Dearest readers, I hope you had the merriest of Christmases and are currently having the jolliest of holidays. I will not bother apologizing for my most recent extended absence, as I have been somewhat busy and therefore feel justified in my lack of posts these past few months. Also, I seem to find myself apologizing almost every time I post, and I feel like now you have just grown to accept my irregular schedule. If you could even call it a schedule.
Readers, I would like to ask you a question: Do I seem like the kind of person who would enjoy adult colouring books (ACBs)? Evidently, I do seem like that kind of person, because I received multiple ACBs from multiple people for Christmas this year. Why? Beats me, because I have never mentioned any desire to colour to any of these people. Not once.
Because I hate colouring.
There, I said it. I hate colouring. On my list of my least favourite activities, colouring is, like, number 4. When my father tried to colour with me when I was child, it always ended in tears. My crayon would stray outside the lines once, and my picture would be ruined; I couldn’t continue. I remember one time in kindergarten when we were instructed to colour in windsocks for art class. When I messed up my colouring, I tried to hide my windsock and tell the teacher that I was never given one so as to be provided with another chance to exercise my (lack of) artistic ability. The teacher was not fooled. I threw my windsock in the bin and have been trying to forget about the damn thing ever since.
I was not into the whole colouring thing as a kid. However, when I got my ACBs for Christmas this year, I figured I’d give colouring another go. After all, I’ve grown up. I even got a bottle of shampoo for Christmas this year, so other people also seem to think I’ve grown up. I am an adult, I told myself. I can handle this.
Turns out, I can’t. I still hate colouring. Stupid lines.
One of the ACBs I was given was Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter’s Color Me Happy: 100 Coloring Templates That Will Make You Smile. According to the book’s cover, it is a national bestseller. This fact makes me cringe a little bit. How does anyone have the patience or the steady hand for this?!
Before I get into the history of ACBs, I just want to quote a bit of Color Me Happy‘s introduction, written by Lacy Mucklow, who is an art therapist. Mucklow’s in italics, I’m in bold:
Why make a coloring book for adults? Funny – I was wondering the same thing. As children, many of us (not me) enjoyed coloring in our favorite characters of scenes in books with our trusty pack of crayons, but as we got older, added responsibilities came along, which pushed aside all those things we used to do for sheer enjoyment. You know what I did for “sheer enjoyment” as a child, Lacy Mucklow? I ate paste. I went days without washing. I carried an eggplant around for over a year, pretending it was a baby. Sometimes, for the good of ourselves and those around us, we should avoid bringing back those things we used to do for sheer enjoyment.
You may find that using this book in a regular routing may be particularly helpful for you, such as coloring after a long day to help your body and mind focus on positive things, or perhaps first thing in the morning to get you off to a good start. Colouring in the morning sounds even worse than exercising in the morning. People who do either of these things are weird, hands down. This book is intended to bring about a happier emotional state as a way to help you combat feelings of negativity, sadness, fatigue, or anxiety.
So, according to Lacy Mucklow, colouring is supposed to bring about a happier emotional state. Mucklow sees colouring as a way to unwind and take a break from life’s hustle and bustle. Could colouring then be seen as a form of meditation? In an article for The Guardian, Heather Schwedel, who might have the best last name ever, explores the idea of colouring as a potential form of meditation. And by ‘explores’, I mean shoots it down. The byline for her article is: “If you want to color, knock yourself out – believers say they are de-stressing and self-expressing but experts advise don’t call it meditation or therapy.” Well, soh-ree.
If you’ve been into any bookstore recently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the adult colouring craze is in full swing: full book bays are dedicated to ACBs that include images of everything from Harry Potter to indie rock band posters. If you’ve picked up any magazine or read any blog, you’ve probably read at least one of the many attempts to understand why the heck these books are so popular. Nobody seems to know, but The New Yorker offers what is probably my favourites of these articles. Adrienne Raphel suggests that the popularity of ACBs reflects “a larger and more pervasive fashion among adults for childhood objects and experiences. This ‘Peter Pan market’ has roots in publishing, beyond coloring books (the growth in sales of children’s and young-adult books to much older readers has been well documented), but it is far from confined to that arena.” Raphel’s argument is interesting in that she implies that there’s some sort of large-scale reversion to juvenile books and activities. Indeed, she spends the rest of her article reviewing arguments for and against this supposed reversion.
ACBs have been around for decades, but only now seem to be achieving significant popularity. Why are they so popular? Is it because they’re being marketed as therapeutic? Is is because adult childishness is becoming more socially acceptable? What is the history of the ACB, and how has the ACB gotten to be how it is today?
There’s a PhD in this for someone who’s passionate about ACBs. For now, I’m just gonna try to come to a basic understanding of where ACBs came from.
Laura Marsh recently blogged about “The Radical History of 1960s Adult Coloring Books.” Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything to do with 1960s/70s American counterculture, so I’m a little biased when I say that Laura Marsh’s post was a pleasure to read and that she makes some great points. According to Marsh, the first ACB – The Executive Coloring Book – was published in 1961, and “mocked the conformism that dominated the post-war corporate workplace.” Here are some of the pages you could colour:
Okay, so The Executive Coloring Book is pretty fabulous. That said, this book – and pretty much all of the other ACBs that Marsh cites in her post – don’t really seem to have been made for colouring. Marsh suggests a couple of potential purposes these books were intended to serve: something to do with Freudian psychoanalysis; another thing to do with the questioning of American social norms; nostalgia; etc. I’m not going to make any kind of argument as to why these books would have been published – the 60s were weird, and seem to defy reason. That said, there really is a PhD in this somewhere, people! Someone pick up the slack, because I sure as heck am not going to.
Now, before I proceed with this post, I’m gonna admit something to y’all: I thought there would be a lot more information about the history of ACBs. Yes, there’s some (but hardly any) stuff about colouring books for kids: here’s the Wikipedia page. However, it seems like no scholar was expecting this ACB fad. Which, you know, actually seems pretty reasonable. But still.
This leaves me at a bit of an awkward place, because I started writing this post before I had realized that there was hardly any information available. And, to be frank, I don’t care enough about the history of ACBs to actually do any primary research. I just wanted to publicly rant about how much I hate colouring, and this blog seemed like the best place to do it.
So, yeah. I can’t give you more history than what Laura Marsh – bless her – has already offered. However, here’s something interesting: in my attempts to learn about ACBs, I learned that adult e-colouring books are also taking off. Of course, there’s the print-and-colour kind – there’s even a Coloring Book Club that will send you new pages to print every week. However, the ACBs that I find truly terrible are the ones that don’t require any printing. Just type ‘colo(u)ring’ into the search function of whatever app store applies to your phone model and poke through the things that come up. You’ll see. Now you can (digitally) colour on your daily commute!
Clearly, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. A hand basket filled with pencil crayons.
In all seriousness, if anyone has any information on the history of ACBs, please let me know. I’m actually interested in learning more, just not interested enough to go out of my way. I’d rather spend my time weeping over my Christmas gifts.
Happy New Year, readers!