In 2010, prepping took over my life, all in a good way. Years later, I now believe I have the skills, supplies, and most of all, the mental fortitude to prevail during dire circumstances. Although I still prep, albeit less frantically, I have moved on in pursuit of new passions. One of those passions is grown up coloring.
When I first learned about adult coloring (also referred to as grown-up coloring), it was an emerging craze, fueled mostly by Johanna Basford and her Secret Garden coloring book. As someone who had a day job as well as a full-blown website, I was stressed to the max and wanted something that would allow for private, me-time. I was also fascinated by the prospect of stashing some low-cost coloring supplies for passing the time during grid-down emergencies.
I jumped in with both feet and now, years later, find that doing so led me to discover that I indeed had some creativity and in my DNA and more important, I could pursue a guilty pleasure without having to spend a ton of money. Win-win.
With that introduction, let me help you get started with adult coloring!
Why Coloring? Why Now?
If there is one thing that has remained constant during these past eight or nine years, it is that technology is evolving at a pace that is frightening. Not only has it taken over the lives of our young people, but technology has imposed itself on every aspect of our adult lives too. Look at how companies, and especially financial institutions, are jamming electronic bills and statements down our throats. Our personal information is everywhere and data breaches are more common than not. Facebook and messaging have become the preferred mode for establishing and maintaining relationships and it is not unusual for people to “date” and “be in a relationship” online, before even meeting face to face.
It is no wonder that many of us older folks have thrown in the towel and given in to social media and electronic banking. To fight it is folly if we want access to our financial information, healthcare histories, and even the best deals on consumer goods.
Thus, given the high tech society in which we live, it is nice to kick back and do something decidedly low key and low tech: coloring.
When I wrote about the coloring phenomena on Backdoor Survival, I said:
There are several reasons for the current popularity of adult coloring books but two clearly stand out for me. We live in stressful, if not dangerous times, and we have a growing fear that life as we know it may change. Although we do our best to prepare, there are so many things to prepare for that we can’t do it all. Like a spinning top, we go round and round, until we are finally exhausted.
In my opinion, it is this combination of stress and uncertainty that fuels the popularity of coloring within the prepper community. We use it as a tool to relax and to separate ourselves from reality if only for an hour or two.
Apparently this is nothing new. I recently learned that Carl Jung calmed his patients by giving them mandalas to color. And indeed, it is the mandalas that personally preferred when I began to color. That said, I have now branched out to explore the huge range of subjects that are out there, often for free, for our coloring pleasure. There are garden designs and flowers, lace patterns, tattoos, animals, underwater scenes, and even books of swear words. (The later are very popular according to Amazon but not particularly interesting to me.)
10 Reasons To Take up Coloring
1. Coloring is both a solo and a group activity. It is the perfect way for families or groups of friends to spend some quiet time together. It fosters camaraderie, networking, and bonding among like-minded people.
2. Coloring does not cost a lot of money. Coloring pages can be downloaded from author sites on the internet plus, you can find low-cost coloring books at the dollar store, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. I am talking $5 or less per coloring book.
3. Stress reduction. For many, this is the number one reason to embrace coloring. By focusing on the coloring instead of the world around you, you can achieve respite from the worries and concerns of the day.
4. Improves the ability to focus. We all tend to multi-task 24/7. It is exhausting but we all do it. Add prepping to the multi-tasking mix and our focus get side-tracked. What this means is that whereas things get done, nothing is done exceptionally well. Coloring helps our ability to focus and therefore trains our minds to better compartmentalize the tasks at hand. As a bonus, adult coloring allows you to live in the moment to the exclusion of outside woes that trouble you.
5. Increases the ability to think creatively. We all know that daily survival in our competitive world requires us to think on our feet. Creative thinking offers us a way to view situations from a fresh, and perhaps unorthodox perspective. Coloring, especially for the artistically challenged, allows us to look at a drawing then explore the use of colors and shading without concern for the traditional color wheel. We can practice looking at a blank slate and coming up with an imaginative solution. Some might even call this problem-solving.
