Adult Coloring Books and My Small Act of Defiance.

 IMG_0340Adult coloring books are everywhere these days. They’re on the front tables of book stores and art shops and on Amazon’s best sellers list just a few notches down from The Nightingale.

I wonder why they’ve suddenly become so popular. Maybe stress has something to do with it. Art therapist Susanne Fincher says coloring is a way to “lift the mood, reduce anxiety and relieve stress.” Psychologist Antoni Martinez recommends coloring as a relaxation technique, an alternative to meditation. Maybe they’re right. With all the time we spend on our computers, pads and smart phones, we’re overloaded with digital activities. We need the occasional old-fashioned simplicity of a colored pencil and a piece of paper.

That wasn’t what I was thinking when I bought my adult coloring book. No, what made me a ready target for the coloring book craze came from my memories of the happy hours I spent as a child, sprawled on the floor with a coloring book and a jumbo box of crayons.

Every Christmas Eve my sister and I had a couple of new coloring books under the tree. No matter what other gifts we received, Sue and I were already on the floor trying out our new coloring books while Mom was still gathering up the discarded ribbons and paper.

Those simple coloring books bore little resemblance however to what’s now being sold for adults. The new coloring books are gorgeous. Here are a few examples:

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A Small Act of Defiance

The coloring book I chose this summer is filled with beautiful art nouveau animal designs.

IMG_0454This is where I started, coloring these birds and vines and flowers using a new box of colored pencils.

IMG_0449I do agree with Ms. Fincher and Dr. Martinez; coloring is a nice way to unwind. But for me, the real payoff is something quite different. Sitting down to color feels to me like a small act of defiance. Let me explain:

When I was a child, like all children, I spent hours in aimless activity. I ran around for the sheer joy of it. I built block towers and knocked them down. I dressed my dolls, and I dug in the sand, never wondering why. Play is not a purposeful activity, at least not from the child’s point of view.

Now that I’m an adult, everything has a purpose. True, most of the obligations in my life are self-imposed. I’m the one who chooses to wash the dishes and fold the laundry. I choose to work on my novel and to get some exercise most days. I’m the one who chooses to eat nourishing food instead of cake and ice cream. (Yes, I shout without great conviction. I want to eat my veggies.)

The trouble is, sometimes I’m all too aware of the obligatory aspect of those activities. So then, feeling tired and somewhat rebellious, I stick my fingers in my ears to tune out the annoying cry of my to-do list. I take out my coloring book, and I lay down some color … for absolutely no reason at all.

Simply because I want to.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

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34 comments


  1. Amen to that, Nicki! So glad you rediscovered your childhood love. Your finished page shows that you’re an artist. Love your mix of colors.

    I love the adult coloring book trend. I used to love to color when I was a kid. I never stopped loving to color! I’ve returned to drawing so perhaps I’ll make my own coloring pages. 🙂




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  2. I was right there with you but I’ve chosen sketching with colored pencils. Here’s to the good old days revisited!




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  3. Muareen

    Your act of defiance turned out quite beautiful, Nicki! I think there’s something to be said for coloring as a creative activity within boundaries. I’ve always loved to color and do paint by numbers also.




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  4. I think my act of defiance might be playing with legos again. Although I did Rainbow Loom with a youngster last year and loved it. I enjoyed making cute bracelets and plotting out patterns. And — unlike writing books or blogs — having a small project that I could finish quickly!

    I think it must be fun to plan out the colors in your books. The pictures are lovely!

    Vegetables are NOT lovely.




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  5. This is fascinating to me – I read your post twice. Your coloring is lovely, too. Why not pursue something that offers a respite for a while? I remember doing paint-by-numbers as a child with my mom’s help. Precious memories.




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    • I also remember doing paint-by-numbers. My seven-year-old grandson is visiting this week. At the moment, he’s deep into a project–putting together a glow-in-the-dark 3D dragon. Kids are more tightly scheduled than we used to be, but they still find time to play.




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  6. Not a fad I will be engaging in–as a child I could never color inside the lines! I think it was my personality to color outside the lines. Thinking outside the box was my style! Perhaps, if I could color as well as you, I would have found the love.




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  7. Traveller at heart

    As yellow as the corn fields,
    As red as the morning sun,
    As black as a witch’s hat.

    What about grey?
    Dull and grey life, perhaps ……..grey hair is a crown of glory according to proverb 16.31. What about grey matter? There is not much colour there.




