Inside the lines

Coloring is more than child's play

Most kids are familiar with the simple pleasures of coloring -- choosing a palette, filling in an outline and making the images sparkle. Now, grown-ups are getting in touch with their inner children and finding out coloring is just as much fun in adulthood. Visit any bookshop and you'll see displays of grown-up coloring books in a range of styles. Local libraries have embraced the coloring craze, holding events that allow adults to unwind and dust off their Crayolas.

Palo Alto Library Services Manager RuthAnn Garcia finds coloring an easy way to add something artistic to her busy life.

"I don't have as much time and patience for knitting or sewing as I used to, but I still feel nearly as productive when I color. I feel like I did create something," she said.

Since November, Garcia -- who oversees library programming for adults -- has headed a monthly drop-in program at the Mitchell Park branch. The program, sponsored by Friends of the Palo Alto Library, provides the coloring sheets, pens and pencils. Patrons are also welcome to take sheets home to color later.

At the January event, regular attendee Joan Rudloff selected an abstract mandala design, then a scene with teacups, out of the wide variety offered. She started with markers, then used pencils on the second sheet.

"I call it therapy," she said, choosing her colors as soft piano music played in the background. She plans to use one of her favorite colored designs as next year's Christmas card. She said she appreciates the library program because it forces her to fully immerse herself in the activity.

"It's too busy at home; I'd feel like I was wasting my time," she said. At the library, "I just get into it and space out."

The Mountain View Library has had its own flourishing coloring program since October.

"Usually it takes several tries to build an audience for a program, but this was an immediate success," Librarian Karin Mente said. She was reintroduced to coloring when a friend began holding coloring nights in her home.

"It would just be a bunch of friends sitting around chatting, munching on snacks and listening to music while we color. For very little money or set-up it provided hours of entertainment," she said. "I think it's difficult for adults to make new friends and do things that don't involve spending a decent amount of money. This is an inexpensive activity that can easily be both solitary and social."

Mente counted 32 people, a new record, at January's event. She's received feedback praising the program for allowing participants to relax and let go of the stresses of the work day.

"It's creative and meditative," she said. "You can experiment with different colors and media, and even if you're not happy with the results, the process itself was fun."

The Menlo Park Library recently held its first coloring program, with 16 attending. John Weaver, outreach coordinator, said there had been discussion about starting an adult-coloring night for a while. But the decision was clinched when he observed something interesting at a different event, for which he had laid out crayons and coloring pages for children.

"The couple of times I peered over into the coloring area, who was it I saw taking coloring breaks but the grown-ups!" he said.

Based on the inaugural coloring session's popularity, Weaver said he expects Menlo Park Library to hold similar gatherings in the future. Other local coloring events have been organized by the East Palo Alto Library at the EPA Senior Center and the Stanford University Women's Club.

Feb. 1-5 was declared #ColorOurCollections week by The New York Academy of Medicine, and many libraries worldwide followed suit, inviting the public to download and color pages from their collections, then share them on Twitter with the #ColorOurCollections hashtag. Stanford University Libraries Department of Special Collections joined in, offering up images from its recently digitized Jose Guadalupe Posada collection (the images are still downloadable online.

"One person even emailed me to ensure she got all of the coloring pages we had made," Stanford librarian Michelle Paquette said. "It's a fun way to get people interested in what we have to offer and might inspire them to research more and learn something new."

Another appealing aspect of coloring is that it allows everyone to be an artist. As Garcia said, "While I might not be super talented at one particular form, coloring has allowed me to be expressive and creative. There are some beautiful coloring sheets that are so well-conceived and intricate -- you can really create some magnificent color schemes. It reminds me of all the drawings I did as a kid, daydreaming during class."

East West Bookshop in Mountain View held a coloring workshop for adults at the end of January. The New Age store's book buyer, Diane Holcomb, said that while there've always been a few coloring books in stock during her 10 years there, in the past six to eight months, demand has exploded.

"Now we don't have room on the shelves for any more," she said. "We have everything from Earth-art designs to animals, mandalas. ... The big craze now is 'stress-free coloring,'" she said, including titles such as "Color Me Calm" and books that include affirmations.

"It's that theme of the Zen state through coloring. There are no side effects, just a little investment of pencil or pens and time," she said of using coloring as a relaxation technique.

Garcia and Mente both enjoy the wide variety of coloring books on the market now, from beautiful landscapes, Paris street scenes and Day of the Dead imagery, to books based on the "Harry Potter" and "Outlander" series and more -- "like an all '80s coloring book my colleague gave me, full of pictures of high-top Reebok sneakers and portraits of Madonna and Molly Ringwald," Mente said.

The appeal of coloring seems to be a mix of the stress-reduction benefits, the nostalgia factor, and the simple joy of creating beauty.

"I think about the Pablo Picasso quote, 'Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up,'" Mente said. "Coloring allows us to connect back to those artists we were as children."

Info: Palo Alto's Mitchell Park Library and the Mountain View Library hold coloring events on the third Saturday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m. and the fourth Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m., respectively. For more information on these events, or for future coloring events hosted by the other venues mentioned, check online at: Palo Alto Library, Mountain View Library, Menlo Park Library, East West Bookshop, Stanford University Women's Club, Stanford Libraries, and East Palo Alto Library.

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Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Coloring sounds relaxing.

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