6. Improves motor skills. It is a fact of life that over time, motor skills diminish and become less precise. The mere act of grasping pencils and coloring within the lines helps exercise hand muscles and keeps them flexible and limber.
7. It does not take up a lot of room. You can store a stack of coloring pages and a few boxes of pencils, markers, or crayon in a small space.
8. Coloring is totally portable. You can take your coloring anywhere.
9. Coloring fosters mindfulness as an alternative to meditation. Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzzword these days, although I did find a pretty decent definition at Psychology Today:
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
10. Coloring lets you escape to the moment and stay there for awhile. Of all of the reasons, this is my favorite. I gather up my supplies, pop on an audiobook, and disappear into another world for an hour or two.
Getting started with adult coloring is easy. You need two things: something to color and something to color with.
The something to color can be a purchased coloring book or drawings (typically called “coloring pages”) you download from the internet and print for coloring at home. I have done both although I do prefer coloring books. Having coloring books allows you to keep your creations bound together, where you can review them down the road and admire them (or not) as you track your progress in using new techniques or coloring media. In addition, most coloring books are printed on the type of paper that will take to colored pencils or gel pens. It has what is called “tooth”, meaning ridges or valleys in the paper that grab the pigment from your tool of choice.
Still, I have had a fun and relaxing time coloring from pages downloaded for free and printed on standard copier paper. If you prefer to print your own pages, down the road you can invest in a ream of vellum or some other paper that has the right tooth for coloring.
The “color with” can be colored pencils, gel pens, marker pens or a combination for a mixed media effect. These days I prefer gel pens and alcohol markers, which include Sharpies. For an old gal like me, they are easier on my hands and lay down a lot more quickly. With markers and gel pens, it might take three or four days to complete a page with colored pencils whereas markers and gel pens can get the job done in one evening.
What To Look For in Coloring Books
When you are first getting started, you may not know what type of coloring you will enjoy. There are mandalas and patterns, picturesque scenes, animals, vintage posters, motivational words, and other themed books and coloring pages such as winter scenes, rock and roll, gardens, oceans, and forests. There is also something called a “zendoodle” which is a style in and of its own.
I suggest getting a book that includes a variety of styles so you can find out what interests you before investing in a book you hate. The Color Me Calm book by Lucy Mucklow and Angela Porter is a good example of this type of book.
Some books have perforated pages that allow you to remove the page from the book either for coloring, copying so you have a spare page to re-color, or simply to make coloring easier by not having to deal with the binding. Others have drawings printed on two sides of the page. This includes all of the hugely popular books by Johanna Basford. The problem I have with these books is that you can not use markers. Cheap markers or expensive markers, they will all bleed through to the back of the page, ruining whatever is printed on the other side.
There is a lot of discussion on the internet and YouTube about crappy CreateSpace paper. These are self-published coloring books sold by Amazon. To be quite honest, these books have not been a problem for me and in fact, I have some pricey coloring book put out by major publishers that smear and do not take kindly to markers or pencils due to excessive bleeding or smearing. That said, gels pens seem to work and any type of paper (although some gel pens themselves are duds).
To me, far more important than the paper is an appealing design.
Here is an example of Zendoodle from “Joyful Gardens”
Sources for Free Online Coloring Pages
Sometimes, the easiest way to find your path down the road of suitable grown-up coloring pages is to download them from the internet. Although readily available, allow me to get preachy for a moment.
Going to Pinterest or Google and searching for free coloring pages will return hundreds if not thousands of images. The problem with doing so is that most of these images have been ripped off from a legitimate illustrator. As a writer, I know how much work it is to produce an article or book, and when I see it copied verbatim under someone else’s name, it hurts. It hurts a lot. So imagine a commercial artist who has spent months compiling original drawings. He or she might make $2 per book sold but if everyone is getting the drawings for free, they make nothing, That is not fair and it is an infringement of their copyright. Please don’t do it.
Instead, find authors, illustrators, and publishers who offer samples of their work for free, just for asking. Here are four to get you started.
