adult coloring: a gateway drug to creativity?

Confession: I don't know everything.

DUH. Over the years, I've learned (relearned??) the benefit of asking for help. I've experienced the magic that can occur when you tap an expert on the shoulder and humbly ask them to share their wisdom, so that you can learn something from someone who loves it (is there any better way?).

A few months ago, I began hearing whispers about Adult Coloring. I witnessed coloring explode in my online communities, saw my local craft store carve out more space for dozens upon dozens of new Adult Coloring books, and heard rumblings among some of my favorite coaches that they, too, had begun using Adult Coloring as a part of their practice, both personally and professionally.

So, being the curious creature that I am, I tapped my favorite Adult Coloring expert on the shoulder and asked her for help -- and then asked her to join us this week on the blog to reveal the research and the benefits of Adult Coloring!*

Guest posting this week is the phenomenal Andrea Koehler, founder of The Coloring Project. I met Andrea as a part of an learning development workshop and was quickly blown away by her knowledge, grace, and presence. You can learn how to find her below!

Without further ado, take it away, Andrea!


As of August 1st, 6 of the top 20 books on Amazon.com are Adult Coloring books. No – that doesn’t mean they’re “adult” as in XXX-rated, as a friend’s son thought when she put this on her Christmas list. Rather they are coloring books that appeal to adults, a little more complicated than what we used as children. This is a fairly new phenomenon, but it’s gone “viral” – in the best way possible. Right now you can find people globally, picking up their colored pencils and sitting down to color. That’s right, from Spain to Brazil, from Turkey and Japan to Austraila – the Coloring phenomenon has gone global. Today, there is a vast variety of coloring books for adults that range from meditative (Mandalas), to Art Nouveau designs, to the Game of Thrones and Dr. Who.

Yes – I know – Coloring – it’s something that we did when we were kids. And then, at some point, we put down those coloring pencils, said goodbye to our inner artist and our markers at the same time and picked up “more respectable” implements for writing, like pens and highlighters. And, we’re not kids any more – so …

Coloring … Isn’t that Child's Play?

Actually, it turns out that psychologists and therapists (including Jung) have been using coloring for years as a tool and technique for relieving stress and anxiety. Coloring provides a way for people to focus, to allow their subconscious and that nasty inner critic we all have to take a break. By engaging the creative, logical and kinesthetic parts of the brain, coloring is easy access to focus and FLOW - that illusive state where you are so absorbed by what you’re doing that you forget time. It creates quietness and relaxation while stimulating brain function, motor skills, the senses and creativity.

Ok – so it’s good for the brain and the body… Anything else? Well, it’s portable, inexpensive, it doesn’t have a time requirement, and it can be done alone or with others while chatting over coffee/wine. And, don’t forget, at the end – there’s the satisfaction of completing something and have something to show your time. 

Coloring has been touted as the best alternative to meditation, as a way to relieve tension and anxiety, and as a tool to unlock your creative potential – providing access to our inner artist – that one we convinced ourselves we don’t have and that we don’t let out to play as often as we would like.

Wait – there’s one more – it’s actually fun.

Inner Artist? Oh I don’t have one of those… Not without alcohol…

I want to talk a little bit more about this Inner Artist – the one that we all have but don’t let out to play – the one we’re quick to dismiss when we say “I’m just not creative” or “I’m not an artist”.

Let me set the stage. Here’s the scene – Phone call from your bestie. You have been asked to join them in an evening of painting ceramics and you immediately think, “Shit, I’m not good at this at all! And s/he wants me to go be not good at this a public setting where everyone can see how not good I am… I’m gonna need alcohol.” Followed by the *mental chatter,* those thoughts that say: “I’m not creative”, “I’m just not an artist”, “I am going to suck at this.” 

When we are younger, this invitation goes much differently. Your friend knocks on your door and says “let’s play”, you say… “bye Mom – see ya later!” You don’t know what you’re doing yet, you just know you’re going to have fun. Children play with abandon. Pausing to think, “I’m not an artist” or “I’m not creative” is not on the plate at the tea party with no tea. They just ARE artists. They just play. 

