Darvill's, the local bookstore on Orcas Island, has been unable to keep adult coloring books off the shelves this year. We've noticed guests at our B&B using them, too. Marketers have touted the stress-reducing benefits of spending unfettered time focused on coloring. This will come as no surprise to artists, especially those who enjoy an almost meditative, zen-like state of mind as they work.

Studies are now connecting art and improved cognitive abilities. For example, art therapy has helped Alzheimer's and dementia patients map new communication paths in the brain, increase vocabulary, and also improve their self-worth through a sense of accomplishment. The results appear to be more pronounced in people who have been doing art their whole lives, which researchers have speculated may be due to a kind of procedural repetition, similar to muscle memory. However, even those who have never done art can reap benefits such as increased social interaction and sensory stimulation.

And those benefits aren't exclusively for the elderly or those in cognitive decline. One of our B&B guests mentioned that she could be reactionary, and sometimes obsessed over things. Coloring calmed her, and took her thoughts away from quotidian troubles.

I would have thought artists might find the color books a little silly. Why simply color in someone else's design? But when I asked a handful of artists what they thought, they all had positive things to say. The advantages they saw as artists were:
1) Coloring in someone else's drawing forces the artist out of his or her own compositional patterns, and lets her or him engage with a different design (rather than just looking at it) in a practical way.
3) It allows the artist to play with color combinations on a composition that is low-commitment and low-risk, meaning they don't have to take the time to come up with their own composition, and if it doesn't work, they don't care. It becomes a field for experimentation without the pressure of creating an original work.
4) Depending on the subject of the design, they can learn about the anatomy, architecture, or general structure of the objects depicted by spending time coloring in each feather, cupola, leaf, or other component.
5) Just as singing scales helps vocalists warm up, coloring can help artists do the same.

I admit, my knee-jerk reaction was to pooh-pooh adult coloring books. 'Why not sketch your own drawings?' I thought. But now I look at it a little differently. Maybe coloring actually improves our quality of life and makes us better artists, too. The more I think about it, the more I think adults should try more kids' activities. Summer camp and hoola-hoops come to mind.


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