Today, those same baby boomers, joined by millions of others, are driving an adult coloring craze. The trend took off in 2013 with the publication of “Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book” by Scottish author Johanna Basford. The author has hit bestseller lists again this season with her new holiday coloring book “Johanna’s Christmas.”
While there are risqué coloring books on the market, the “adult” in “adult coloring books” usually refers more to the intended audience than to the books’ content. Local bookstores like Schuler Books & Music and Barnes & Noble carry racks of popular adult coloring books, with topics ranging from intricate mandalas to exotic travel sites. There are also a number of Donald Trump coloring books which, to no one’s surprise, trend toward the crude.
Locally, artist and caricaturist Dennis Preston has jumped into the market with two of his own adult coloring books, both released this year.
“Adults are like little kids in adult bodies,” Preston said. “They can put on the music they like and create their own books.”
Preston released his first book, “Creatures, Critters and Cuties,” at the urging of his spouse and a local promoter. It is filled with bizarre animals of Preston’s own imagination. His second book, “Preston Potpourri Volume One,” contains black and white versions of designs Preston made for local events, such as the downtown Lansing’s defunct Brown Bag Concert Series. Many of the designs draw on the psychedelic art of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“You can take a trip on paper and you don’t get flashbacks,” he said.
Both books are available on Lulu.com and at the Old Town General Store. The coloring books are $12 each and contain 39 works of art for coloring.
“For those who can’t draw, a coloring book gives them something to do that is creative,” Preston said.
Adult coloring books are also marketed as stress reducers. Also helping to reduce that stress are the sophisticated — albeit more expensive — drawing instruments that have replaced clunky crayons. Preston said novice colorists often make the mistake of using the common hard lead colored pencils.
“It ends up tearing the page,” Preston said.
Preston recommends higher quality tools, including fine point markers and pens made by Sharpie, Tombow or Prismacolor.
“Because they are soft, you can meld the colors together,” he said. “The coloring book lines are too fine to use traditional crayons.”
Preston is already planning his third coloring book, which will include even more of his older work, as well as simple drawing lessons and exercises. One thing Preston likes about coloring is that you get to pick your own colors, unlike the 1950s Paint by Numbers kits he grew up with.
“I used to buy Paint by Numbers, but I just used the oil colors,” Preston said. “I was painting werewolves.”
The trend also offers a fresh revenue stream for huge franchises like “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings,” which all have popular coloring books featuring the critters and characters of the books and movies.
“The nice thing about coloring books is you don’t have to be afraid you will ruin them,” Preston said. “Some customers buy one to look at and one to color.”
MSU Professor Karl Gude made his own foray into the world of adult coloring books last year with “Nude Coloring Book,” a collection of tasteful male and female nude figures posing against intricate backdrops. Gude, a former director of information graphics for Newsweek magazine, teaches courses in journalism and directs the Media Sandbox for MSU College of Communication Arts. His book comes in two sizes, the full size 8.5 by 11 inch version ($9.95) and the more discreet “Pocket Nude” ($8.95), which is just 5 by 8 inches.
“You can take it into Starbucks and color,” he said.
Gude also created hashtags for the art, so colorists can share their finished product on social media. He also believes that coloring is meditative and relieves stress.
“We live in a neurotic world, and coloring shuts the brain down and allows us to focus on something that is mindless,” Gude said. “It’s also just fun and brings back that kid feeling.”