Time to color! But not before checking basketball scores on my phone and queuing up some Deep Purple. No wait, Al Green. No wait, Whitesnake. No wait, Blackstreet. OK, so focusing isn't my strong suit. As neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin has written, some people have a hard time concentrating on a single act, instead preferring to "reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks." Like looking to see if I missed any good tweets. (I didn't.)
Finally, I reach into my $20 case of triangular colored pencils (no serious colorist uses that kid shit) and pluck a pencil at random (I read about that strategy here). I begin with the first page in The Mindfulness Coloring Book, a collage of overlapping flowers and leaves that spill off the pages. Carefully, I color a petal brown, and then berate myself for the decision. Instead of bringing the flower to life, I have condemned it to death.
After 30 minutes I pull back to survey the scene. There are… three flowers colored in. Holy shit that took a long time. The design is so detailed, the flowers so intricately drawn, that filling in the white space is annoyingly tedious. I quit. After my first attempt at coloring, I conclude that I still prefer the relaxing power of FIFA 15 and four bowls of cereal.
The current adult coloring trend began four years ago when French publisher Hachette Pratique began selling Art-thérapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress. It was a sensation, and the publisher banged out a whole series of Art-thérapie books. In 2013, Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford collected her drawings into Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book and adult coloring was officially a thing.
"When Secret Garden hit No.1 on Amazon and the Guardian UK did a feature on [Basford],” adult coloring books became a “phenomenon,” says Steve Mockus, executive editor at Chronicle Books. He saw publishers quickly snatch up French titles and republish them in America, “the quickest route as they were already done,” he says. By the end of 2015 Nielsen BookScan estimates that 2,000 coloring books were released in the previous 12 months, nearly seven times as many as in 2014.
Americans went nuts for them, buying 12 million adult coloring books in 2015 according to Nielsen, up from a million in 2014. At any given moment, Amazon’s top-20 list has at least one adult coloring book on it and big-box retailers like Walmart, Target, and Michaels have all increased their coloring book offerings. This trend, which has inspired meet-ups all around the country, has now progressed to the point of self-mockery. Some are even warning of a global coloredpencil shortage.
The conventional wisdom behind this boom holds that Americans are so stressed that they're looking for a way -- any way -- to decompress. But, as I discovered later, after having spent a month with my coloring books, that is not the only explanation.