I have a hip new hobby. I didn’t realize it was hip until recently.
For Christmas, my kids gave me a coloring book and a set of colored pencils. (They gave me some other things too, like a totally cool lamp for my office.)
I was intrigued by the coloring book, but not thrilled. Do they think I am ready for the old fart farm?
My talent lies with putting words on paper, not drawings. As much as I wanted to paint and draw as a kid, I could never get beyond black, claw-like winter trees. (There were plenty of those in Montreal.)
A few days into this new year, I opened up the book on my dining table – Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. I felt a little silly. Memories of being bored in kindergarten, Brownies and high school sewing.
The pages seemed overwhelming. All those sea bottoms and weird creatures and castles and hidden treasures. Where to start?
The answer is with one pencil stroke, of course. And then another. And then a pleasurable feeling of accomplishment as the black and white illustrations – including crabs with claws – came to life. Pages filled with color and the stroking motions to get there were soothing.
Soon I was looking forward to new pages, new color combinations, and whenever I had a spare few minutes, the book called to me. Waiting for a friend or a phone call? Color. Finished work, but not ready for dinner? Color. Feeling jittery watching all the terrible news on TV? Color. I found I could balance the book on my legs, even if sharing it with a cat, and color away. It is a relief not to have to look at any more car crashes, shootings, fires, ribbon cuttings or anchor women in sausage dresses and yet still keep informed. Beneficial multi-tasking.
I texted my kids with an illustration (my best work yet) and the message “I have become an addict.” And then I needed my fixes, new pencils. I couldn’t pass a stationery or art supply store without going in to check out their supply. Nor could I pass up the small art sections in the drug and grocery stores. Who knew there are now 25 kinds of crayons? I found some great push-up pencils by Crayola that don’t require sharpening. And a set of metallic pencils at Aaron Brothers that add a soft gleam. Recently spotted unusual colors in an expensive gift store. I picked up one in a gorgeous chartreuse and rolled it around in my fingers like I used to do cigarettes. But at $3 a pop, I can do without. For now, anyway.
I’ve also learned that certain instruments do not work, for example, markers. Except for highlighting tiny spots, they are too saturated, not subtle enough.
It’s the closest I come to being a real artist. Working for years in desktop publishing, as an adjunct to journalism and technical writing, I have a good eye for balance, color and design.
And the meditative benefit is a bonus!
In a few weeks, I finished the book and drove up to Book Star for a new one. To my surprise, the whole front window was filled with a display of coloring books. Inside, there was also a huge display – larger than sections for self-help, relationships, addictions and diets. And so many subjects to color. Birds. Animals. Flowers. Mandalas. Ethnic designs.
I picked “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book,” also by Basford.
“I love to color,” said the young clerk as she checked me out. “And this Johanna is the woman who started it all.”
Then, of course, as often happens when you learn something new, you see it or hear about it everywhere. From friends and family:
“We use it in our stress management classes at work.”
“My daughter has a coloring group in her college dorm.”
And now I see coloring books popping up in unexpected places, boutiques, newsstands. Even a blurb in the latest (May ’16) “Westways” magazine:
“Who says coloring books are just for kids? Trendy adults are taking up this hip hobby as a way to pass the time on long car rides or plane trips … intricate and soothing drawings will put “big kids” in vacation mode in no time.”