Between the lines

For a few months I had been aware of the new colouring books for adults craze that is sweeping the world but had chosen to ignore it. That is, until I read a blog post by Alana Munro stating that “According to Psychologists, Colouring is the Best Alternative to Meditation” and I thought I’d add my two cents worth.

I had already been urged by some writing, publishing and marketing entrepreneurs to quickly create a colouring book and cash in on this new lucrative market. Apparently it’s easy to create a book using royalty free creative images found online and publish the books on Amazon where they have their own genre.  People are buying them by the dozens. The books are also displayed prominently in bookstores, and promoted on social media.  What is there to lose?

As a teacher and parent I have never been in favour of colouring books for children. I know some argue that colouring does have a (small) place. Children may develop fine motor skills when colouring between the lines, and colouring is sometimes integrated with other things such as graphing, mapping, and colour-by-number activities.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

But I have rarely given a colouring book as a gift. I would rather give a blank art book and a variety of pencils and pens for children to create images from their own imaginings. Their fine motor skills and their creativity will develop perfectly well that way and it may help to avoid the feelings of inadequacy that can develop from spending too much time colouring the works of others.

That’s not to say that learning some of the artist’s techniques is a bad thing. Twenty-five years ago I did a short “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain” course, based on the work of Betty Edwards. I didn’t consider myself an artist, and still don’t, preferring to write than to draw. But being interested in learning and anything to do with the brain, I decided to see what I could do. I was amazed at the results. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pre-course drawings to share with you, just this one of a gardener, but please take my word for it that I showed little promise.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In the course I learned the importance of drawing what the eye sees, not what the mind thinks it sees; for example we might think of the roundness of the rim of a cup, but what we actually see is an ellipse. The importance of seeing accurately is true whether drawing an actual or imagined object or scene.

In the first lesson we were given this picture to copy.

original

I admit that I didn’t have high expectations as I began. We were told to turn the picture upside down and to start copying from one corner. In doing this we focussed only on each of the lines, drawing just what we could see. We were not to turn the picture the right way up until we had finished. There was to be no interference from what we thought we were drawing to what we were actually drawing. Everyone in the class was amazed with their results.

This is mine:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

And thank you to Bec, who was three at the time, for deciding it needed some colour!

For a short while I engaged in a flurry of drawing activities, but soon abandoned them to other more pressing or preferred activities. I had proved to myself it was possible. That was sufficient. Now someone just needs to come with a singing on the right side of the brain course for me!

These are some of the drawings I did at that time, each from observation of a real, not imagined object:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In my pre-service teaching days I was cautioned to not use simple drawings on the board, for example a stick person or a smiley face sun, for the children to copy as it may limit their drawing ability. It was always a concern of mine. I didn’t want to limit anyone’s ability!

After doing the drawing course I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain for Children and used its recommendations in art lessons. In his article about How to Teach Drawing to Children Marvin Bartel warns against showing children how to draw and emphasises the need for close observation, and practice, practice, practice. I agree with his advice to not add one’s own changes or lines to a child’s drawing.

In recent years I came across some fabulous picture books by Mo Willems.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

At first I didn’t find the books appealing with their simple black outlined drawings and minimal use of colour. It was only after a colleague’s repeated exhortations that I gave in and reluctantly read one. Halfway into the book The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” I was a fan! With what appears to be a few simple lines, Mo creates a great variety of expressions and moods, telling stories that children can identify with and that have them (and their teachers) holding their sides with laughter.

In the app Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App Mo encourages children to add their voices, making the story their own. He also includes videos of how to draw the characters. The app is as much fun as the books. There are many videos by others on youtube sharing how to draw Mo’s characters, but none is better than Mo himself.

Here is a PDF of his instructions for drawing the pigeon:

Mo Williams pigeon_draw01

and a video of Mo talking about how he creates his characters. Sorry, Mo, I underestimated you at first.

