By now you’ve realized that I don’t always recommend conventional books, and I don’t intend to start today. No, today I want to talk about coloring books. Sit tight.
I have terrible insomnia, fueled by anxiety. I’ve struggled with my nighttime routine and spent hours awake hoping desperately for sleep for most of my life. When I was a little girl, I took a flashlight into my closet or the bathtub and read books while I should have been in bed. As a grown up person, I have an arsenal of “can’t sleep” activities, because when I can’t sleep, I really can’t sleep.
I’ve found that the things that help me feel calm and eventually restful are things that engage me, but not too much. If a movie is too boring, I’ll start to focus on anxiety, rather than calm. On the other hand, if I get too interested in my book, I won’t sleep. Art is always nice at night, but if I’m already anxious, it’s hard to let go of the perfectionist’s tendency to get obsessed when things don’t go just right.
My sister likes to color and one day when I was coloring with her, I realized I felt very calm. It was fun to make choices about crayon colors and to stay in the lines. I looked for coloring books in a number of places after that and found there weren’t too many I was interested in at stores like Target. Kid’s stuff is fun for a little while, but I found myself wanting something a bit more grown up. Eventually, I found that Dover makes some lovely coloring books and I have quite a few of them.
Then one day last month I discovered Johanna Basford and fell in love with coloring all over again. Basford is an illustrator and “ink evangelist.” She prefers to hand draw in black and white ink, which makes her intricate drawings uniquely predisposed to become coloring books. Basford’s work is inspired by the plants and animals she grew up around in rural Scotland. About her own work, she says,
Every piece I create starts life as a simple pencil sketch, evolving into a rambling pen and ink drawing usually spanning several sheets of paper. I love the tactile nature of the materials I use and the joy of smudgy fingerprints. My delicate hand inked designs intend to charm and delight, inviting you to peer closer and discover the hidden intricacies.
The reason I like Basford’s coloring books, Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden so much is that as objects, they’re art already. The covers are gorgeous (you can color them too!). Their dust jackets come off to reveal even more colorable surface area. There are puzzles for those inclined to complete activities while coloring, but you could ignore them completely and have a wonderful time. They smell wonderful (book lovers all over know exactly what I mean). For someone like me, who loves to draw, Basford’s coloring books are a stress-free way to create because she’s already done the hard work for me.
I like to use colored pencils in Secret Garden. The pages are a little too thin for felt-tipped markers, and you may experience some bleeding if you use them. This issue is corrected in Enchanted Forest, which has much thicker pages. The quality of Basford’s art is consistent between both books, with lots of flowers and creatures to color. The illustrations in both books are intricate enough to provide a challenge, but not so much that it’s impossible to stay in the lines.
My guess is that Basford’s coloring books are not great gifts for younger children, but that artistic older children and adults will enjoy them as much as I do. I like using Prismacolor colored pencils and markers with mine, and I’m itching to try my Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink on them.
Allison Carr Waechter enjoys doodling with her Micron pens and daydreaming about the forest. She’s going to go color after she finishes this post. This post is dedicated to Allison’s heart-sister, Alaina, who knows the power of a coloring book.