Tuesday, January 26News For London

A mind full of colour

Be it to help mental health or simply nurture your inner child, adult colouring books may not merely be ‘just another fad’.

Colouring books have become synonymous with practising 'mindfulness'.
The simple act of colouring has become synonymous with practising ‘mindfulness’. Photos: Anushka Gurnaney

It’s 6pm on a Thursday evening and the Waterstones bookshop at Piccadilly is abuzz with excitement. A bestselling author is about to launch what experts already know will be another bestselling book, and no, it’s not J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or E. L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.

The author in question is Mille Marotta, and the book is Wild Savannah: A Colouring Book Adventure.

The new book’s predecessors, Animal Kingdom and Tropical Wonderland, were among 2015’s top 10 bestsellers on Amazon, and continue to top the list of most gifted items on the site. And if these aren’t clear enough indicators of the craze that’s gripped the country, new data from a Neilson BookScan white paper reveals that the art and craft genre saw a 160 per cent jump in growth last year, all thanks to the surge in adult colouring book sales.

 Millie Marotta on unexpected success

“In the book market, the biggest driver of growth in 2015 came from mindfulness books,” said the new Nielsen white paper. “These books fill a need for pleasure and relaxation. Seven-in-10 adult colouring books sold were for females – and of these, the biggest users were millennials (31%).”

Sabina, a Waterstones sales person talks us through the latest trend

According to the Mental Health Foundation, over half of us Britons say we’re more stressed today than we were five years ago. So it’s no wonder we’re looking for new ways to slow down or hit the pause button when we simply can’t keep up with the breakneck speed of life.

But for some, adult colouring books have become much more than just a trendy pass time. 19-year old Rianna (last name withheld) suffers from acute panic attacks and rarely leaves the security of her home. Colouring has given her ‘a life’ again. A regular visitor at a weekly colouring café in Brentwood, her new hobby has become an excuse for her to “leave the house and socialize with people while colouring.” Something, she shyly admits, is extremely unusual for her.

Hear about Rianna’s relationship with colouring here

 And like Rianna, there are many for whom the simple act of colouring is not just another fad, but rather a therapeutic activity that’s helping them cope with extremely frustrating mental health issues. Audrey Clark, head of the Brentwood Community Print and the brains behind a local colouring café, says the idea has taken off in a bigger way than she ever imagined. “Colouring is for everyone,” she explains. “We have people of all ages and with all kinds of disabilities and mental health issues coming to our café. One lady with autism has been joining us for a few weeks now because it helps here relax and practice communication without any pressure.”

Audrey Clark talks about her colouring café and its special patrons

But however therapeutic it may be to put pencil to paper and colour in intricate patterns, the bigger question lies in whether or not adult colouring books can actually be considered a form of art therapy to help alleviate stress. Val Huet, head of the British Association of Art Therapists believes that though colouring books may have their limitations, they are definitely a step in the right direction. “Colouring books cannot be considered ‘art therapy’ because they don’t help people to get to the root of the problem,” explains Huet. “But if it can help people manage their condition day-to-day and if it takes their minds off horrible feelings of depression or anxiety, then that’s great.”

Val Huet, head of the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) on why colouring books can be positive for patients with depression and anxiety

Today, colouring enthusiasts can be found everywhere – in cafes and airport lounges and even on the tube. Some sneak in a little doodling in their lunch hour while others indulge themselves while watching TV at home. Many find it a great way to ‘digitally detox’.

And now, bestselling author Mille Marotta is already thinking one step ahead. Having realised that it’s time to embrace the idea that a large number of people don’t really want to take a break from technology, the author has recently launched a colouring app on Apple devices. “People want help; people want to colour. But many of those people don’t want to take a break from their phones, and this app is for them,” says Marotta, adding that, “it’s not only to help people relax and take their mind off their anxiety, but it’s also a great way to ensure this isn’t one of those short-lived trends that’s gone before you know it.”

Millie Marotta talks to us about her new app.

Whether or not the app has been a success, it’s still too early to tell. But judging by the findings in the Nielsen BookScan research, which show that approximately 12 million adult colouring books were sold in 2015 – a staggering jump from just 1 million in 2014 – the books definitely seem here to stay.