This Adult Coloring Book Is About Making Art & Giving Back

photo courtesy of The LivingRoom Community Art Center
We are slightly obsessed with the adult coloring book craze. Recently, we highlighted the gorgeous new scribbler from Johanna Basford and news outlets like USA Today and The Huffington Post have sung the trend's praises. The National Post reports that the books have topped the holiday wish lists of Amazon Canada.

If you have yet to invest in an adult coloring book or are just waiting to find one wrapped with your name on it this holiday season, there's one in particular set to stimulate your imagination and make you feel really, really good. The LivingRoom Community Art Studio in Oshawa, Canada, has created a 70-page coloring book, funded by Kickstarter. It's filled with images from members of the community, who have found a creative sanctuary at the center. The LivingRoom provides a free art-making space and skill-sharing services to often-disenfranchised members of the city.

photo by Adam Pashka

Here, we chat with Mary Krohnert, studio coordinator of The LivingRoom, about the impact the book is having on her organization.

What has been the initial reaction to this coloring book becoming a reality?
Mary Krohnert:
People are thrilled! The adult coloring book craze has moved from the fringes of the arts and crafts community to becoming a mainstream activity in the last few months. I think they're one of the top wish list items on Amazon this holiday season and people can't seem to get enough. In the first week of the campaign, we met our initial goal. That covers the cost of printing our book. We are so grateful! Now, every penny we make helps support the LivingRoom project, so that people from our community can make more art.

You called on a wide spectrum of artists who use the LivingRoom to contribute. What has it meant to them?
The community members who helped create it are incredibly proud that their work is going to be showcased in this way, being appreciated by people near and far. Many of these people once thought they couldn't create or make anything. Now, they feel proud to call themselves artists and makers.

Are there any particular artists you feel outdid themselves?
They’re all special, because every person donated their work. It’s a very personal project for people, with a lot of love and creativity going into each piece. We work with a lot of people from the community who may not feel comfortable anywhere else. One of our young community art makers, who has autism, spent approximately 12 hours making his page for the book and is so proud to share it with the world, which Kickstarter [enabled] us to do through this project. A fine arts class from Durham College also contributed pieces as a way of supporting the project. Many of our volunteers contributed, designing and laying out the cover art, for example.

Tell us a bit about the LivingRoom itself, which will receive all of the proceeds from the coloring book’s sales.
The LivingRoom welcomes everyone. We provide a safe space for people to come and reconnect or discover their creativity, which in our community includes many people who may not feel welcome in any other place. People who are marginalized due to a variety of reasons, sometimes due to mental health issues, sexual or gender orientation, poverty, homelessness, and cognitive and physical disabilities.

What have those you use the LivingRoom shared with you about their experiences?
A lot of the feedback we get from people is that making art here has saved their lives. For others, making art was the thing that helped them connect with people and make friends, make them feel like they belonged in the world. For some, it's the one way they can show the world who they are in a way that will be understood. Families come and make art together as a way of getting to appreciate one another and always learn new things about one another.

How have you seen coloring books impact people?
With regards to coloring pages in particular, I work with a local men's shelter as an art therapist. I do drop-in nights, where I hang out with them in the shelter lounge and we can chat, make art, vent, and spend some time just being gentle with one another. One of the things I always offer is coloring pages. At first, many of these guys kind of laugh and brush it off, but before you know it, every one of them is sitting around the table with me, coloring, sharing markers, colored pencils, oils pastels, coloring pictures of mandalas, peacocks, ocean floors, either whimsical and impossibly detailed abstract designs...

Many of them haven't made art of any kind since when they were a kid, if even then. They say it's nice to not have to make any big decisions, to just focus in and choose the colors they like, spending time filling in a picture, making it come to life. They relax, let the walls come down a little bit. There's a real sense of pride in their finished pictures, too. They show them off, hold onto them to give to their family members and kids. They thank me at the end, saying that the two hours they spent coloring with me was the first time they've felt like a human being in a long time. I color along with them, of course, and it helps me feel the exact same way.

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