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Between the lines

Adult colouring books are the new mindfulness

Fans of the new craze say it helps them with anxiety and staying calm.

MOVE OVER MINDFULNESS (well, sort of) – there’s a new mode of relaxation in town.

Adults are reaching for their pencils and crayons as a new craze sweeps the bookshelves: adult colouring books.

No, seriously.


The last memories you may have of colouring in are probably from your schooldays. But colouring books specifically aimed at adults have become hugely popular in 2015, with fans saying they help them stay focused, reduce their anxiety, and bring a new sort of mindfulness to their lives.

One of the leaders on the scene is Johanna Basford, the Scottish illustrator behind Enchanted Forest (which bills itself as an ‘inky quest colouring book’) and Lost Ocean (an ‘inky adventure and colouring book’).

Johanna Basford / Vimeo

Her book Secret Garden is the number one best seller in Amazon’s Colouring Books for Grown-Ups section (somehow, the word ‘grown-ups’ looks more childish than ‘adult’, but the latter also has 18+ connotations).

Her intricate pen drawings, inspired by the flora and fauna from the area where she grew up, make for captivating images, but even more so when strangers colour in between the lines.

Basford shares images of her fans’ colouring in results, which show that there are multiple approaches to colouring in the same designs:

johanna basford Johanna Basford Johanna Basford

Alongside Basford’s books on Amazon (she doesn’t just occupy the first spot, but the number two spot in the adult colouring books section), are a range of books that show how the genre is being aimed at people trying to seek balance in their lives.

Given the huge growth of mindfulness over the past few years, this isn’t surprising. There are stress relieving colouring books, Colour Me Calm, Splendid Cities: Colour Your Way to Calm, Colour me Happy, the Mindfulness Colouring Book, Colour Me Stress Free, Creative Therapy, and Joyful Designs.

For those who aren’t so into the mindfulness aspect, there are books about eclectic owls, the Day of the Dead, and one aimed at artists that features the work of other artists.

Mindfulness-Colouring-Book-by-Emma-Farrarons_640 Emma Fararons Emma Fararons

Susan Walsh, marketing manager at Dubray Books, said publishers have been “jumping” on the trend. “I think it’s appealing a bit to the people who liked the mindfulness books,” she said.

“If they want to create something nice but without any artistic skills, it’s perfect. You can make something really lovely by putting in your own colours.”

She spies a similar trend in the making – join-the-dots books are the next to hit the market. Bookstores like Dubray spot trends through the media, said Walsh. “The first one we noticed was the Enchanted Garden. We noticed it was selling as soon as it came in. That usually gives us an alert that we are not keeping enough in stock. Then one publisher after another produced their own.”

To deal with the growing demand for good colouring pencils, Dubray has even begun to stock them too. They report that most of the people buying the books are female, and some seem to have bought them to take on holidays.

“It occupies my mind and takes me away from generalised anxiety”

Jen Ronan is a writer and musician from Limerick who was bitten by the colouring book bug this year. She says it helps her manage her anxiety, while also giving a creative boost.

Initially, she “bought a kids book to colour in for a laugh”. “I was very anxious at the time,” she told

“I tried knitting and didn’t stick with it. Someone mentioned it to me: ‘People are doing colouring books for grown-ups’. I thought ‘oh my God’. Amazon had a few of them - since then it’s just gone massive.”

She loves the intricate patterns of the likes of Johanna Basford, and being a stationery fan she embraced using different pens and pencils for the colouring in. Her favourite books are those with cartoon-style drawings, which is perhaps not a surprise for a bubbly young woman with a brightly-coloured Jem tattoo.

She’s a big fan of Thaneeya McArdle - whose colouring books include ones about ‘groovy animals’, mandalas and folk art birds – and even found herself chatting with McArdle after tagging her on Instagram.

Ronan appreciates how McArdle gives tips on shading and also includes blank drawings to allow readers to bring even more creativity to the fore.

On a recent trip abroad, a colouring book even helped to take the edge off flying for Ronan. “I brought a colouring book and markers on the plane as sometimes I get claustrophobic,” she explained.

“I’m quite fidgety – I tend to pick my skin when I’m stressed or anxious without knowing. When you’re drawing you’re not thinking of anything else. It’s a nicer thing than tearing your hair out. It helps me think as well.

I find it really nice – it just occupies my mind and takes me away from the generalised anxiety.

She also appreciates how indulging in a past-time associated with an earlier stage of life brings a jolt of joy with it. “It’s nice to get in touch with being a kid again and enjoy something for the sake of it, and look at the bright colours,” said Ronan.

As someone who “can’t really draw”, she still gets to illustrate. 

img_6240 Jenny Ronan Jenny Ronan

Meditating isn’t for her – “I find it quite hard – the mind goes 90″ – but colouring works when Ronan wants to settle or calm herself. It’s also “an exercise in finishing things”.

About four or five of Ronan’s friends are also into colouring in, and she shares her creations on Instagram and Twitter. Conversations around pencils and markers abound.

Mindful colouring?

“I’m not really into the mindfulness stuff but I am into being self aware and knowing your triggers and weak points,” said Ronan.

“It’s just being aware of how you’re handling things: are you doing OK, and checking in with yourself now and then. As you’re colouring, you can use your time if you’re conscious of it. You are sorting stuff out. Mindfulness is minding yourself really, that’s how I see it. It can be a bit hippy dippy… I just like it ’cause it’s fun.”

“You do get a rush or physiological effect when you see colours coming together. It does actually work – your brain gets a boost from something, You can challenge yourself as well.”

img_6240 Jenny Ronan Jenny Ronan

Want to get started?

There is a plethora of colouring books for grown-ups on Amazon if you like to purchase online, but almost every bookshop in Ireland has also cottoned onto the trend. So heading to your local bookseller’s will give you a chance to peruse the options, or order a book in.

If people can’t afford the bigger colouring books for grown-ups, Ronan adds that you can get books in pound shops, the children’s section of bookstores, or in Tiger.

As for what tools to use when colouring in, it’s not just about Crayola crayons. Basford advises:

Everyone will have their own favourite pens and pencils it all depends whether you want bold vibrant colour (go for pens) or a softer, more tactile approach that allows you to blend and gradiate your tones (go for pencils!)

Have you tried colouring books for adults? What do you think of them? Tell us in the comments.

Read: Mindfulness therapy can be as good as medication for preventing depressive relapses>

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