Colorit. Colorit produces gorgeous, high-end coloring books. The paper is fantastic and best of all, the books are bound at the top, making them super easy to color the entire page. There currently offer 20 free pages in a wide variety of styles. You do have to sign up for these freebies since they are delivered by email. Here is a link: https://www.colorit.com/pages/20-free-downloads.
Angie Grace. Angie Grace is an artist, who, in my opinion, is the queen of Mandalas. She has over a dozen published books. Her original series is quite detailed and perfect for pencils or gel pens. I happen to love her “Gentle Mood Menders” series designed for crayons and markers. These are large images that can easily be completed in one sitting. She offers free downloads to sample her work here and here.
Dover Publications. Dover Publications is a real find. This a major publishing house that offers up dozens of coloring pages for free each week. Yes, you must sign up for their newsletter but it is totally worth it. If you download and color some of the free pages, and enjoy the style, you can find their books on Amazon at bargain prices. Most are under the Creative Haven brand but there are others. I have picked up a number of their books for $4.
Coloring Pages Bliss. Jennifer at Coloring Pages Bliss has a fantastic YouTube channel where I have learned so very much about coloring. She also has a website where she offers 50 of her original coloring pages for free in addition to a paid membership program. Sign up for a free membership to gain access to her free stuff that also includes periodic bonus coloring pages and other tools. Here is a link: https://www.coloringpagesbliss.com/free-coloring-pages/.
Favorite Coloring Books for Beginners
Everyone’s coloring style is different so take these suggestions with a grain of salt. These are some of my favorites and they encompass all prices ranges.
The Best Tools For Beginners
When I picked up my first set of colored pencils, I went the budget route. Or at least it was the budget route at the time. As I recall, I spent about $24 for a set of 48 bargain pencils. These days, that same $24 will get you 72 premium pencils from Prismacolor. (I paid $80 for my set of 72 Prismacolors way back when.)
Most likely due to supply and demand, you can now spend a lot less than $24 for your first set of pencils. That said, there are so many brands that the search can be confusing. To add to the mix, many of the “brands” sell the same pencils, simple under their own label. Since I only like to suggest products I have used myself, I recommend Marco Raffine pencils (sold under many brands) or the Prismacolors. Here is one brand you can trust but there are dozens of others: Ohuhu 48 Colored Pencils in Tin Case.
Whatever you choose, get a minimum set of 48 colors and preferably 72 colors. You will not be happy with anything less than that.
I have tried dozens of pencil sharpeners and to this day, this sharpener from Prismacolor is my favorite. It is like the energizer bunny. It keeps going and going. I especially like that the shavings are enclosed in a cup so I don’t get them all over the place.
There are also small handheld sharpeners that work great but as I said, I don’t like to deal with the shavings. Still, they are a good option. I own these Eisen Sharpeners and have never had to change the blades.
Whatever you do, don’t use an electric sharpener. It will eat your pencil.
Coloring outside the lines is totally okay but eventually, you are going to want to erase your mistakes. When you become more experienced, you may want to invest in an electric eraser. For now, a regular pencil top eraser works just fine. I say this because I have never had a lot of luck with artist-type erasers.
Gel pens come in a variety of styles, plain, neon, metallic, and glitter. I tend to use the glitter pens the most and when I do, it is to accent drawings done in pencil or marker.
Gel pens are inexpensive, easy on the hands and fun to use but the quality is all over the place. I have had fantastic results with bargain pens and dismal results with premium pens. Not only that, when you receive them, some will be dry and scratchy and other will be so juicy that they smear if you are not careful. All I can say is consider the price and decide for yourself whether tossing the duds is a viable option. For me, one or two bad (or partially filled) pens are fine. On the other hand, if they leak, I contact support and ask for a refund.
I have ordered nine or ten different brands of gel pens over the years. My favorite brands are Artists Choice (125 bargain priced pens for about $17), Lolliz (100 gel pens for under $20), and Color Technik (a premium all glitter set). These are just a few of the brands available and prices can vary widely. Read reviews and let price and budget guide you.
