Stressed out? Can’t sleep? Try some Mac and Cheese.
No, not the fattening food. The Crayola crayon. It’s a bright, cheery orange yellow. And while you’re at it, try some Magenta, Mahogany and Asparagus.
One of the revelations of 2015 was that coloring is not just for children. Grown-ups have taken it up to stir their imaginations, focus on the moment and relieve stress. And in the new year, the trend has only continued to blossom.
“I think coloring is reaching its popularity right now because we’re coming to an awakening that we really are in charge of our health and wellness,” said Wendy Bottoms Pegan, a mental health counselor and director of the Creative Relationship Center in Amherst. “And what are some of the things we can do for our own wellness? One of those things is, we can play. We can create, in a way that’s acceptable. We live in a world of rules and regulations and should and should not. With coloring, there’s no should and should not.”
Grown-up coloring books run from the simple and relaxing to the dizzyingly sophisticated. Some are based on TV shows including “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander.” Others are abstract – paisleys, kaleidoscopic Eastern mandalas, art nouveau designs.
Crayola just unrolled a line of grown-up coloring books. Dover Publishing, which has been publishing historic grown-up coloring books for decades, could be considered a pioneer in the field. They now have more than ever before. You can color medieval manuscripts, or your own angels by Botticelli, or famous Impressionist paintings.
At Michael’s, the hobby store, coloring books have pride of place up near the checkout counters. Clayton Toys, in its tiny new waterfront outlet, makes room for a generous display.
Talking Leaves, on Elmwood Avenue, has a huge selection, including some you can fit in your purse or pocket.
“People buy them for gifts. They buy them for themselves. They are flying off the shelves,” said Alicia Michielli, assistant manager.
“It’s very meditative. It doesn’t require much thought and it puts you in that meditative state,” Michielli said. “People who don’t have patience for meditation find they like it.”
Her words made sense. Niagara University, after all, uses coloring books in its stress relief room.
My life being as hectic as anyone’s, I decided to try coloring, to see what it was about. At Ollie’s, in Cheektowaga, I paid $6 for one called “Whimsical Designs.” The designs were whimsical – elaborate butterflies, tangles of flowers and swirling patterns that, when colored properly, could resemble 1920s wallpaper.
Not that I was coloring them properly.
Coming up with a catchy color scheme is a challenge. I stared at the page.
Next I stared at my box of mint-condition 64 Crayolas. I pulled out one, then another. Magenta, Forest Green, Mahogany, Dandelion, Mac and Cheese, Scarlet. Some I remembered from being a kid. Some I didn’t.
Already, therapy was at work. I had learned I had trouble making decisions. Finally I chose a pale, tentative shade, Carnation Pink.
I worked on the picture over the next four evenings, after dinner. Whimsical Designs helped clear my head after a busy day. It’s pleasant to reflect on colors, and you go to sleep with rose hues and cerulean blues drifting through your head. And there was a practical bonus: The crayons kept me from reaching for more dessert.
I can admit all this freely because I’m not alone. Karen Johnston, a corrections officer, arrives at work armed with several coloring books to de-stress her in her off hours. She said other employees at the prison where she works also use them to stay happy and sane.
“I always hear them saying how relaxing it is,” she said.
“It’s good for your mind. You’re coloring something. You’re making it personal,” she added. “Just because you’re not drawing the design doesn’t mean you’re not free-handed in your color schemes. You can do Sudoku or puzzles – or you can color, and you’re making something.”
Two coloring groups gather weekly at the Brighton Library in Tonawanda. Donna White, the head of the library, is a casual observer but believes in coloring’s soothing potential.
“I read an article that it’s just as beneficial as medications,” she said.
True or not, it seems possible. Although apps let you color with a stylus, coloring on paper is more popular, and demands a break from the electronic screen. Coloring together breeds companionship.
Brighton Place’s Tuesday group radiated good vibes.
The color mavens, all women, had brought a wealth of varied coloring books as well as Sharpies and colored pencils, which seem to be the media of choice for serious colorers. Their work was impressive.
“I must have 30 books and 500 markers at home,” Marcia Dutko of the Town of Tonawanda hesitantly admitted.
Why so sheepish?
“Sometimes you mention it to somebody and they look at you funny,” she said.
Surely the day is dawning when you can shout such statistics from the rooftops. Even therapists are beginning to consider coloring a factor in personal growth.
Pegan, of the Creative Relationship Center, has long believed in the peaceful power of mandalas. Coloring them, she suggested, isn’t even necessary. You can trace the pattern with a stylus or fingertip.
“I use mandalas for people with anxiety disorders and with my children who have attention disorders,” she said.
“Remember those maze books we used to have? It’s kind of like that. But you’re getting rid of the competition of finding how to get out of the maze real quick, or even the whole idea of competing against yourself. You’re trying to be in that moment.”
Coloring, Pegan reflected, takes us to a carefree place.
“Coloring is another way of being a child,” she said. “It’s very serene. We often feel like we have to do something with children to feel free and relaxed because we won’t do it on our own.”
At the very least, the activity can prove a pleasant distraction.
“One of the ways in which people ground themselves is in using their five senses,” Pegan said. “When you say, ‘Look at that color,’ that’s a signal to use your sense of sight. It will automatically retrigger your brain into an area that is pleasurable. It redirects your thinking. It creates a new neuropathway in the brain.”
Such freedom and enjoyment resonates with all ages. Visiting my sister, I found my teenage nieces and hyper 12-year-old nephew were all strangely quiet and mellow.
They were coloring.
Santa had brought them coloring books. And not just any coloring books. The two girls were working eagerly on “The Secret Garden” and “The Enchanted Forest,” by British artist Johanna Basford, whose elaborate, best-selling creations are said to have sparked the coloring craze. Their brother was deep into “Lost Oceans,” Basford’s newest masterpiece.
He enthusiastically displayed a detailed drawing of a skull. “I’m going to start with this one.”
Pegan would approve.
“I think it’s always been an interest for us to have the black and white, the stark framework of something, and then adding the color,” she said. “It pokes into the creative side of our brain. Not everyone is comfortable with that. People say, ‘I’m not creative. I can’t create anything.’”
Those same people are not intimidated by coloring.
“It gives us an opportunity to be creative, and make something out of just a framework,” Pegan said, “and it’s one of the few things you don’t need a skill for. You just do it.”
See a photo gallery to go with this story at galleries.buffalonews.com