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The Truth About Adult Colouring

Jana likes to grow stuff, exercise, snack, and explore creative projects as a means to relax and grow.


Carl Jung and the Monks

A common misconception holds that adult colouring is a modern trend. In truth, it's more like a revived practice or one that's spreading to the West. In the past, this activity was considered to be recreation only meant for children, but that was a very Western notion. In the East, for centuries, people have used design and colours to help them relax and meditate. One example is Tibetan Sand Art. This ancient art, which is also known as “sand mandalas,” are drawn by Buddhist monks using different shades of dyed sand to create images in breathtaking detail.

In the 20th century, Carl Jung became one of the first psychologists to give the idea some serious thought. The famous Swiss thinker was the founder of analytic psychology and used mandalas as a part of patients' treatment. Just to be clear, mandalas are flexible designs but generally include something concentric and repetitive. He believed they helped with relaxation and the self-discovery of a person's total self.

Modern Criticism

Despite the fact that colour and drawing (and blending those two elements together) have long histories in sacred rituals and therapy, modern criticism persists. Almost everyone who enjoys this hobby has a story to tell about meeting with disapproval. Enthusiasts are often told the activity is childish or, a waste of time and money. They're even told that there are better ways for grownups to create art or feel better about themselves.

Therapists, in general, are concerned about unrealistic expectations. Most feel that colouring books for adults are not real therapy, though it can be used in conjunction with conventional psychiatric treatments. Another concern voiced by professionals is that people don't take into account the fact that this hobby is not a cure for every ailment and definitely not the only coping strategy for serious trauma. A final gripe most critics have against it is that colouring for adults is a multi-million dollar business. They feel the hype is a sales gimmick that doesn't come clean about the limitations of the hobby.

Designer Peace

An example of a ready-to-colour mandala.

An example of a ready-to-colour mandala.

Meet the Artists

Contrary to what the most paranoid of critics may fear, a grownup in the throes of colour and crayons is not a sign of a lesser intellect. Among the ranks of adult colouring enthusiasts are professionals like architects, business owners and teachers. No less important, there are also students, parents and patients suffering from PTSD or illness. Among those who report a positive experience, the main benefit that keeps showing up is relaxation and a sense of calm.

This Is What Scientists Discovered

Several scientific studies have been done on the subject. After being asked to participate in artistic experiments, groups were either questioned or had their brains tested. Here are some of the most interesting results.

  • Overthinking is a trigger for anxiety and depression. Colouring keeps the mind from floating to the future (anxiety) or dredging up the past (often associated with depression)
  • It can relax the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear and stress
  • Individuals who are not particularly artistic can create stunning art and feel a sense of achievement
  • Colouring can be viewed as a kind of meditation, since it also involves similar qualities like mindfulness and tranquility
  • When the hobby replaces electronic bedtime activities, it aids sleep. Bright screens from cellphones and laptops tend to wake up the brain
  • Colouring maintains manual dexterity of the hands, something that fades with age
  • It fosters self-expression
  • Mood improvement

Create Your Own

For some, creating their own outlines also provide a relaxing time and sense of achievement.

For some, creating their own outlines also provide a relaxing time and sense of achievement.

You Can Do It for Free

One thing that makes this “craze” so viral is that it's easy to start with. It's fun to buy a colouring book or cellphone app but anyone can start out free, if they choose. For some, drawing their own images is a new level of creativity and meditation, especially when it's a mandala. However, this is not for everyone. Some people just appreciate the freedom of colouring a beautiful image without needing to create it first.

The Artists and Critics Are Both Right

As long as the colouring-in craze continues, there will be two camps. The artists versus the critics. Undoubtedly, positive things flow from this hobby. This is a stressful world at best and adult colouring provides a cheap, non-addictive coping strategy that cannot be discounted. On the other hand, the critics do have valid claims. Yes, this hobby must be viewed within context and with realistic expectations. Yes, it cannot replace medicine or serious therapy. However, at the end of the day, the critics need to understand that if somebody wants to spend a few dollars (or more) on a colouring book and add blue to some Smurf, then it's that person's choice. There's no shame in this hobby. On the contrary, it's an ancient art that deserves some reviving!

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit


Donna Rayne from Sparks, Nevada on January 02, 2020:

Jana, I've been wanting to get an adult coloring book and then frame my work to use as pictures to hang in my house. Thank you for such a wonderful article and inspiration!


Donna Rayne

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on September 28, 2019:

Hi Kenneth. Thank you for the great comment. I truly appreciate it. :)

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on September 23, 2019:

Jana . . .very professional hub. Helpful and very-needed. I commend you for your writing talent.

Keep the great hubs coming.

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on August 18, 2018:

:) Insightful comment. I enjoyed reading your views, thanks for adding your thoughts!

RTalloni on August 12, 2018:

What a great post! It's about time therapists were challenged! VIVA coloring at any age! So glad you added the positive bullet points. Common sense tells us much of that without research. :) Besides, if pitching a fast-ball glop of paint onto a canvas from 14 feet away can be called art, certainly coloring is real art! Good stuff here. :)

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on August 12, 2018:

So true, Dolores. This is a very relaxing and yet challenging (if you want it to be) hobby. Thanks for reading!

Dolores StPierre from Auburn,Maine on August 07, 2018:

I always colored as a child, my father being an artist showed me how to blend, I have done most Mediums. Relaxes me and I love accomplishing the picture that I thought I couldn’t do. I love a good challenge