Alcohol markers are oversized, fat pens filled with alcohol and a dye. A common example we all know and love are Sharpies. Many brands are available specifically for artists, crafters, and colorists and they run the gamut of cheap to very, very expensive.
I love my alcohol markers and have close to 200 of them. They were a major investment. On the other hand, I still color with Sharpies. If you watch for sales, you can get a set of 24 different colored Sharpies for $10 and sometimes less. For $20, you can get a set of the regular, fine tipped style and a set of the Ultra-Fine. If you can only get one, get the Ultra Fine. As long as you keep them capped when, not in use, these will last a very long time. My colored Sharpies are going on two years and I use them all the time.
Picking the Right Colors
One of the more frustrating aspects of coloring is deciding what colors to use. You want colors that look pleasing together and specifically to your own eyes. we are all different in that regard.
Let me say this. There is no right or wrong color to use for anything. Sometimes I color leaves purple. They are beautiful to me and that is all that matters. Sometimes though, when coloring mandalas or patterned pages, I am out of inspiration. For that, I turn to online color palettes that I find on Pinterest. I even set up my own board of pleasing color combinations and go back to these for inspiration over and over again. Take a peek yourself: https://www.pinterest.com/SLivingBlog/grown-up-adult-coloring-palettes/.
For additional inspiration, look to the colors your find naturally in nature. A beach, a sunset, a garden: all of these will give you ideas. Or simply go for it. Pick one color to start and see where that leads you!
Blending, Layering, and Shading
Yes, these are advanced techniques you may hear about. Me? I had been coloring for a good six or eight months before I even understood what these terms meant. Even now, sometimes I blend and layer but I never shade.
This is something you can do later. Or not.
YouTube Is Your Friend
I was never much of a YouTuber. Even when it comes to prepping, I am more of a hands-on type and preferred reading and doing than watching. Enter the world of adult coloring and suddenly YouTube (or ColorTube as we call it) became my friend. Even today, I spend 20 or 30 minutes a day watching a coloring video on YouTube. Okay, I have always been obsessive when it comes to my passions and this is so much fun!
Seriously, I have learned a lot from YouTube colorists who generously spend their time producing tutorials and reviews to help the rest of us learn. Here are three YouTube channels that I enjoy and are perfect for beginners and experienced colorists alike.
Coloring Pages Bliss: If you only subscribe to one channel, make it this one. Jennifer Stay is a talented artist with a knack for making you feel calm and relaxed and enjoying what she calls a blissful experience. She goes in-depth into her tutorials, many of which consist of multiple parts. She has a series on pencils, gel pens, sharpies, you name it, she has it. Sometimes I go back and revisit something I watched in the past just so I can pick up another tip or two. Where Jennifer really shines in with her reviews. They are among the most unbiased you will find on YouTube.
Simple Art for Adults: This is a friendly, chatty YouTube channel that is great for not only learning but for kicking back and getting into the coloring vibe. Erin likes to come across as a beginner but believe me, she is a real pro and quite talented.
Pencil Stash: Rachel has some wonderful tutorials including some fantastic color-alongs. Although many of her techniques are more advanced, they are easy to learn.
Summing It All Up
Adult coloring is something that I do while watching TV, taking road trips, or in the middle of the night when I can’t seem to stay asleep. It is calming, relaxing, and just plain fun. What I love about it is that I can become my own art judge and jury, and can re-define reality (remember the purple leaves) depending on my mood. Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, is to have something to do while listening to audiobooks. Always a multi-tasker, this allows me to do two things at once without sacrificing the enjoyment aspect of either.
Additional Reading: Living Life: Embracing the Benefits of Me Time
With no right or wrong way of doing something, adult coloring is a hobby with a low barrier to entry, without the need for fancy equipment other than a few coloring pages and some pencils, pens, or markers. Mostly, I love that adult coloring forgives imperfection and allows me to go outside the lines, with no one being the wiser.