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    • Grey. That reminds me of an excellent but sad book called “Grey is the Color of Hope.” It was written by a Russian woman jailed for her political beliefs by the government of the former Soviet Union.




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  8. I’ve always adored coloring! I came very close to purchasing an adult version this weekend at our local BJs. Why didn’t I? They had three choices and I couldn’t make up my mind, ha!




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  9. Love the post and your choice of a coloring book ~ your shading behind the birds and greenery is fantastic.

    When I saw the title and subject matter, I thought you were going to paint the sky red:

    “Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we’re stupid.” ~ Jules Feiffer




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    • I do like art deco. It comes from such a romantic time.

      I like the Jules Feiffer quote. I think he’s hinting we should all be artists and color the sky red if we want to.




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  10. I haven’t done any adult coloring, but I HAVE been ” bitten by the Zen Doodlebug.” Zen doodling, at least the way I approach it, is relaxing and a bit mindless. I usually zen doodle while listening to documentaries on television.




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  11. I’ve always loved coloring and have a metal tin full of crayons and a few coloring books tucked away. Now, I want to pull them out and color! I feel the same way when I ride my bike. It reminds me of being a kid and taking off on my bike for the day with no real plan. Nothing wrong with unplugging and playing for a little while.




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  12. What a great way to relax. My fast life has been streesing me really bad these weeks, so a mandala picture to color sure would be relaxing and would definitely help me slow down. You can color really beautifully, like it was a picture from a book.

    Every time I need distraction, I bake a cake. But coloring pictures would definitly be better for my hips hehe.




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    • I used to enjoy baking too. When I have baked goods in the house, though, I don’t have enough self-discipline to leave them alone. Now I just buy them one serving at a time.




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  13. Uhm maybe I should try coloring, as a way to spend some time away from the screens! Computers and smartphones are sucking the life out of me!!
    However, I am kind of artistically challenged. My coloring would be quite plain, no nice shades and different lights…
    My bf bought me once a “paint by numbers” oil canvas but I never finished it and it didn’t survive our last moving.




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  14. I loved coloring books in my childhood days and in fact my wife bought us a adult coloring book just last month. We only finished one picture thus far but still it is a nice acitivity once a while when having some rest from everyday stress




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  15. Mam

    I am a bit of a coloring nut! Just had to make a comment, love what you said and I quote ” feels to me like a small act of defiance” love it, thank you! enjoy your day




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  16. When I taught in Taipei, art was my favorite subject to prepare for and guide. It was an opportunity to let the students show their creative and artistic side. I enjoyed it so much because we all sat around a circle and drew and cut and colored and glued until everyone was finished. Even my six year old students would share some artistic tips with me [it is amazing how creative children can be.]

    So, Nicki, I understand why you enjoy reaching for the adult coloring book. It is indeed very relaxing.




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    • Art is fun to teach, but it requires probably more preparation than for any other subject because of all the materials you have to prepare. It’s satisfying, though, to see what the children can create and how proud they are of their work.




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  17. This is so true. I have heard of friends around my age who are into adult colouring books as well. And like the way you colour yours in, my friends always put in a lot of colour and shading into their pages. I am sure your mum didn’t mind you and your sister spending time in front of the colouring books back in the day – it kept the two of you away from her 😀

    As a kid, I loved colouring. My favourite kind of colouring books were the ones with Disney characters in it. Loved colouring the princesses such as Snow White. My friends at school also coloured in colouring books too and i always noticed my shading was always much, much lighter than my friends’. Different styles.




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  18. I didn’t realize that there were colouring books for adults. I enjoyed coloring as a child, especially colouring my own creations. And a while back I enjoyed colouring with kids I taught. I can’t imagine doing it now though I understand what you mean when you refer to it as an act of defiance 🙂 Sometimes I while away hours with Mahjong Titans or Sudoku, just because 🙂

    Btw, the colouring books you showed are beautiful… no, I won’t let myself be tempted.




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    • I just googled Mahjong Titans. I’d never heard of it before. But I do play Sudoku. We all have our minor individual pastimes, the things we do for short periods to relax or pass the time. The coloring books for sale now are beautiful … and very tempting.




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  19. Pingback: My first Chinese New Year Party and a ‘Happy Chinese New Year from the Panda’ coloring picture for all of you | Betty 有一​個​熊貓 | HAS A PANDA

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