So while I accept that colouring books may have benefits for mental health for adults who choose that activity and understand that colouring can induce a meditative state and be very relaxing, I think a blank piece of paper and a variety of pencils and pens would have the same effect and, who knows, you might unleash the artist within. I certainly don’t consider their use in the best interests of children’s development and creativity.

What do you think of colouring books for children and adults? Is colouring a recreational pursuit for you? Have you bought your first colouring book for grown-ups yet?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

30 thoughts on “Between the lines

  1. Sacha Black

    I think they are great although I don’t get much time to do it. what I wish is that someone would creat a work note book with a doodle to colour in the bottom corner and a small strip of plain paper on each lined page to doodle on! Now that would be epic

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Sounds like an opportunity waiting to happen! Know anyone with the skills? It reminds me a bit of anthology books we had at school. Each page had a beautifully decorated border which could be coloured, with lines in the middle for writing our poems (usually transcribing the poems of others!) I had forgotten all about them so thanks for the reminder. They had maybe gone out of fashion by your school days. 🙂

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      1. Sacha Black

        Actually yes, I did make the suggestion too but nothing came of it – they are pretty hectic with their own gallery showing schedule of all their own work let alone doing anything else. Shame though – I maintain its a good idea!

        Fraid the only anthology I remember was a big old poetry one with a plasticky cover and carol ann duffy and caged bird lady whos name has just evaded me, filling the pages!

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        1. Norah Post author

          Keep your eyes open, ready for the opportunity to reveal itself. You never know where it may be lurking!
          I’m not sure if I like the sound of that anthology! 🙂

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  2. edupicsaustralia

    Well I absolutely love that post Norah… you are so insightful and, like one of your readers said, so amazing with what you have kept and what you remember. The work you have put into this is phenomenal … I just wish I had more time to follow all the links. I cant wait until I get things going so I can link to your amazing posts,

    Congratulations N2

    Love N1

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. julespaige

    I am going to pass this on to my DIL she teaches 4th grade!

    I have always let Son of Son draw his own interpretations. Just the last week he begged me to do a science experiment while Little Miss slept. So we did a little simple comparison chart of two of his small cars. What was different and what was the same. After we filled out that part he took the rest of the paper to free hand draw all of the things we used in the ‘experiment’.
    The paper, the pencil, the cars, the lap desk, and even drew himself and grama. He’s 5.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for passing the post onto your DL. Is she the mother of Son of Son?
      What a fabulous activity you did with SoS. It sounds like you both enjoyed it. What a clever 5 year old, and a very encouraging and supportive grama. I’m sure his drawings are just gorgeous! 🙂

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      Reply
  4. Autism Mom

    Ah, now I understand why my cousin announced on FB last week that he had bought a coloring book for himself. I had not heard about the craze, and was simply willing to live and let live regarding my cousin’s choices. 😉

    I am a terrible artist and I can see where adding colors to an existing design might be both stimulating and restful at the same time. I do a similar thing with needlepoint – it is someone else’s creative design with my patience and focus filling in the thread. I find that very meditative. Choosing the colors to incorporate into a design would add an interesting mental element …

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    1. Norah Post author

      I love your comment about “willingness to live and let live” – it tells the whole story! 🙂 I was thinking about needlepoint and other crafts having a similar meditative effect. I have some beautiful pictures hanging on my wall – some made by my mother in long-stitch, and others by a friend in cross-stitch. They enjoyed making them, but the pleasure lasts longer for me!

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  5. Charli Mills

    That’s interesting insight, Norah! I’ve always liked to color and a writing coach I follow online has often touted the importance of doodling. I think we all gravitate toward different artistic expressions. I don’t actually like to draw or doodle but I love to color and even own pencils I bought from an art store just for coloring! When Kate was in the hospital she had a huge box of crayons and several coloring books for when the grandchildren visited. I colored, too!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Colouring with young children can be an enjoyable experience for all. I find it creates an atmosphere of closeness and openness and opportunities for talk from the heart that are unavailable in many other shared activities. Emotions and thoughts can be shared without the risk of over-exposure through eye contact, just support and understanding. I’m sure colouring was therapeutic for you all at Kate’s bedside. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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  6. emmasouthlondon

