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By Melanie Birch
There is a new sensation on the block: colouring for adults. While it’s been in existence for several decades, in the last few years its popularity has exploded and shows no signs of slowing for some time. The beginning of that explosion was Johanna Basford, a commercial illustrator who was asked by her publishers to draw black and white patterns for a children’s colouring book. Basford knew that the intricate patterns she created for things like wine labels were already popular for adults to colour. So instead she created “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” and her publishers were convinced to print it .
To date, it has sold more than two million copies, and spawned an industry. Both this book and its follow - up “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book” are in Amazon’s top ten seller list for 2015. And there are several more by different authors within the top 100 list.
Whether they are a meditation or mindfulness activity is up for debate. There are certainly qualities of these present and there are several books with titles such as “Colour Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Colouring Book”. There are also a growing number of people who advocate the health benefits colouring mandalas as a meditation activity.
Meditation is an old practice, intended as an aide to develop areas such as spiritual understanding, inner awareness and the direct experience of ultimate reality. Rather than focussing on external demands, there was often an intense focus on a single sound, a thought, a point of vision or a word. The eyes were commonly closed and the practice undertaken for a period of time each day. Formal mindfulness meditation requires a focus on the sensations and movement of the breath, with eyes closed. Less formal mindfulness is about the quality of awareness that is brought to each moment. Wandering thoughts and distractions are noted without judgement or resistance. The goal of both is to be more aware of what is happening in your own body and mind at the time it is happening.
Whether colouring fits these descriptions or not, it is a wonderful method of relaxation and time out. It unhitches us from the busyness of activity and – importantly in this day and age – it provides a disconnect from digital devices. For the many of us who are “not good” at painting it is a way of using that part of the brain without worrying about what to draw or how to draw it. Instead, the structure is there and the choice is about colours. It is about creating a picture without words, not using words to create a picture.
Remember as a child, often the colouring activity was also as much about trying to keep the colour inside the line s as create the picture. Well this is a lot the same, except that the designs are often much more intricate and those lines are a lot more difficult to colour inside. Which means you will find also it difficult to multi task and not forget which colour you had decided to use in which area. So this is an activity that requires concentration. And if quiet music or silence is in the background, it becomes an absorbing and very relaxing activity. It will usually slow breathing and heart rate to a more regular level than we tend to have trying to attend to three things at once. And because we are absorbed in a pleasant Elkanah Counselling 7 activity , our muscles tend to relax. Or alternatively , we become aware of where we have been holding tension in our muscles and can then do something about attending to that with stretching, massage, hot packs or whatever it may be. The upshot is an unexpectedly more relaxed body.
Intricate colouring can also become a metaphor for some aspects of life. It is impossible to colour accurately and retain the whole picture simultaneously. That becomes a good reminder to step back now and then and contemplate the whole of our lives, rather than focussing minute to minute on the seemingly important. The opposite is also true. If we spend all our time looking at the whole of what has come before or only the white space of the future, we are not attending to the present with enough concentration.
As you colour your pattern, notice how your perspective and assessment of one colour and its relationship to the whole changes as you complete another section or colour. Just like life, we can change our perspectives on matters as more information is added. Note too that the seemingly insignificant colour added early on can take on a much stronger role when the pattern is completed, in the same way that a trifling decision made early in life can be seen quite differently decades later.
Likewise, no colour stands on its own. All are seen in relation to each other. The subtle shading from one to another, the discord or unexpected harmony of two seemingly clashing colours. Again, another lesson in life, its surprises and the insights that a re made by standing back and seeing another perspective.
I am sure you will make your own discoveries, and I would love to hear them. This is a process that is quite individual to each person. And collectively there is a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure being experienced in colouring by a great many adults. (And just between you and me, there is also pleasure in having a reason to buy that pencil set you always wanted as a child!).
This activity can be a costly or as inexpensive as you like. There are no rules about what to colour with: pens, pencils, crayons, textas, paints, the choice is yours. And I said at the beginning, there are many books of intricate drawings available online and in your local art and craft shop. A very popular and beautiful series is Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom. There are also books that have instructions for designing your own line drawings for colouring. The Art of Zentangle is one such.
And then are also hundreds of free line drawings available to download and print. The next page has a sample, a fairly intricate mandala. It will take quite some time to do, don’t expect to finish in one sitting! Put aside a little time when you can, become absorbed, relax and enjoy!
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