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Adult coloring books are selling by the millions, selling out on Amazon

Iris Scott leads a finger painting class in her Brooklyn loft. (Photo courtesy of Iris Scott)
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When was the last time you colored? You know, crayons, coloring book? Perhaps you haven’t colored since you were a kid. But right now, on Amazon, the top two best selling books are both coloring books for adults. OK, well they were the top two sellers last week before the entire supply sold out.

UK artist Johanna Basford has sold 1.4 million copies of her coloring book “Secret Garden,” in 22 languages and her new coloring book, “Enchanted Forest,” completely sold out just two weeks after its release in March. Her books are less kiddy, with more complicated drawings designed to please adults.

People all over the world are rediscovering the art of coloring.

“I’ve started to realize that everybody loves to color if you catch them at the right time,” said Seattle’s Alexander Williamson, the illustrator behind the “Psychedelic Coloring Book.”

“What makes it an adult coloring book is the level of difficulty and the material it’s printed on. Kids coloring books are usually on newsprint and an adult coloring book, in my mind, is one that can withstand mediums such as acrylic, watercolor, pencils, graphite and Sharpie.”

Williamson tends to sells his books to people between 30 and 80 years old.

“There’s all this research on how coloring is good for your brain and how it relaxes you and it reduces your cortisol levels and everything,” Williamson said. “But the thing I see with a lot of my friends, in the city, working in cubicles or working in the service industry, you’re working a job where you don’t get to necessarily bring something home with you to show what you’ve created and how you’ve improved.

“With everything being so digital and intangible, coloring is a really awesome way to just pick up what you’ve been working on every night. And as you progress through the book, you can actually see your progress. That sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is what always drew me to coloring and art, in general.”

Iris Scott is a professional oil finger painting artist from Maple Valley, who now lives and works in Brooklyn. She discovered finger painting accidentally, when she was too lazy to wash out her brushes. She’s exclusively used her fingertips ever since. She now teaches finger painting to sold out classes full of adults.

“Non-artists were predominantly my students and they made paintings that kind of shocked them,” Scott said. “They were vibrant and impressionistic; they were really good.”

That’s the thing with coloring and finger painting, you don’t have to identify as an artist to be good at them. Everyone can color inside the lines.

“Adults need structure,” Scott said. “They need to be protected from, what is essentially just, a huge mess-up. It’s really discouraging and frustrating to spend a long time doing something that looks like a child did it. You need to ease into it, and you need to spend time creating something that looks pretty beautiful in order to stay confident enough to keep trying.”

She believes that frustration is what keeps so many adults from indulging their artistic sides. When Scott was getting her master’s degree, she studied when and why kids stop identifying as artists. She said if a kid doesn’t think they’re really good at drawing or painting, they’ll stop practicing.

“All kindergartners will raise their hand in a class and say they’re artists,” Scott said. “Most all first graders, almost all second graders. And then third graders, it starts to go down. Pretty soon, by the time they’re in junior high, there are only a couple of kids in the school that are like, ‘I’m the artist.'”

So why did we stop coloring? And if we’re so concerned with keeping art in schools, why don’t we realize how good it is for our adult brains?

“I think it just goes back to that permission problem we have in our society where you’re not allowed to even buy art materials unless you’re already identified as an artist,” Scott said. “That’s just ridiculous and you can start at any time. Especially, I think, with the coloring books, it’s instant gratification. Buy great colors, start coloring, it’s going to look wonderful.”

She said her students, who don’t consider themselves to be artists, bliss out in her classes.

“I notice a lot in the classes that they get really quiet and they’re just in la la land” Scott said. “I feel like they’re very present, they’re in the moment of that one stroke. They’re watching the reds and the yellows collide. I just keep hearing again and again: ‘This feels so good.’ ‘This is art therapy.’ I had a student who went through a death in the family by finger painting everyday. She said that it got her through it.”

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