The art of relaxation: why colouring books aren’t just for the kids anymore

The persuasive arts are often jokingly referred to as the colouring-in department. But the appeal is obviously not limited to marketers and agency folk, because adult colouring books are going gangbusters in New Zealand and around the world. 

Adult colouring books have been around for yonks (in accordance with the rule, ‘if it exists, there’s porn for it, ‘adult’ colouring books also seem to be plentiful), but they recently experienced a revival led by a few beautifully illustrated books.

In 2011, a British publishing house called Laurence King asked a Scottish commercial illustrator and artist to draw a children’s colouring book.

Johanna Basford was known for her black-and-white designs on wine labels and perfume vials, so she wasn’t your typical go-to illustrator for children.

She pitched the idea that she could draw one for adults instead and the publishers went for it.

“Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” was released in 2013 on an initial run of 13,000 copies.

It has since sold almost two million copies worldwide and has been followed up with “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book” this year, which is pictured above.

The two have been prominent on bestsellers lists worldwide (adult colouring books made up five of Amazon’s top 10 books in June). 

Since the book’s creation, adults with fully developed motor skills are snapping up colouring books more quickly than children.

Basford told the New Yorker no one would give someone a weird look if they were colouring in one of her books because the artwork is sophisticated and not a “bunny with a bow in its hair”.

The books feature intricately drawn pictures of flora, fauna and animals, with tricky lines and details that no five-year-old could master.

“Colouring is so accessible,” Basford said. “It unleashes the creativity we all have in a way that’s quite safe.”

Jane Avila, a social worker and art therapist, echoed this to the Times Daily.

“It allows you to go into the process without having to make all those detailed decisions,” Avila said.

“What are the chances of screwing up, anyway? It’s a very low-risk activity that’s very rewarding.”

Booksellers NZ chief executive Lincoln Gould calls the trend a “global phenomenon” that’s happening here, too.

Gould says they began to see a demand for adult colouring books in New Zealand around February and March this year.

“Some people think it would’ve peaked by now, but it doesn’t seem to have peaked at all,” he says.

“They’re going out the door very quickly and they’re certainly ranking very high [on bestseller lists]. I think they’re something like the top three or four books in the top 10 in Nielsen Bookscan figures in terms of sales.”

He says there has even been a New-Zealand made adult colouring book published based on native flora, fauna and birds, which Kiwi bookshops have been ordering in significant numbers.

The organisation is also featuring adult colouring books in its build up to New Zealand Bookshop Day on 31 October, which celebrates local bookshops around the country.

Adult colouring books are stocked in many shops around New Zealand, including Whitcoulls, Paper Plus, Mighty Ape and Gordon Harris.

Mighty Ape chief marketing gorilla Gracie Mackinlay says they noticed the trend in April, but the category really took off on the site in May and June.

 “Secret Garden by Johanna Basford has been our number one selling book for many weeks, as well as constantly being in the top 10 within the Mighty Ape site across all categories,” Mackinlay says.

“Within the books category, half of our top 10 are adult colouring books at the moment.”

She says while colouring books previously were used by those who were into art or design, now anyone can have a go at them.

“The adult colouring books we see today are for fun and picked up as a new hobby for many. People also feel it’s therapeutic and anti-stress,” she says.

Mighty Ape recently hosted an adult colouring book competition. Winner Kimberley Rutgers won $100 worth of colouring books, pens, and pencils from the site.

The winning entry by Kimberley. Source / Facebook

Feel free to let us know what you think the next child-turned-adult phenomenon will be in the comments. Play Doh for adults, perhaps? 

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