Inside the adult coloring book craze

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

Inside the adult coloring book craze 

By Robin Stein

There’s a run on printing presses, a scramble for paper, reported shortages of coloring pencils. Adults across the globe are suddenly going crazy over coloring.  Check out Amazon’s bestsellers list and you’ll find that several of the top slots are filled by adult coloring books.

“It’s a phenomenon,” said Christine Carswell, publisher of Chronicle Books. “I’ve been in publishing for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Not only is the boom sending shockwaves through the publishing world, it’s also inspiring artists to think outside the lines.

Canadian artist Steve McDonald told Yahoo News that for years he showed his grand cityscapes in art galleries and relied on a client base of about a thousand customers, but with his new adult coloring book, “Fantastic Cities,” he’s reaching far more people — and inviting them to collaborate in his work.

“Instead of just creating one piece and putting it on a gallery wall, each piece gets a life that’s far more extensive and far more lasting,” McDonald said. “The idea that I’m presenting these drawings to people all over the planet and asking them to finish the drawing with their own color, to me that’s incredibly exciting.”

The current coloring-book craze was ignited in 2013, when Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford published “Secret Garden.” The seemingly obscure offering had an initial printing of 16,000, but has since exploded into a runaway international bestseller, selling nearly 6 million copies — almost 4 million in the past five months alone, according to Debra Matsumoto, marketing manager at Laurence King publishers.

Today, coloring books are big business — complete with celebrity authors like “Broad City” star Abbi Jacobson and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin. The market, publishers say, transcends age, gender and geography.

While the trend has been fueled through social media, it has also spawned all sorts of offline gatherings — coloring clubs, meet-ups, even coloring parties at bars.

“This is my first time coloring in probably 25 years,” said Benjamin Brown, an IT developer who was one of about 20 attendees at a recent cocktail/coloring party at the Grey Horse Tavern in Bayport, N.Y. “I find it inspirational.”

“I love it,” said Nichole Schmidt, a stay-at-home mom. “It’s very meditative. It gets me away from the kids. And this is my Zen.”

“Far more people are looking for things that are unplugged,” said Ann Garbarino, an advisor at the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University. “And it’s something that a lot of generations can agree on.”

But not everyone’s a fan. Critics say grown-up coloring is infantilizing and escapist —  part of the rise of so-called Peter Pan activities like adult summer camps and Lego leagues. Russell Brand satirized the trend in a video entitled, “Adult Coloring Books: Are They the Apocalypse?”

But the party goers at the Grey Horse Tavern say coloring helps them cope with some very adult problems.

“When you have cancer it’s very stressful,” said Christine Fedorys, a former research scientist and mother of three.  “But you have this beautiful picture and you can think about where you’ve been and where you want to go. It’s soothing.”

Some psychologists say the simple act of staying in the lines can help reduce stress and enhance focus and creativity.

Steve McDonald said the mass outpouring of creativity and praise in response to his coloring book has been humbling.  

“I thought creating and producing something like a coloring book, maybe that was beneath me as an artist,” he said.  “I’ve come to realize that that was a silly opinion to have.”