Adult Coloring Books: Rad, Bad, or Fad?

When I asked my mother what she wanted for her birthday, I expected a list filled with ideas like clothes, shoes, books, and music. Instead, I found an interesting item at the top of her list –an adult coloring book. I was surprised, however, she assured me it was “the new ‘cool’ thing to do.”

I thought the latest fad was Paint and Sip Parties, but apparently, something new is on the scene. When I went to purchase an adult coloring book I was shocked to find a huge display front and center when I walked though the doors. After elbowing many patrons out of the way, I settled on a book that looked interesting.

display of coloring books at the store

Rad? Fad? Bad?

As I thumbed through the rest of the coloring books, I couldn’t help but take an art teacher’s perspective. Sure, I loved that some form of creative outlet was a featured display at a major retailer. But on the other hand, I felt weird participating in the “cookie-cutter-not-really-art-but-maybe-it-is” fad. I loved coloring books when I was a kid, but it suddenly felt strange as an adult.

I couldn’t really settle on whether this new fad was indeed rad or if it might actually be bad. So I took it to the most knowledgeable artists I know; our own AOE fans on Facebook and Instagram. Read on to see some of their thoughts on the subject.

How do you feel about adult coloring books?

“Bad fad. I think it’s weird seeing my middle schoolers revert back to ‘coloring’ UNLESS they are designing the coloring pages themselves!” -Abby S.

screenshot of FB poll

“As a graphic designer originally, I really value the beautiful illustration work that goes into them! The better books have a lot to teach students…not about coloring in, but about design, illustration, and general graphics skills…” -Julie R.

“Bad…right up there with painting parties…” -Christopher S.

“I started a Coloring Club in my high school during activity period. It is so popular that the club was profiled in the monthly school magazine and will be in the yearbook. Recent research has shown that coloring is a great for reducing anxiety and stress, allowing both kids and adults to focus, sometimes leading to new ideas in many areas. We discuss color symbolism and they just color. They love it!” -Kelly H.

“I hate them with a vengeance – and they are everywhere.” -Grainne H.

“I think they are great for adults, especially ones that feel they are not artistic. They are a great stress reliever, and allows them to do something with art that doesn’t intimidate them.” -Julie B.

What I learned from Adult Coloring Books

As much as I enjoyed hearing many art teachers’ opinions on adult coloring books, I knew the only way I would form my own opinion was by trying it out myself. So I left the store with not one, but two coloring books in my bag.

Coloring page partially finished

The truth is, I NEVER seem to have time to get creative with something of my own choosing. So sitting down with a coloring book made me excited, and it felt a bit foreign. Even my husband was surprised to find out that I had actually spent my evening doing something he deemed “artsy.”

After spending a few hours sprawled out on the couch with my coloring book and markers three things became pretty clear:

  1. Coloring books ARE a mind-numbing creative outlet.
  2. I need to spend more time doing creative things.
  3. They have art room potential!

I ended up loving the time I spent in front of my coloring book because it let me shut my mind down from a long day of teaching and daily tasks. I truly felt less stressed as I colored. But working in my book reminded me how important it is to carve out that creative time for myself. How often do we forget that we are art teachers AND artists. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Art Room Potential

I think the biggest takeaway was the potential for these books in the art room. As I sat there coloring some classroom ideas came to mind:

  1. Use them as a fundraiser.
    Have your students create their own “coloring book page” and make multiple copies of each student’s artwork. Combine those into a book and you’ve got a brilliant coloring book you can sell during events like Back to School Night or your art show.
  2. Make them a free-choice option.
    Make copies of the pictures in a book and piece them together on a wall in your room. Send students to color the pictures on the wall if they end up with a bit of extra time.
  3. Use them as a resource.
    Coloring books (especially those with specific types of patterns) can make handy resources when explaining certain topics in art.
  4. Use them to encourage collaborative artwork.
    Have a class create their own coloring book design on a large sheet of roll paper. Display in the hallway for people to add color as they pass by.
  5. Make them into an emergency sub plan.
    If you’re in a pinch and need emergency sub plans, use coloring book pages! Have a sub talk about color theory, pattern, color symbolism, shading, or a host of other options as students add color to their pages.

We can all agree that adult coloring books are the latest rage right now. However, even if you aren’t a fan, consider how you might be able to use something like them in your own classroom. No matter how you feel about coloring books, we want to hear from you below. Chime in with your thoughts on this latest fad.

What are your thoughts on coloring books. Rad? Bad? Fad?

What other ways can art teachers utilize coloring books in the classroom?

