This is an age in which insert sweeping generalisation has changed the way we live. It is also an age where sweeping generalisations and statements can seem really daunting and distilling. What I know for shit sure is that, for whatever reason, I regularly get anxious and feel overwhelmed, and I know I am not alone in that. When faced this weekend with a daunting deadline, I felt like I needed a treat. It was time to buy an adult colouring book, duh.
The fact that it’s an adult colouring book only matters in so far as that rather than pictures of Elsa from Frozen, the book features gorgeously creative scenes and patterns for you to colour, incredible design work akin to art.
Adult colouring books have had a massive surge in popularity over the last few months. Joanna Basford’s first adult colouring book, Secret Garden, was published in 2013 and has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. Her follow up book Enchanted Forest was released in March, and has sold out worldwide, selling quarter of a million in the first few weeks of it being released.
Basford’s immense success is due in part to the help she had from several celebrities tweeting their completed images, and in part because of the upsurge in adult colouring books in general. While Basford’s pages have story elements, the basis is derived from the “mindfulness” fad. Used professionally in the psychology world since the 1970s, mindfulness is a practice applied to help people who are suffering from a variety of psychological conditions. Wikipedia defines mindfulness as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by meditation practices derived from Buddhist anapanasati.
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Mindfulness is basically a practice where you pause, and you create space, introspection and calm. It’s a popular topic in self-help books at the moment, with books being written to help readers find mindfulness in a matter of weeks. It is entirely plausible and probable that the development of our modern age and all it entails has fostered rampant anxiety. The mindfulness movement counteracts the very common feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious about the multitude of things to do, by encouraging people to pause, and take stock. Adult colouring books are a beautiful activity, as well as a remedy for the stress of busy lives. I was very excited about this prospect. But what I had forgotten until I was about to start colouring while watching David Attenborough explain polar bear mating rituals, is that when I was a kid I hated colouring in.
I used to have really poor dexterity; I think I was one of those left and right mix-up kids, with those rubber grips to train my fingers where to sit. It took until leaving primary school before I was a bit comfortable writing. I have traumatic memories of being sent back to try again after showing my teacher my handwriting exercises. Needless to say my colouring experiences were incredibly similar. However, I had already begun to develop perfectionist tendencies. For me as a kid, colouring was a hotbed of control issues and lacking motor skills. I remember my hands shaking in frustration and beating myself up for going outside the lines (biggest childhood faux-pas).
As I opened the page of my chosen book, the same feelings immediately flooded back to me. I had selected The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons, which is jam-packed full of intricate patterns “prompting you to meditate on your artwork as you mindfully and creatively fill these pages with colour”. Being A5, it is portable, making it easy to colour wherever you go. The templates have an endearing imperfection to their execution, which eased my initial reaction. Basford highlights that this allows creativity to flow, without the daunting feeling of a blank sheet, that the lines and patterns provide a structure, which simply needs to be coloured. However, looking at a whole page of tiny dots and swirls and lines, waiting for me to create something beautiful, made me feel a little overwhelmed.
At first I felt overwhelmed, but I think that was an appropriate trigger to ignite before my colouring meditation. I realised that the only way to complete the page of patterns was to work colour by colour, and line by line. Without realising, the mindfulness had already begun. By stopping productive tasks, and focusing on the motion of my faber-castell pencil, I was able to find stillness in my mind, which I hadn’t had all day. It paused my mind before it got caught in a flurry figuring out Saturday night plans, and allowed me to find a sense of calm.