    Great Post.
    I’ve always loved colouring – don’t actually do it much at all any more (!) but it is so theraputic. I’m pleased to see that my highly focused younger daughter still loves colouring at 20!… intricate patterns… when she’s stressed – I trim the edges of the grass, and she colours – it’s good to find what you need to unwind!!
    Emma 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Glad to hear it does the trick. I guess we each find the ways that suit us best; and if we don’t we may need some suggestions. Colouring does no harm to anyone else so is a good choice for many reasons.

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      Reply
  7. Colline

    I prefer the creativity of drawing to colouring as well – though the colouring is something many young children enjoy to do.
    Love your drawing Norah. I picked up a copy of the book for my daughter (who loves drawing) and I hope to do it with her some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Colline. It’s interesting to hear the different responses to colouring and drawing.
      Did you find a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain for Children? I couldn’t find my copy on the shelves or locate it in an online bookstore. I wondered if it was still available.

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  8. Sarah Brentyn

    Ah! I love Mo Willems’ books! My kids are not the target audience anymore but still read them. (My husband and I do, too. They’re hilarious.)

    And coloring… I have been coloring my entire adult life. I absolutely love it. I find it so incredibly relaxing. I know I colored as a child but I remember loving it in high school and college. I wouldn’t be without a coloring book and crayons (or colored pencils). Haven’t seen any of the “grown-up” ones you’ve mentioned but I’ll color a Hello Kitty or Winnie the Pooh if that’s all I can find. It’s all good. 🙂

    Nice drawings!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your love of colouring, Sarah. I’m impressed. When we did mapping at school we would use pencils to add colour to a scrap of paper and then rub it onto the map to give a muted hue. I used to like doing that and I liked the effect. I think it is possible to get many more shades with pencils or crayons than with felt pens, but there are so many amazing felt pens available to use these days. Which has just reminded me of some I bought for the children when I was in London last year. I must get them out for them to use tomorrow.
      I’m glad you enjoy Mo Willems’ books too. The beg to be read aloud and are great to read with each taking a different part, encouraging reading with expression. When I used them with my class we used to try reading in different voices and to show different moods. It was such fun.

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        Thought you might like this as opposed to coloring. I don’t particular agree with this article in its entirety in that it has to be “structured”. I don’t think Zentangling is “mistakenly” called Zen doodling. Some people take this a little too seriously in my opinion. It’s basically just doodling repetitive patterns to create a picture. It’s art therapy. It’s pretty amazing. Although, again, if you’re doing it just for therapy or fun, I wouldn’t worry about specific, structured patterns…just doodle repetitive patterns. Or…just doodle. 🙂

        https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201403/calm-down-and-get-your-zentangle

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for the link, Sarah. More learning for Norah. That’s great. I hadn’t heard of Zentangle before. It sounds interesting. It takes my doodling to a whole new level. Well it would if I gave it a chance. I did feel the writer was allowing quite a bit a freedom with the technique. I guess once you have learned a technique, the possibilities of making it your own are endless. We are on the same wavelength there about the imposition of structure. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  9. reunameit

    Again Norah you amaze me by what you have done, what you have saved and what you can recall? I ‘dips me lid’. I think I’ll try straight meditation to colouring in books….not my scene! Bless you

