Over the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed the huge influx of “adult coloring books” in bookstores, art supply stores, and even supermarket magazine racks. The books’ linear designs range from simple garden flowers to incredibly intricate mandala patterns. This type of “coloring” has been noted for a calming, soothing, therapeutic effect, somewhat like meditation or knitting. It has caught on in rehab facilities and senior centers.
Adult coloring books are still growing in popularity, so sales of markers and colored pencils have skyrocketed, and some artists have successfully self-published their own coloring books. There is even a new brand of colored pencils made in China and marketed to the coloring-book crowd as much cheaper than the better-known brands, albeit lower in quality. Since I have published free swatch charts for many popular brands on my website, someone asked if I’m planning to publish one for this new brand, too. (No, and I’m not going to name the brand here.)
As an artist whose primary medium is colored pencil, I have mixed feelings about this fad. On the one hand, it’s great to see so many people (re)discovering colored pencils, and hopefully they’ll be inspired to take the next step to learn how to create their own original drawings and master the medium. On the other hand, it’s also leading to an impression that colored pencils aren’t a fine art medium, they’re for very casual hobbyists. And that’s an impression that the Colored Pencil Society of America has worked hard since 1990 to dispel, so it feels like a giant step backward.
Recently, Time magazine published an article “How coloring inside the lines came into fashion” which examined these impressions. Today, I was glad to read the CPSA’s response to it.
I personally have been told “Oh, you should make a coloring book!” and I take that as a compliment about how interesting my subjects are and how easily they might translate into linear outlines.
But on a Facebook group for colored pencil artists I have read accounts of fellow artists being asked about their original work “What coloring book is this from?” and the questioner not being able to grasp that it was not from a coloring book. I think if this was asked of me I’d have a hard time responding without curse words! I can see how this confusion might arise, since some people who color in pages from a coloring book post them to social media with the idea that it’s now “art”. It’s not. There’s an important distinction: all art is artwork, but not all artwork is art.
The latest ridiculousness resulting from this fad is a report of a community college offering a five-day “Coloring Book Technique” workshop, for which people pay $130 and bring their own coloring books and colored pencils. Really? Since when do we have to be taught how to color in coloring books? Every seven-year-old knows how to do this.
So on balance, although I recognize the value of adult coloring books as therapy and for relaxation, so far I’m not happy about what it’s doing for serious artists who work with colored pencil. For any such artist, I recommend that if someone asks what kind of art you do, don’t say “I do colored pencil drawings” or they’ll likely assume you mean you color in coloring books. Instead, try simply saying “I work mainly in colored pencil”. The subtle difference in wording may trigger a better mental image.