We are ALL artists until someone tells us that we aren’t. We ALL dance. We all PAINT. We all COLOR and CREATE. But, at some point, we learn what the label “artist” is, and we are told – by others and or by ourselves – whether or not we fit in with that label. So… We learn to bury our Inner Artist. And, often times we only allow it to come out when we’ve had enough alcohol (or other inhibitor releasing substance) to give the blame for anything we did creatively that might not have been “perfect”.

Creating things (aka Creativity) is not as hard as we think it is. What makes creativity hard are the stories we have in our head about what it means to be creative, what creativity “looks like” and our ability to be creative. We create every day, we create playlists music we like, we share things on Facebook that we think are funny, we arrange furniture or organize books on a shelf, we manage projects at work creating timelines and strategy, etc. – but we have some things that we hold on a pedestal as things that we “can’t” do – or that we’re just “not good at”.

And, as adults we don’t like to do stuff we’re not good at… We have a vision of what we want to create and we can assess quite quickly if we are capable of making that vision a reality. We are aware of the GAP – that space between our vision and our capability. If we *know* that we don’t have the skills to something, we choose not to do this. We quit before we fail.

Everybody has this mental chatter, this inner critic. Everybody has thoughts questioning their capability, their worth, whether they’ll fit in, etc. I’m having those thoughts right now, as I’m typing these words. As children we don’t have the fine motor skills to execute our vision to the fullest, but, if we were lucky, we had someone that didn’t let us quit before we achieved some level of mastery. Think about what would happen if a baby learning to walk listened to its inner critic… “Yup, you fell down again. Don’t wanna do that anymore. See… Mom and Dad are laughing at me.  I’m just not a walker. That’s not me”.  

The trick to creativity is to have the mental chatter, but to do it anyway. 

Alright – off my soap box and back to Coloring. 

Coloring is like creativity with training wheels - it’s like baby steps, putting one foot in front of the other.

Coloring Pages: Not a “Scary” Blank Canvas

One of the ways that Coloring helps us access creativity is by giving a simple structure rather than giving us a blank page and saying, “Voila! Create!”

Some people may feel that the “blank page” is a good thing – ripe for creativity, freedom to create what you want. What I find, instead, is that the “blank page” is an invitation for your Inner Critic to have its way with you and keep you from your own creativity. It echoes those voices from society – the “I’m not good enough,” the “I don’t know what I’m doing,” the “what if I fail,” and then “what if somebody sees me fail” and amplifies them

With Coloring Pages, someone has already taken that first step. They are handing you the keys to the car and telling you that you get to drive – because they know that you already know how to do that. With Coloring, you have the freedom to create. You already know the structure. You already know how to use markers, pencils, or your instrument of choice.  

Why Should I Try Coloring?

In addition to relaxation and stress relief, to mindfulness and meditation, focus and clarity, Coloring is a great tool to access and stimulate creativity. Accessing our creativity, our joy, allows us to access joy in other areas. And who doesn’t need a little more joy these days?

However, it’s really a case of “Numb one, Numb all.” Emotional anesthetic works the same way as physical anesthetic – the dentist can’t just numb one tooth, they have to numb the whole area around it. When you numb or bury,your creativity you lose access to creativity in other areas of life as well. You lose access to joy. Coloring is a wonderful and non-threatening way to dip your foot into the creativity pool again. At the end of the day – you can always crumple up the coloring page and start over – that’s the beauty of it.

Here’s hoping you pick up a 24 pack of colored pencils and a coloring book and give it a try.  I, personally, like to color while my partner is watching “sportsball” – I get to spend time with him AND I get to do something fun for me! 

Want to learn more? Check out Why Coloring Could Be The New Alternative to Meditation and Why Coloring Isn't Just For Kids.

About Andrea Koehler

Andrea is a coach who specializes in helping people to identifying their habits or patterns to push through their self-limiting beliefs. She is a licensed Desire Map Coach, a speaker, and the founder of The Coloring Project. You can find out more about The Coloring Project by finding her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - or on her Etsy page! If you're in the Seattle area, join Andrea for The Coloring Project on Meetup.com.

Contact Andrea: andrea@thecoloringproject.com

Photos provided by Andrea Koehler.

 

 

*The views expressed in this post are those of Andrea Kohler and not of Kate K. McCarthy or www.katekmccarthy.com.