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Why I love colouring books

Posted on 1st April 2015 by Isabel Popple
Nowadays colouring books aren't just for children. Adults across the country are turning to them as a way to relax after a hard day at work. One of our own booksellers, Isabel Popple, counts herself amongst the grown-up converts.

Joy is a new set of felt-tip pens and a pristine colouring book.

I have always loved colouring in. I have a memory from when I was about six years old of sitting on the sofa with my cousin, the coffee table in front of us strewn in sheets of paper and pens, the pair of us drawing and colouring and watching Anne of Green Gables. It felt like we could do that for hours.

As a child I went through pads and pads of Altair Designs – anyone else remember them? – and my all-time favourite colouring book featured an illuminated Celtic alphabet. I even coloured the pictures in my storybooks. At some point, though, somewhere along the line I “grew up” and colouring fell by the wayside – well, mostly. I dabbled here and there over the years, and then I discovered The Secret Garden by Johanna Basford.

One of the many brilliant things about being a bookseller is opening a box of books and discovering something new. It actually happens quite a lot! The beautiful and intricate inky details of Basford’s drawings caught my eye immediately; they just cry out to be coloured in and simply cannot be ignored. I like to think of it as ‘colouring for the sophisticated.

By chance, I started colouring my copy of The Secret Garden just before going to bed. Do you know what happened? I slept better that night than I had in weeks. Sound a bit crazy? I decided it’s because when I’m colouring, although I’m concentrating on what’s right in front of me – selecting colours and keeping within the lines – I’m also able to work through all the little quibbles and worries from the day, things I need to plan and remember to do. In short, when colouring, I do all the thinking I’d otherwise do when trying to sleep. By getting it all out of the way beforehand – and relaxing into the bargain – I sleep better.

I’m certainly not the first person to have figured this out. In fact, colouring is now being touted as an official stress reliever – check out the lovely little Mindfulness Colouring Book, for instance – and it seems like, all of a sudden, colouring books, especially those for adults, are having a resurgence. Psychologists say it’s because when we focus on the activity of colouring, it calms the mind and takes our focus away from worries, whilst stimulating motor skills, senses and creativity.

Famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung even got his patients to draw and colour mandalas as part of their therapy. He believed the mandala was a representation of the ‘unconscious self’, and that by creating them we generate and resolve our inner conflicts – even the colours we choose can be reflective of our emotions on a given day.

Is this why I love colouring? It’s true that colouring makes me feel wonderfully calm, and I guess that’s linked to all of the above. But I also love the simple action of creating something: at the end of a ‘colouring session’ you have something to look at and appreciate in a way that you don’t after spending an hour playing a computer game. It’s true that I feel calm, but I also feel like I’ve achieved something, even if it’s only small and it’s just for me.

Colouring is definitely not just for children. And I’ll freely admit I couldn't wait for Johanna Basford’s new book, Enchanted Forest. It's as beautiful and enjoyable as her first. The only question is: do I need some new pens to celebrate the occasion too?


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