Welcome to the exciting world of adult coloring book artistry! If you have stumbled upon this blog, it’s because you have decided to begin your journey into artistry with this popular craze! Or, perhaps you have already started your journey and are looking for tips and tricks on how to improve as an artist and take your artistry to another level. Either way, you will find a lot of excellent resources here on this website.
What is adult coloring?
Adult coloring is coloring in coloring books—similar to children’s coloring—except that the coloring books are more sophisticated. The artistic tools you can use are more appropriate for adult use.
You might be surprised to learn that the original concept of coloring books was explicitly created for adults—not for kids—back in 1600. The first of its kind were illustrations of maps of counties in England and Wales, featuring fantastical creatures. It became popular in society to hand-color the illustrations, although it doesn’t appear that the book was initially developed for that purpose. However, during the same period, outline books were used by artists to learn how to use watercolors as a kind of workbook. A hundred years later, the first books dedicated to the purpose of owners coloring in the illustrations were printed. Robert Sayer’s The Florist provided instruction on how to mix paint colors and how to color correctly, emphasizing accuracy and realism. The same author and artist, Sayer, also created a book called The Compleat Drawing-Book around the same time that offered 116 engravings of expressions, animals, birds, and landscapes for drawing in. Considering the rarity of books during those centuries and the books’ cost, it’s understandable that only the rich and elite in society were able to participate in the fun of adult coloring.
It wasn’t until printing became more widespread that children’s coloring books were developed. More recently, adult coloring books came back into fashion in the 1960s, but those were satirical works rather than therapeutic works. Adult coloring books were so popular in the 1960s that Barbara Streisand wrote a song about it. The 1962 song “My Coloring Book” begins, “For those who fancy coloring books | As certain people do | Here’s a new one for you | A most unusual coloring book.” When the song came out, Mort Drucker’s JFK Coloring Book spent 14 weeks on the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and adult coloring sales reached $1 million. (Read more about this period of history here.)
This time has evolved, and today. Most of the adult coloring books created and distributed are aimed at the therapeutic side-effects of coloring-as-therapy. This more modern wave of coloring books was launched by the super-successful publication of “Secret Garden” by Johanna Basford in 2013 and her follow-up, “Enchanted Forest” in 2015. Art therapy has become a hugely profitable niche market. Because of the technology available today, wannabe artists can find adult coloring books offered digitally, as apps, as e-books, as free coloring pages available for download, and as printed books.
There have been numerous studies (here, here, here, and here, for instance) that have looked at the stress-relieving side effects of adult coloring books. (Notably, actual therapists and psychologists are adamant that adult coloring books aren’t “therapy” at all but are merely stress-relievers.) Who knows what the next wave of adult coloring books is going to focus on? Will college textbooks, including coloring pages help students learn key terminology in science classes or critical themes in literature classes? Only time will tell!
Why should you take up coloring?
The benefits of coloring are many, and surprisingly, many medical studies have been performed that indicate that there are many ways that coloring can improve your health. You don’t need to be a professional to take up coloring, and you also don’t need to be good at it to reap the rewards associated with coloring. One of the reasons why I like coloring, personally, is because it’s easy to take on the road with me. I have a digital app that I use to color images, which I use to kill time while waiting in my car, during appointments, or even during long conference calls at work. I always throw a coloring book (or a page from one) and a few pencils with me when I am traveling out of town as a way to kill time and soothe frayed nerves.
Many professional, academic studies have been conducted by research organizations to determine whether there are actual benefits to adult coloring—and the results have all indicated that there is a benefit to the activity. The benefits range from physical benefits: improving motor skills and vision and improving sleep and mental focus; to mental benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety. Adult coloring can be used to connect with our fond childhood memories of coloring with family members, and adult coloring can also be used as a meditative tool like monks creating sand mandalas.
In this age, it’s essential to take some time to unplug from technology and work on items without a glowing screen in front of you. Adult coloring in printed books is a beautiful alternative to screen time. It’s also a great way to connect with friends. I often meet with friends at a local park or coffee shop to catch up and color together. It’s a cost-effective way to get together while sharing art with those you care about.
I’m sold on the positive benefits of adult coloring books! So how do I get started?
The options in the marketplace are endless right now! How do you figure out what you need to buy to get started? You need two things to start with:
- An illustration of color.
- A tool you can draw with.
First, find an illustration that you want to color. If you are starting and want to start as inexpensively as possible, try downloading a page from the internet and printing it on paper at home. You can find free downloadable mandalas here; nature images, television shows, and many other ideas.
If you are specific about what you are looking for, you can always use Google Images to find an illustration for download. For instance, if you are into the television show Dr. Who, you can type Dr. Who into Google Images, and then at the top of the page, just under the search bar, you can choose TOOLS > TYPE > LINE DRAWING. You’ll see lots of options. (Click on the page or merely Right Mouse Click on the photo > Save. Then open the file from your computer and print it from whatever your file opening program is.) One fun tip is to look for downloadable bookmark designs. You can laminate your completed coloring design and use it for gifts during the holidays!
