From The New Yorker
“Coloring books for adults have been around for decades, but Basford’s success—combined with that of the French publisher Hachette Pratique’s “Art-thérapie: 100 coloriages anti-stress” (2012), which has sold more than three and a half million copies worldwide, and Dover Publishing’s “Creative Haven” line for “experienced colorists,” which launched in 2012 and sold four hundred thousand copies this May alone—has helped to create a massive new industry category. “We’ve never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. We are on our fifteenth reprint of some of our titles. Just can’t keep them in print fast enough,” Lesley O’Mara, the managing director of British publishers Michael O’Mara Books, wrote to me about their own adult-coloring-books catalogue.”
I once had a client who was an artist. He’d had a car accident and suffered multiple fractures and was experiencing widespread, persistent pain. But worse than the pain and injuries, he reported, was his “loss of creativity” – he hadn’t drawn or painted in months and any attempts to do so brought on pain, frustration, anxiety and depression. One day, during another ineffective treatment session (this was some time ago I hasten to add), the client spied a copy of The Anatomy Colouring Book in amongst my modest collection of books. He asked to have a look at it, noted my incomplete and incompetent attempts and asked whether I might like him to have a go at fixing my mess. He was most welcome I responded, and thought nothing more of it as he left. A week later he returned and, looking just a bit sheepish, confessed to getting a bit carried away – he had finished colouring in about half the book. I flicked through the book and was left speechless – the initial few pages, those I had made a mess of, now looked great. But as I leafed through further, the detail increased, the shading became more and more complicated and the final few pages he had worked on were simply breathtaking. I felt like I was holding a precious piece of art.
I stammered something in admiration and asked how he had managed to undertake what was clearly hours and hours of work. He reported that on the first attempt he had only managed about 10 minutes of colouring until he started to hurt all over, but had been so exhilarated to see something artistic done by his own hand that he decided to persevere. Over the following days he stuck at it and found that he could do more and more. He reported that while he was colouring he barely noticed his pain and by the end of the week was able to undertake hour long sessions quite comfortably. I remember asking (quite stupidly) if he was “paying for it now”, but he reported that he felt better than he had in months, was planning his first original piece since the accident, and had even made a few preliminary sketches. Perhaps that last session of treatment really did do something….
Looking back, this is a story of finding really powerful SIMs, changing DIMs into SIMs, and grading exposure. Not just grading exposure to activity, but grading exposure to creative output – an output that had been thought “lost”, but just needed some gentle coaxing and a safe place to start. Looking back again, I wish I’d been clever enough to think of this idea myself!
The anatomy colouring book was, sadly, lost in a move at some point, but the story has remained. It’s a reminder now of the importance of the individual context of DIMs and SIMs, and that at the right time and place, with the right person, a colouring book, or any other creative outlet, can be powerfully therapeutic.
– Tim Cocks