Johanna Basford kick-started a trend back in 2011, one that shows no sign of slowing down. Her first two publications, Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, have sold upwards of 10 million copies worldwide, been translated into 24 languages (with at least 11 more on the way), has famous fans such as Zooey Deschanel who can’t get enough of her intricate designs, and spawned endless imitations and iterations. Adult colouring books are a cultural phenomenon. When NPR asked its followers if they like to colour, people responded in their thousands saying “I thought I was alone”. Buzzwords like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ go hand-in-hand with pen and pre-designed paper; creativity within the limits of lines already drawn allows those anxious about their own drawing skills to unwind, relax, de-stress and self-express.
I’ve always loved colouring in. I’ve never been good at it, but that doesn’t matter an iota when I’m focusing on keeping in the lines and considering the next shade. It’s therapeutic; my otherwise busy and buzzing brain is tranquil as I concentrate on something beyond myself. I apply myself to something so simple and I’m transformed inside.
Other people enjoy it as a return to childhood, nostalgia taking hold and memories evoked. Many appreciate the ability to unplug and see it as an excuse to ditch technology, to be present with something tangible – the only cloud is one that is drawn on the page in front of you. The complex patterns help you centre yourself, and the repetitive nature of them means you see swift progression. And it’s not just a trendy hobby. Donna Betts of the American Art Therapy Association considers it a “creative therapy that has value”. (She also states that it’s “like listening to music rather than learning an instrument” but not all of us are blessed with the same talent to create as some.)
Basford is incredible at what she does. The Scot, who graduated with a degree in Printed Textiles, draws all of her designs by hand and it takes her up to a year to make a book. Lost Ocean is inspired by her parents’ work as marine biologists. It’s an astonishing work of art in itself, without my clumsy colouring skills ever making a mark. The ‘inky adventure’ includes things hidden among the designs; just you try and find the 49 diamonds lurking in the depths of pirate chests and shipwrecks! Repeating patterns of mermaids, fronds of seaweed galore, sharks that remind me of a mural painted on the building opposite Te Papa in Wellington, exotic fish, gorgeous jellyfish plus a fold-out section at the back makes this a cut above the pretenders. If you’re serious about your colouring in, this is what you need. Use crayons, felt tips, watercolours – whatever. Just remember, there are no rules and you don’t have to stay in the lines.