If you want to start with a coloring book, you can go to Amazon or your local craft store (even Walmart and Target have adult coloring books) and browse for something that appeals to you. For instance, I can open up Amazon and type in “Adult Coloring Book.” Or, I can be more specific and type in something like “Adult Coloring Book Ireland.” Now I see many options that pop up for me, like Celtic Designs and Irish Swear Words. Who doesn’t love an excellent Gaelic zinger?
When choosing a coloring book, there are some different ways you can approach the right book to buy:
By theme: You can find books about movies, TV shows, flowers, mandalas, inspirational quotes, and much more.
By quality: If you know you want to experiment with certain kinds of art, you may want to choose your coloring book by page quality (easiest if done in-person); the level of detail required (some books are more intricate than others); or the ability for the book to lay flat or have spiral binding.
By price: Enough said.
Now you need to think about what you want to use to draw in the book. You can undoubtedly start with tools you already have on hand, like a traditional graphite pencil or a ballpoint pen. Coloring addicts find it more fun to start with a collection of colored pencils or markers. Within these options, there is a wide variety of price and quality to be had. Here are some options for you to consider:
Graphite Pencil – (Here is a sample) This is very cheap and easy, but to create a quality design using a graphite pencil takes a lot of vision and artistic skill to create detailed shading and blending. COST: $0.01 USD for one pencil, or buy a fancy set on Amazon for $5.99 USD.
Ballpoint Pen – (Here is a sample) Using a ballpoint pen right from your junk drawer is very cheap, but like graphite pencils, being able to do quality drawings using your ballpoint pen requires some upfront artistic talent. COST: $0.05 USD.
Gel Pen – (Here is a sample) Most people don’t have gel pens sitting around, so it typically requires the purchase of a set. Either start with your favorite colors, primary colors, or pastel colors. COST: A set of 14 for $12.44 USD or a larger set of 120 pens for $21.99. Craft stores like Michaels will often sell one pen at a time for a lower cost.
Crayons – (Here’s a sample) There’s something cathartic and simple about using childhood crayons to scribble in a picture without being overly dramatic about staying inside the lines. COST: You can get a 32-count box of crayons for $3.99 from your local pharmacy, convenience store, online, Walmart, Target, etc.
Colored pencil – (Here’s a sample) This is probably the most popular way to jump into your adult coloring book art. Pencils come in a wide variety of colored sets and quality levels. COST: The cheaper sets (like this one) can be as cheap as $6.00 USD for a set, while expensive sets (like this one) can set you back $90.00 USD or more. It’s easy to find a happy in-between, spending $15-30 USD for a decent set that you will enjoy using.
Markers – (Here’s a sample) Like using colored pencils, this is also one of the most popular and common ways to enjoy your adult coloring books. Markers typically cost a little bit more for middle-of-the-road brands, but the result is a rich, vibrant color on the page that doesn’t require as much pressure to achieve, like colored pencils. COST: Although you can spend as little as $6.00 USD on a set (like this one), you are going to be happiest buying a marker set somewhere in the $25.00-40.00 USD range (like this one).
Watercolor pencils – (Here’s a sample) Watercolor pencils are a great way to dabble in the watercolor arts. It would be best if you had your watercolor pencils and your blender pen. COST: You can expect to pay anywhere between $14.00 to $40.00 (like this set). If you go this route, make sure you buy a coloring book with good paper that will work with watercolors.
Watercolor markers – (Here’s a sample) Watercolor brush pens, as they are called, are another way to play with watercolor designs. COST: You can expect to pay between $17.00 and $45.00 USD—a little more expensive than pencil options. (Like this highly-rated set) The brush pens tend to produce a richer color than the pencils at the first use; the pencils will require multiple layers to produce the same rich colors.
Pastels – (Here’s a sample) I wouldn’t recommend pastels for a newbie artist dabbling in adult coloring books because of how the pastels don’t thoroughly dry out and because fixatives are needed. It’s certainly possible to use pastels in your drawing, especially if you take the page out of the book and frame it. COST: Pastels have a considerable price range, from $11.00 to $80.00 USD for a set, and the quality makes a big difference in how easy the application is. Fixatives cost additional.
Oil and Acrylic painting – Using your adult coloring book to paint is certainly possible, even though this method is most popular and common with adult paint-by-numbers. There’s nothing to stop you from applying paints to your coloring book page and applying the art to your paper. Just make sure you are working on a good quality paper that will hold up to the paint type. Using any additives for blending and paint thinning may have a destructive effect on your paper, so make sure you know what you’re doing before taking this type of art on!
How can I grow and learn?
Check out blog posts and tutorials on this website to learn more tips and tricks for improving your artistic technique with adult coloring books. In addition to this website, you’ll find many other blogs and websites with resources that are helpful to you, such as manufacturers Crayola and Prismacolor. You can find learn-at-home courses on websites like Udemy and other related websites that offer artistic instruction. Also, don’t forget the resources in your community! Do a Google search to see if any artist communities near you offer classes or group meetups.
Social media is a useful resource, as well. Try searching Facebook to see if there are any local events or groups near you. On Facebook, the group Coloring Books for Adults has 46k members, and Adult Coloring Worldwide has 33.3k members. On Instagram, check out the hashtags: #adultcoloring and #coloringbook, for example, or those same hashtags on Twitter.
