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Calm AF: Coloring Books Help Reconcile Adulthood

By F+

illustration by Zach Cooper.

illustration by Zach Cooper.

In an odd coincidence (seemingly unconnected but nonetheless a relief) after two full weeks of political conventions, August 2 is National Coloring Book Day.

It’s a new holiday, this being the second annual National Coloring Book Day (NCBD) ever, and to help celebrate it, I took on the onerous task of examining some adult coloring books in order to present some NCBD options.

First, a disclaimer: I am not a coloring book person. I have a really, really hard time staying in the lines, and coloring over them makes me anxious. I am not a good colorer.

However, adult coloring books are still incredibly appealing. Who doesn’t want to spend three hours coloring an intricate mandala while letting their mind wander? These books are said to help adults reduce their focus on events largely out of their control — such as student loan debt and the rise of Neo-fascism in the United States — and return to their breath while seeing something beautiful in front of them.

For this reason, adult coloring books are quite popular. In the past few decades, the transition between recent generations’ (very) extended childhoods and the harsh responsibilities of adulthood have become harder to accomplish. What better way to soothe these aging women-and-men-children than to grab the colored pencils and out-color the anxiety?

Many adults in their 20s and 30s hate the realities of adulthood: Finding a job that pays well enough to support oneself in a still-uncertain job market while paying off student debt and puzzling over how to gain independence and stability can be crippling.

The millennial generation is composed of new adults who often see their own lives as fundamentally out of their control. They don’t have the time or resources to relax outside the home on a regular basis, and the only other alternative is screen-time, which leads to Facebook, which leads to deeper ennui.

The urge to return to childhood is strong, and with that urge comes a string of furious swear words and ill temper. Enter adult coloring books, screaming profanity at the world while offering an intricate, pretty picture to fill with sadness and anger and bright colors.

The adult coloring book craze has intensified to a fever pitch. A once-niche market (if not a super-niche market) grew into a veritable publishing empire. Last year, the top ten adult coloring book titles sold over 1.5 million copies, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Both of the top two best-selling coloring books last year — “Secret Garden” and “Enchanted Forest” — were created by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford. Basford arguably ignited the craze almost single-handedly: Her gilt-trimmed intricate books were irresistible to the twee-loving Anthropologie set.

Since Basford set the stage for the adult coloring industry to explode, there have been offshoots, imitations, parodies, marketing gimmicks, and everything in between. Walk into any bookstore today and you’re bound to find a table of clever coloring books ranging from the hyper-serious (“The Mindfulness Coloring Book: Anti-Stress Art Therapy for Busy People”) to the quirky (“Cats & Quilts”) to the obscene (“AssJabber”).

“Another F*cking Coloring Book” appeared, unrequested, as a review copy in the F office last week. I decided to take the opportunity to give it a try.

“Another F*cking Coloring Book” is filled with pages that include fun phrases along with their patterned imagery. Some favorites include:  “Home is where the liquor is,” “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria,” and “Three of these people will be dead tomorrow.”

This last phrase presents the colorer with a sea of faces. This page might hit a little too close to home, as a colorer could have a hard time deciding which shades of skin to choose, knowing that whomever they mark might become an emblem of the egregious race war currently waging right outside their domicile.

Looking through the book, I found myself smiling and laughing —  increasing my serotonin levels — and feeling good about spending some time coloring them. I chose “Coffee or Homicide,” but got so frustrated with staying inside the lines, I almost quit to go just cry my pain out, like I normally do.
Adult coloring books are perhaps not for everybody, but they have a proven record of success for many. August 2 offers a perfect opportunity to see what they have to offer. “Another F*cking Coloring Book,” put out by Adams Media, is a fine choice. Other fascinating titles are: “Calm the F*ck Down,”Owls,” “Release Your Anger (Midnight Edition),” “Amazing Swirls,” and Basford’s “Lost Ocean.”

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