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  10. Annecdotist

    Interesting, both your post and Kimmie’s response from a different perspective. I have to say I bristled at “according to psychologists” (even when, hypocrite that I am, I’ve probably spouted something similar myself) asking which psychologists, and in comparison to what other alternatives to meditation (A friend used to do hoovering for the same purpose). I’m impressed by your drawings as it’s obvious the technique worked for you and I can’t wait for someone to introduce you to singing in the same way. (In Hungary, I’ve recently discovered, they use hand signals to show the notes going up and down I wonder if that physical method would inspire you) I haven’t been tempted by the colouring in craze but can see how it might be attractive to some.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      I can see you bristling and agree. Which psychologists and how many? It’s a bit like dentists recommending a particular brand of toothpaste.
      Kimmie’s comment was wonderful, sharing her own experiences and those of her children. I knew there would be as many opinions as comments on this one, and of course, there are no hard and fast rules, no one-size-fits-all. Hoovering meditative? I guess you can’t do much over the noise can you and it is something that (must?) be done. I guess it is as good a time as any for thinking. But relaxing? Not my choice either.
      I guess it’s not the use of the colouring books for grown-ups that got me. What I bristled at was the suggestion to get in and make a quick and easy buck. I have seen similar recommendations for reworking the same content in different formats for books, and quick ways to write books for children, etc. While it is possible, I think the suggestion lacks respect for the professionalism of others. But hey, one has to make a living, and who am I to judge?
      Thanks for your comment.

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  11. stuckinscared

    An interesting read, Norah. I have (as you know) recently bought myself an adult colouring book, and I’m finding my colouring-in hours (around 2hrs each evening) have very quickly become my favorite hours of the day. I look forward to colouring O’clock.

    When I purchased my colouring book I also purchased a sketch pad and pencils, I loved drawing when I was younger, and (to blow my own trumpet) was always a more than passable copy artist. I haven’t sketched for years now, my drawings (if at all) being those that I’ve rough lined for the kids to colour in, or copy… until they were able to draw their own… they (all bar Littlie, who struggles; as you know) are now incredibly good drawers/painters/doers of all things creative.

    I’m finding ‘just’ colouring-in incredibly therapeutic, I do believe it has a positive effect on mental health, but I also (and this is where the sketch pad comes in) want to draw some of my own, perhaps doodles, I’m a doodler anyway so why not…but also (as an alternative to writing…on those days that thoughts need offloading but the words don’t flow) I’m thinking it might be just as cathartic to draw my thoughts.

    The idea you mention of turning an image upside down and copying line by line, as apposed to seeing the whole picture is very interesting, and the results surprisingly good; going on yours. I think I’d like to do some copy-art again, I used to love it so…I imagine I will again.

    As for colouring books for children, I did provide my older children with colouring books, and they did enjoy them now and again, more so when very young… I also gave them the tools to create from scratch and they tended to choose creating their own art over a colouring book, sometimes copying an image from a colouring book and then colouring it in, more often drawing from their head, or copying something of interest to them.
    Littlie, is given the same opportunities to create her own art, and with encouragement will draw/paint ect, but in contrast to her siblings she will (more often than not) choose a colouring book over paper and pencil, perhaps because in her case colouring-in is the easier option, requiring less concentration/ability/thought and therefore (given her often agitated state) more relaxing for her. Often it takes a longer time to set up paint, pencils, paper than the time she will give the activity, and yet she will sit with a colouring book until the page she is working on is completed (in her case a long time) – It was the other way around for the older kids, they (all four of them) would draw/sketch/paint for hours, as many hours as the day allowed, their colouring books gathering dust in the art draw.

    Kimmie x

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Kimmie, for sharing so much of your life and your perspective. What strikes me most about your comment, is the fact that we are all different, that there are no hard and fast “rules”; that perhaps the only rule is to find what works for each and fulfills the needs of each.
      It’s interesting to hear about your enjoyment of the colouring book, and also your drawing and doodling. I know you were seeking time away from screens, so if the colouring works to relax and calm you, and give you pleasure, why not? I remember doing a colour-by-number tiger picture years ago. It took ages to do and was relatively satisfactory, but I didn’t hang it (as was my thought when purchasing), have no idea what happened to it, and didn’t try another.
      The differences in your children are interesting too, differences perhaps related to temperament and personality. It sounds like colouring is indeed therapeutic for both you and Littlie. It is good to find what works for each, and to recognise it when you do. Maybe one day you’ll share some of your colouring?
      Thank you very much for your generosity in this wonderful comment – almost a post in itself!
      Happy colouring! 🙂

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