Why I Started Colouring In

Shaun Tan's Metropolis Pictura

Recently I started colouring in. Or maybe I should say I re-started colouring in because I coloured a lot as a child. Mum always had a bag filled with colouring books and pencils for my sister and I when there was some quiet, still time needed.

I don’t really remember what age I stopped doing it. And, aside from when my much younger cousin requested someone to colour in with her, I hadn’t for a long time. And then I got the urge to start again and this is why:

About a year ago I walked into a children’s bookshop and bought a Pictura™ to colour in of Shaun Tan’s Metropolis. I was going through Julia Cameron’s book ’The Artists’ Way’ at the time, in a bid to tackle my serious case of writers block. She advocates for a weekly ‘Artist date’ where you take an hour once a week to do something that your inner artist wants to do.

In a previous week I had sat down and let myself listen to San Fermin’s debut album all the way through. I hadn’t sat down and just listened to music for years before that. But I couldn’t do that every week and I was struggling to come up with ideas. Cameron suggests to remember what you loved doing as a child and when I saw the Pictura™ I remembered how much I loved colouring in.

My childhood pencils were still fastidiously kept in their tin, well sharpened and in colour order. Picking them up again and allowing myself to colour for an hour a week was a mental haven for me.

My sister was about the only person who lived outside the house I told straight away. Not because I was ashamed, per se, but because it’s not exactly the kind of thing that comes up in general conversation very easily and I mostly like to talk about things other than myself. The longer, more frequent, one-on-one conversations I had with my sister on the telephone meant that it came up eventually. She bought me Johanna Basford’s ‘Secret Garden’ for my birthday before either of us knew how much it was in demand. See, while I was quietly colouring in my own home I didn’t realise that a lot of other people were as well.

I’m not the kind of person who tends to get into fads (at least not since primary school anyway) but this is one that if I hadn’t picked it up independently I probably would have got on board with.

My fancy owl from Johanna Basford's Secret Garden

My fancy owl from Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden

I can’t really answer as to why it’s become so popular generally but I can say why I’ve enjoyed it so much. Sitting down and pressing pen or pencil to paper is such a relaxing thing, it’s also something that I don’t have to judge when I finish—if I finish. The difficulties with creating anything as an adult is that your work is judged to a vastly different standard than it was as a child.

The fear of creating something and it being bad has been carefully honed in you since the day your parents and teachers stopped saying ‘that’s great’ to whatever you did and started to tell you how you could do it better.

Adults don’t get to play create; they have to create and be good at it.

Colouring is safe. Someone else has already created and all you have to do is put some colour on it. Once you get past the age of about five and know how to colour in the lines there is no way you can ruin it. I found in colouring in the safe place and the confidence to create other things. I wrote and illustrated a book for my cousin’s son that year, something I would have never thought to attempt before reading ‘The Artists’ Way’ and my re-emersion in colouring. The work on my novel began again at a much better pace. I remembered I was allowed to play.

The other reason I was drawn to colouring was it was a different type of leisure. These days I spend a lot of time staring at a screen. I work on a screen, I relax watching TV, or on the internet, or on the internet on my laptop while watching TV, or playing on my phone, or playing on my phone while on the internet on my laptop while watching TV.

I do exercise away from a screen but I don’t really class that as leisure. Some people encouraged me to join some kind of social sporting team but I’d hate that as much as I did as a poorly co-ordinated primary school kid.

For me, exercise is much better as an individual thing and anything where I sweat is not relaxing. Colouring is something I can do to get my eyes off a screen that I won’t be bargaining with myself to keep going. I can start when I want and stop when I feel like it.

I don’t think anyone who disliked colouring as a child would suddenly find they like it now. But if you loved it as a child and are looking for something to do that’s relaxing, will stimulate creativity and get your eyes off a screen then I’d highly recommend it.

Are you into the colouring fad? Why do you like it? Have you recently taken anything else up that you liked doing as a child?