna, are sophisticated, imaginative, and—pretty.

Plus the concept of creative arts as a meditative practice goes way back. And as art activities go, coloring is easy. It doesn’t require a special skill set beyond staying in the lines, and even that isn’t a requirement. Therapists recommend coloring to clients as a way to relax. Because coloring is a creative, right brain, activity, it can give the left brain, which is responsible for analytical thought and reasoning, a break from the day’s chatter. “Coloring let’s you reconnect with that part of yourself that doesn’t have all the responsibility that you carry around with you during day,” said Caldwell of a Great Good Place for Books. “I color now, and I never thought I would. I sit down, turn the music up, get out the colored pencils, and the next time I look up, an hour and half have gone by. I get lost in it.” Coloring book publishers have taken note of the potential soothing, relaxing qualities of putting colored pencils to paper too with titles including Color Me Calm and Coloring for Mindfulness.

A big part of the attraction of coloring is the basic fun of it. Like young kids on a play date, coloring for adults has become a group activity. There are coloring parties, coloring events, and coloring clubs. Fourteen women gathered at Orinda Books on a recent Thursday evening and sat around small tables with pencils and gel pens in hand as they chatted, laughed, and colored. “It’s very therapeutic,” said Alison Kling, a self-professed doodler. “It’s not rocket science. It’s easy to create something pretty.” It provides another medium to connect with people, said her friend Terry Riggins, a professional photographer. “I like the idea of having a physical activity, something creative to do, while getting together with friends.”

Is coloring the new yoga? Hard to say. The appeal of coloring is not new concept, but it turns out it’s a nice part of childhood for adults to revisit.

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