You've seen them at Barnes and Nobles, airports, and in the grocery store line. There are radio shows about their popularity, but you're not sure who uses them. Maybe you should buy one for your mom, or maybe Craig in Accounting might like one. Maybe if Craig colored some birds now and again he would stop taking smoke breaks every two seconds and get payroll done on time, for once.
Maybe you are reading this and say "I totally color in adult coloring books! What is wrong with this writer?"
After seeing adult coloring books time and time again while standing in line at HEB, I finally decided to see what the fuss was all about and picked one up and threw it onto the checkout conveyor belt next to my dozens of boxes of green tea, coffee, Pocky sticks, cheese, and whatever else I eat, I forget. I am very busy and stressed, you see.
My first thought when I impulse-bought the coloring book, the same way you would buy a Twix bar, was, "Geez, is this the cheapest one? It's ten dollars, WTF...". But I decided to stick with my impulsive purchase of black and white patterns. Maybe it would be cool. Maybe I could even make art with it.
I brought the coloring book home and flipped through it while sipping a Heineken on our home's balcony in Houston. The patterns did look kind of fun. Pretty birds. Mandalas made of cute cats. One page had nothing but leaves on it, falling gently. Or not even falling, falling is too negative - let's say the leaves were just chilling. Something about the patterns was soothing, but what? On second glance it all looked a little maddening. "Who has time for this?" I asked the searing Texas sky.
That afternoon I ripped a page out of the book and started painting on it with a palette knife and a round brush. I did this knowing full well that the coloring book paper wasn't meant to withstand oil paint. That said, the paper did great, it didn't fall apart or just turn clear like so many papers do when doused with oil. (Ever seen a pizza box? ... yeah.)
The end result was this piece:
I decided to paint another page a week later:
Possibly against my intense will, which usually hates overly popular art things, Adult coloring books are relaxing. Here is why: they solve the hardest problem that art making has to offer, and they give you the best part to run with.
The most intimidating aspect of art creation is developing an interesting composition. It is hard work to arrange objects on a page or a canvas and get them to look interesting. It is hard work to find the right landscape in the right light and create the right picture out of it. Adult coloring books first solve these problems, then allow you, the colorist, to add your own touch and fun personality.
Adult coloring books allow people to express themselves in color without worrying about whether or not their original drawing looks good. It's also just ... a drawing. It isn't a livingroom to be decorated, or a car to spec out, or a piece of clothing - all forms of expression which are great, but which can be expensive and limiting in their own right. When you realize this, the adult coloring book boom makes sense. It is a bit like Top Golf or black light bowling or Paint and Sip outlets - an enterprise that would usually be difficult to master is shaped into a fun-for-all format by reducing/pre-solving the rules.
I will likely make more oil on paper works using adult coloring books, and I would recommend them to anyone who needs to chill and not worry. If you are more into worrying and uncertainty, I suggest getting some oil paint and a 5 x 5 foot canvas and just slapping paint on it and facing your mistakes down like it is the last thing you will do. After all, without art, all of our souls are empty - empty like the cells of the wings on an uncolored butterfly.