Jennifer Borel

Jennifer is an middle school art teacher in Kansas who is passionate about creating an organized, well-managed environment where students feel comfortable to learn and explore.

Related

  • Meg Carte

    Adult coloring books are definitely a fad. I think the ways in which you listed are good uses for the artroom. On a personal note, I have an adult daughter who suffers from a brain disease. I have tried to reach her through art, she likes to draw and paint sometimes, but when I bought her an adult coloring book she couldn’t put it down. She will spend hours with her pages and a large container of markers. It calms her and helps her gain some clarity. I think if you are a teacher who works with children who suffer disabilities, this may be a good outlet for them. I will say, there are a lot of cheesy adult coloring books on the market and I choose carefully. I ordered a book from Liberty of London that has many of their famous textile patterns and it is great to recreate your own color pallette!

  • Michelle Mathias

    I believe these books specifically are a fad- but coloring in a book is not a fad. I also believe they are great tools. Although not “creation” of “unique” art, they allow for some form of creativity. I create coloring sheets for my school to complete- if they choose. I hand them out to teachers saying to use them for stress relief and they are received very well!

    I also believe that people who are dogmatically against these and other “art” fads (painting parties, pinterest, pallets, etc.) can be very blind to the positivity and fun that comes from them. Although art teachers are inherently creative and we strive to push our students towards individuality, allowing other people (adults and young students alike) to do something artsy is good. If we, as art teachers, are dogmatically against something that is artsy, what message are we sending? I’m concerned that the message we are sending, while be against these fads, will only push people further away from their own creation and appreciation and love of art.

    • lux_arts

      “If we, as art teachers, are dogmatically against something that is artsy, what message are we sending?”
      I second this! nothing that encourages people to express themselves and be creative can be “bad.” At my school we follow a mindfulness curriculum http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/ which helps teach students how to self-regulate. I have found coloring to be a big hit among the middle schoolers when they need to take a break from work that’s frustrating. While I think “adult coloring” is a fad in the way zentangle was 2 years ago, I believe them both to be valuable creative outlets.

  • Denise McRea

    I feel they are a useful doorway into furthering one’s own creativity. They are a relaxing, easy way to unwind, and they are a non-threatening way to make Art accessible. So many of my students think they can’t be artists because they can’t draw well. Starting with something like a coloring book help hem see themselves as creative people. It’s interesting to give everyone the same picture and see all the different results.

  • Kathy

    Not in my art room. I find that they are contrary to everything I believe and send the message that the students’ own works are not good enough, so they must rely on adult outlines. There are far better methods to make art accessible, fun for all, yet highly creative. That’s our job as art teachers. Art is not meant to numb the mind, but rather to encourage us to be more aware, appreciative of beauty, more mindful, and to feel the satisfaction of creating our own unique products. Coloring books are a cheap substitute for creative work, even if they are appealing and quite well-designed. I loved coloring books and crafty kits as a young child, but that was because I had no art in school, no one to guide me. Now it is so depressing to get a coloring book page from a student, instead of their own imperfect and wondrous child art. Let the classroom teachers use the coloring books, or enjoy them at home, but please don’t let them replace even ten minutes of quality art education.

    • Melissa Gilbertsen

      I’ve got to say I agree. Though I am a big fan of un-coloring books (name might be off). They are a type of creative coloring book of brief “starter” images that you finish. They are really open ended but give that freedom within limits feel. My students still struggle to come up with ideas for free drawing. I think adult coloring books are totally a fad, but often the line art is really cool which does expose more people to a variety of contemporary artists and illustrators. As for kids, nah, not if I’m trying to get them to trust their own artistic voices. I already have an uphill battle with that already!

      • Kathy

        Yes, I like those too,and I often leave a page from an Anti Coloring book for my sub.

  • Bob

    I think they are great for helping people to relieve stress and unwind, even if they turn out to be just a fad.
    Dover has published coloring books for decades with topics ranging from historical military uniforms to animals around the world to art masterpieces. I have used their “Color your own” art coloring books in my classes for years, when kids get done a bit early with something they’re working on. I’ve used lots of other things to fill that time, too, the art coloring pages is just one thing. Follow this Amazon link to get started or search for “Dover art coloring book.”
    https://www.amazon.com/Art-Masterpieces-Color-Paintings-Botticelli/dp/0486433811/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1469521688&sr=8-2&keywords=dover+art+coloring+book

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  • chrissy

    I was an art major in college and have my degree. now that I am working full time and have a child I do not have as much time to work on paintings and I also find sometimes I am not feeling creative. Since I got some coloring books for gifts and have been using them I find that I am starting to feel more motivated to create and coming up with new ideas