Secrets of a Stress-Free Coloring Hobby

Once upon a time, coloring books had large patterns and were meant only for little artists. Now, though, the grown-ups appear to have taken the market by storm. According to Nielsen Bookscan, 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the U.S. alone in 2015, and that figure is expected to increase this year. And coloring has been widely touted as a destressing technique. But wait! As pleasurable and simple as it may sound (and in most ways, it is), you can get tripped up by, say, buying the wrong book or the wrong supplies. I’ve been coloring since before coloring was cool, and the years have taught me a few things. Here are some ways to help you have a great coloring practice without stressing out. After all, coloring is meant to calm you down.

*If you’re a beginner, do not buy a book that is too intricate. Joanna Basford’s coloring books (Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest) are best-sellers, but I find their patterns to be way too tiny and involved to be stress-reducing. Judging by some of the reviews on Amazon, I’m not the only one. With books that have designs this intricate, don’t use any kind of marker or artist pen, because it won’t stay within the lines. And I can only assume that if you are coloring in these books, you really do want to stay within the lines. Pencils are better.

*Choose a subject you’re interested in. Dover Publications, a long-time source of coloring books, has books on everything from angels to mandalas. There’s even one for 1950s fashions.  Click here to see their assortment. You can also sign up for their newsletter, which includes free coloring pages.

*Spend wisely on supplies. In the beginning, it’s tempting to run to the nearest art supply store and get the best markers, pens and pencils they have. But higher-quality pencils that are used by art students have to be manually sharpened because of the quality of their lead. That’s a pain if you’re unskilled or lazy or both. Crayola colored pencils give good color and can be automatically sharpened. Get a box of 24 to start.

It’s probably worth your while to spend more on fine-tipped artist pens. Faber Castell has wonderful instruments that will make your coloring pop. They are expensive, so start with a smaller set to see if you like them. Check out what Blick Art Materials (www.dickblick.com) has to offer.  You can buy individual pens as well if you want to increase your collection.

*If you do use markers or artist pens, make sure they won’t show through the other side of your page. The vast majority of coloring books are meant for colored pencils. But there are charming exceptions, like the Rosie Flo coloring books from Chronicle Books, which also take artist pens beautifully. For funkier tastes, Chronicle has color-in tattoo postcards.

*Imagine. In the coloring world, owls can be pink, skies green and rivers orange. Focus on the colors you like rather than trying to reproduce something exactly as it is in the real world. (The exception, of course: people who are coloring birds and animals as a specific learning or observation exercise.) But for most of us, a cotton-candy-colored sky is the limit.

*Think beyond the book. Posters can be a great project for one person or a family. And if you’ve always longed for a flocked velvet painting, Stuff 2 color (www.stuff2color.com) has some projects for you. I personally favor the giant Day of the Dead skull, but there are line-art and velvet posters on a number of themes, including animals and motivational sayings.

*Find free pages to practice on. Are you cheap? Cautious about getting into coloring? There are literally thousands of free pages on the web for you to print out. Some are for kids, but you’ll be surprised at how many you’ll find for your own use. One of the best is www.coloringcastle.com.

*Don’t put coloring on your to-do list. Do it when you want, how you want, and for how long you want. Don’t worry that others might be doing it better than you. If you make it into just another item to check off, it can become a burden – and that doesn’t help you de-stress. Relax – and do it your way.


Jane Farrell is co-editor-in-chief of thirdAGE.









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