People of the Coloring Book

Last year, a dear friend of mine bought me a coloring book for adults. We worked on the first page of it together, but since then I had not set out to finish it, and have left most of the book uncolored.

Yesterday, the cover of the Washington Post’s free Express newspaper was an adult coloring page.

Last night, after a rough day, thinking of the Express cover, I got out my own coloring book. And colored and colored and colored. (Scroll down to see my masterpiece! It is from Enchanted by Angela Porter.)

When I say “adult coloring book,” this term has nothing to do with any X-rated content in the pictures. Rather, these coloring books are designed for the fine motor skills of adults, with much more intricate detail and abstract designs than coloring books designed for children.

Many of these intricately detailed pages take the form of the mandala: circular designs, each unique, with tiny repeating elements that can be colored any color you like. The mandala has a great deal of meaning to Indian religions including Buddhism.

A children’s coloring page would be more likely to feature a scene calling for specific colors (green grass, yellow sun, blue sky, etc.) – if it features, say, a favorite movie character, a devoted child may know exactly which crayon to use for the hair, eyes, dress, shoes. In fact, in my preschool teaching days, coloring pages were discouraged in favor of more open-ended art projects, ones that did not require literally staying within the lines. The mandalas designed for adults to color, by contrast, do not impose any canon of “correct” colors.

Articles on the popularity of adult coloring books emphasize the relaxing, stress-relieving, creative, and meditative aspects of this hobby. One blogger, however, is not so keen on the mandala coloring pages. The Last Hiker blog refers to coloring mandalas as “knocking on the door of a false temple.” With adult coloring books (often featuring mandalas) popular among Christians and non-Christians alike, this blog post warning of demons entering souls via coloring books is refuted and ridiculed in many of the comments. Indeed, the blogger writes that it was a devout Christian friend who gave the coloring book as a gift in the first place.

As an aside, mandalas, with their circular form, central point, repeating patterns, and meditative uses, remind me of labyrinths, a configuration used in Christian as well as other religions’ spiritual practice. Earlier today, for example, I walked a labyrinth outside a Protestant church.

When I started reading the blog post maligning mandala coloring pages, I wondered if the blogger would object even to looking at mandalas (such as at the Freer-Sackler), but as I read on, I learned that there was something specifically about coloring them – spending so much time concentrating on them, and helping to bring them into their full colorful being – that the blogger considers problematic.

mandala.JPGEveryone should color the coloring books that feel right (including spiritually) to them, and for me, the mandala and non-mandala pages of my coloring book have both been enjoyable and relaxing. This is a form of artistic expression that adults can begin without a sizable financial or time commitment, whereas other art forms that adults have as hobbies may only seem worthwhile if the adult has special talent, a place to keep the equipment, and motivation to keep up the endeavor. Young children are encouraged with crayons and finger paint and Play-Doh and all sorts of things, but do not necessarily keep or act on their love of creative art when they reach adulthood.

For adults who enjoy both looking at art in the museum and doing some coloring of their own, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has turned a few works of art in their collection, ones with detailed patterns, into coloring pages for adults. An Internet search will also yield numerous other pages you can print, or you can buy a book in a bookstore, wherever bookstores still exist.

About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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