Johanna Basford's Coloring Book Is Better Than Xanax

Photo: Courtesy Penguin Random House
You may already have caught on to the adult coloring book trend that's slowly making its way to the U.S. from across the pond. Drawing the attention of celebrities and those who admire them (see: February's unofficial Taylor Swift coloring book, Colour Me Swiftly), coloring books geared to an older set seem to be taking over best-seller lists. Today, we got a little peek, courtesy of The New York Times, into how one woman's impatience with her school's printer started her down this popular new path. Her story may be what finally gets us hooked on the pastime.

Johanna Basford, the creator of Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest, plus new release Lost Ocean, was an art student who turned to black-and-white screen printing when the line for her art school's digital printer grew too long and color screen printing was too expensive. "I thought, If I’m going to work in black and white with no color, to compensate for that lack of color spectrum, I will create the most beautiful, hand-drawn, intricate designs that I can and just flood them with intricacies, details, and things to find, " she told the Times.

Basford went on to make a living doing fashion silk screening and then commercial illustration. Eventually, her black-and-white creations caught the attention of a U.K. publisher. Instead of turning her work into a standard children's coloring book, Basford asked the publisher to make it for adults.

"For years, [my] commercial clients had said to me, ‘Oh we’d really like to color in your pictures, they would make a great coloring book.’"
And thus, a best seller was born. But why has coloring become so huge for adults? For one, it's an extremely relaxing activity that only mildly taxes your brain and dexterity. Just watch a rambunctious toddler sit still to concentrate on coloring inside the lines and you'll be convinced of that.

“We’re living in an increasingly digital world,” Basford said. “People are plugged in 24/7...I think we just crave that ability to switch off and to focus on something real.”

Meg Leder, executive editor at Penguin Books, which published Lost Ocean, has another theory about coloring's appeal in the era of social-media-ready hobbies: "You don’t need to learn how to knit, you don’t need an expensive bike to go biking," she told the Times. "It’s a very democratic, accessible hobby."
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Basford also adds a collaborative feel to the process by posting fans' completed versions of her works on her website and Facebook page. That way, participants without any prior training (well, after elementary school, anyway) become artists themselves.
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