On YouTube, there are countless search terms you can enter to try to learn new art techniques. Those search terms might depend on what kind of artistic medium (i.e., markers, colored pencils, watercolors, etc.) you are experimenting with. If you are looking for some quick tips or some inspiration, here is one tutorial called “Adult Coloring HACKS! Tips and Tricks” (approx. 1k “likes”), and here is another one called “Adult Coloring Books Completed Finished Pages” (approx. 1.5k “likes”). If you are looking for more specific help, you can look for keyword terms. I found this tutorial about blending with colored pencils and this one about coloring with COPIC markers.
Another idea is looking at your favorite manufacturer and perusing their social media accounts for tips and tricks. For instance, Crayola has many resources on its website, from free coloring pages, craft ideas, educator resources, and much more. Their Pinterest page has a ton of fun art ideas. Copic (markers) has tutorials on their website, including caring for your markers, how to layer, how to combine colors, creating gradients, and other related tips. Copic’s Instagram page shows what kind of art is possible using their tools. While their website requires a little bit of digging to find what you’re looking for, Faber-Castell also has a ton of resources, including free color templates and illustrations, lettering tutorials, and even tutorials on how to use their products to decorate your COVID-19 face covering with artistic flair. Derwent has tutorials on their page, and they also host artist competitions to give you a little something to work towards. You can sign up for newsletters and peruse old blog posts to give you some added artist instruction. (Their social media accounts focus more on the products they sell and are another image repository for information found in their blog and newsletter.)
Check out our article on How to Color Like a Pro to learn how anyone can improve their coloring!
Another idea is to find out who the artist is of your favorite illustrations and look for more art from them. For example, Johanna Basford, the artist who launched the current adult coloring book craze with her “Secret Garden” book, has a website of her own. Her website offers a gallery of others who have colored in the pages she illustrated, and her website’s blog offers competition information and free illustration download pages. Illustrator Angela Porter has downloadable images on her Pinterest page, and illustrator Marjorie Sarnat has free downloads on her website’s blog and giveaways and other fun competitions and events.
I don’t want to get messy. Are there digital versions of adult coloring?
Absolutely! There are many benefits to using an adult coloring app for your phone: they are inexpensive (or free!), they are easy to take with you wherever you go, and they STILL manage to relax you! Here are a few you can check out:
Color Me. (Link) free app with no hidden paywalls or subscriptions. Enjoy categories including mandalas, animals, portraits, flowers, nature, enchanted forests, secret gardens, patterns, art designs, etc. Cost: Free
Coloring Book for Adults. (Link) Enjoy categories including Mandalas, messages, fashion, dragons, flowers, animals, food, patterns, love, sea life, cats, butterflies, owls, garden, origami, steampunk, etc. No hidden costs. Cost: Free
Happy Color. (Link) This is one of the apps that I’ve been using lately. Four thousand images are free for you to use. Leading categories include animals, places, hobbies, mosaics, as well as superheroes, and Disney. You can buy premium images to color, but there are many free images available with a variety of challenging levels. The pictures include traditional coloring as well as gradient/blended drawings. These are color-by-numbers. Cost: Free to download, and there are many free images, but upgrades are available for a small cost.
Pigment. (Link) This app allows you to choose brushes that allow you to color by swiping your finger across the screen. You can also fill areas by tapping the screen/area. You can pay for upgrades to brushes and specific artists—cost: Free 7-day trial; $9.99 monthly.
Color Therapy. (Link) There are many options for color, including landscapes, cityscapes, famous paintings, dreamcatchers, peacocks, words, holidays, etc. You get 30 free colors under the “basic solid palette” and 24 under the “basic gradient palette.” They have relaxing music that you can use while coloring as an option. You can earn additional colors. Cost: Colors are $1.99, and the drawings are $0.99. Upgrade to pro, and you get much more for $8.99. No recurring subscription.
Relax Color: Coloring Book by number for adults. (Link) This is a paint-by-number app with subjects that include people, animals, mandalas, butterflies, flowers, messages, etc. You can share the artwork on a variety of social media platforms. You can use the app while online and offline, so feel free to color while camping out in the middle of nowhere. Cost: Free.
Paint Color: Coloring Games & Adult Coloring Book. (Link) This is another paint-by-number app similar to Relax Color, which difference being that you can draw your pictures to use. Cost: Free.
Colorfly. (Link) Colorfly has a large selection of designs and also includes the ability to import artwork. You can create custom designs as well. Interestingly, they have some augmented reality functions, where the 2D designs show up as physical works of art in your home. Cost: Free 7-day trial. After that, it’s $7.99.
Adult coloring books are a fantastic way to grow your artistic skills and alleviate daily stress in your life. Hopefully, you have learned a little bit about the history of coloring books for adults, what you need to get started, and lots of great ideas for improving your skills as you go along. Keep following this website and our blog for more great ideas on finding the perfect artistic tool and tips for growing as an artist. Soon you’ll be wowing to all your friends!
Ready to dive into the world of coloring? Click here to download my free adult coloring eBook and sign up for my email newsletter!
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