Reflection: Grownup Coloring Books, All the Rage

Brenda Wilbee's coloring, Fall 1956Rain slides down the windows. My sisters and I are at the kitchen table, coloring. We’re chatting.

“Do you know where the silver is?” Tresa might ask.

“No,” I might say.

Linda might find it on the floor. Maybe she rummages through the 300 million crayons we keep in a Peak Freans cookie tin; most with rounded noses, peeling paper, and smelling of wax and something else perfectly and gloriously wonderful.

“What are you going to color silver?” is something I might ask.

The point is, coloring was a way for my sisters and I to enjoy each other’s company on a rainy afternoon and apparently exercise our brains, find focus, calm down, and choose colors that can heal. In recent years, adult coloring has become quite the “thing.”

So what’s the deal?

Dr. Scott M. Bea, a clinical psychologist in Cleveland, OH, writes that the mild focus required to color is just enough to take us outside ourselves in the same way meditation does. Too, the process of choosing colors and concentrating distracts from the clutter in our brains, giving our heads a chance to rest. 1

Dr. Rodski, an Australian neuropsychologist and neuroscientist, points to the science. "When we put machines on people as they color, we can see their brains go from beta mode, which is around 30 cycles per second, into alpha mode, which is between 5 and 15 cycles per second." He adds, "The brain is rarely allowed to drop down into alpha mode anymore." Coloring gets us there. 2

Coloring is also a painless but effective brain workout, building the neurons between the two halves of our brain. Picking colors works the left creative side. Focus, concentration, organization, motor skills, and problem-solving work the right. A good thing.

But what about the color itself?

Sheriff Arpaio and pink underwearIn Maricopa County of Phoenix, AZ, the infamous Sheriff Arpaio dressed his prisoners in pink. Pink emasculates. It sucks energy. Put violent men put in a pink room and they calm down. One must wonder why we assign girls this color. The point is, color affects us and consequently color therapy is on the rise. "Shining a new light on it" has enhanced meaning when see therapists shining blue over our throats, green at our hearts. I think color's affect on us is one of the more interesting aspects of adult coloring. What colors do we use? 

Vincent Van Gogh wrote: “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully.” When we color, we can do the same. Color has personality.

BLACK and gray can bring on depression. Johnny's black mood. Uncle Henry's gray funk. Yet black also conveys power, authority, and strength.

Picture the RED-checked tablecloth. Why red? Red increases appetite. Red also incites passion. Red hot romance, red hot rage. Remember Esau sitting on the seesaw? “When I saw Esau, he saw me, I saw red and got so sore…” Mix red and or black together, though, and it can be a confidence booster. Wear red, you strut.

Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at NightLike red, ORANGE is intense. Like red, orange energizes. Orange fall leaves spark vitality. Mix orange with yellow, now all is sunny, full of vigor. Think Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrance At Night."

It’s virtually impossible to be depressed when confronted with YELLOW. It brightens, cheers, counters the doldrums. Pale yellow mellows, yes, but brighten the color, deepen the hue, mellow is out the window.

PINK of course depletes energy, also appetite. Try eating Thanksgiving dinner in a pink room. You may not get past the turkey. Yet pink inspires peace and invites sweet romance.

A generation ago, hospitals rooms were painted a particular shade of GREEN because green is one of the most calming colors on the planet. When people began to associate this shade with all things medical, however, it started to have the opposite effect. They stopped doing it. But green is necessary for psychological health. When I moved to Arizona, I thought everyone was crazy for painting their yellow lawns and gluing artificial turf to the boulevards. A few months later I understood. Go sage. Now we're pea green with envy. Not so good.

BLUE is similar in that it instills tranquility. One has to wonder about the design of a world with so much blue and green. Nature’s colors. Blue can also bring on creativity, blue can denote intelligence. Picture politicians. Blue suits. Blue ties. Who are they kidding? Add gray to blue, it's a blue day.

“When I am old, I will wear PURPLE.” Once a royal color (because only the wealthy could afford the dye), purple today conveys “quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Purple is freedom to do and say as we please, as did the kings and queens of old. Purple is free thinking, unedited indulgence.

Women in Western culture used to wear black wedding dresses. But in 1840 Queen Victoria wore WHITE. After the gossip wore off, everyone simply had to have a white dress. Purity, cleanliness, innocence. Too much white, though, you can get a headache, eye strain, even nausea; and studies show that productivity goes down in white offices. And what about that whitewash? 

I'm sure Plain Jane wears BROWN. Reliable, stable, wholesome, natural. The color of the earth, brown roots us, gives us a place to stand, provides stability.

Brenda Wilbee 1957All these colors. Each with its own wavelength, firing off in our brains. What hormones and biochemicals are triggered when we color?

The slowing down and clearing of our minds when we color is great. I'm all for more neurons between the two halves of my brain. Coloring together is good company. Like with my sisters and me.

But maybe what we really seek is color itself.

During his Dutch years, Van Gogh worked in dark tones and grey colors, never able to enliven his work. But after his move to Paris in 1886, he realized what was wrong. He needed color. Bright color. Strong color. Contrasting color. 

Each color uniquely tweaks our brains. Triggers neurological balance we don't know is off. Or maybe we do. And by choosing, arranging, and integrating color, I think we spur all kinds of self-healing. 

Perhaps this is why adult coloring is all the rage.

For your own Vincent Van Gogh adult coloring book, check out Amazon, link below. 

Van Gogh's Bedroom - Adult Coloring Book

3. the coloring page