Skipping Away From Adult Coloring Books?

While hunting down a birthday gift for a creative friend, an enthusiastic boutique clerk introduced me to coloring books for grown-ups. “People love these,” he told me. “We’ve sold out quite a few versions!” I thumbed through what was left and thought: no.

I wondered. How did this happen? Adult coloring books? Did the late Georgia O’Keefe once have a head-on collision with an unstable preschool teacher, and we’re just now learning about it?

The concept is great, actually. These books have been trending and seem unstoppable. Imagine pages of intricate, fantastical illustrations tempting you to bring them to life with colored pencils, markers and/or extra sharp crayons. I can understand the soothing zen of getting lost in imaginary gardens. We all need to occasionally block out Grown Up Land. A plantar fasciitis flare-up? Forget it, there’s a baby panda begging to be neon. Tax forms and utility bills? No, wait, let’s give the world a flaming tangerine lizard. The escape is alluring.


Anything that takes me back to kindergarten craft days, even if it’s tweaked for people who can legally buy vodka, seems far from therapeutic. This might be all me, but I must vent. For the sake of art.

For one thing, if I were to try an adult coloring book, I would skip the rainbow pencils and choose old fashioned crayons. I have a million untouched boxes already jamming closets in my house, thanks to college-age sons who were forever underwhelmed with the kiddie coloring scene. If armed with a 64-pack, I would catch myself mid-mandala, remembering how one can never really sharpen a Crayola back to its original state of perfect pointiness. A lopsided, blunted carnation pink is the opposite of soothing.

What’s more, crayons smell bad. Can we finally admit this? I’m sniffing a box now, for research purposes. I’m reminded of the desperate times when, as a kitchen rube, I put frozen food items in the oven, but forgot to peel off the “must remove” wrapping. Bingo–that’s the scent! Crayons are just little colorful tubes of melted burrito plastic. Behold the Crayola whiff: a subliminal flashback to the youthful failures of not reading directions, and the reprimands from coloring outside the line.

And consider the cruel trickery of “red violet.” I’m sure, way back, every one of us experienced the red violet smack down. We thought we were reaching for red. But we put it to paper and—zammo–what could this be? Purple? Red? Rurple? No, it was the tint of a ruined cardinal. A weird fire truck. The overwhelming shade of disappointment.

Maybe I have issues with trying to recapture my “carefree” youth. But I’m both practical and suspicious. I worry it’s only a matter of time before our grown-up-ness kicks in on this new, “centering” pastime. We’ll soon become competitive about our enchanted forests. We’ll post our work on our wine refrigerators, or worse, on social media. We’ll judge each other’s lost oceans. Then complaints will roll in about neck strain from looking down too much. There will be endless paper cuts. Lawsuits. Gel pen scams. Give it time. We adults are going to ruin this innocent hobby.

These are agitating thoughts. Maybe I really do need the calming magic of an adult coloring book. If I can find one titled “Empty Rush Hour Highways,” and a box of crayons without red violet, I’ll be totally in.