Grown women and men are craving coloring books for peace, relaxation and creativity.

It hadn’t been the calmest of days. My truck wouldn’t start, news was breaking all over the place and on top of everything else, I learned that a good friend was in the hospital in rough shape. My mood was dour.

Then I sat down to color and weird stuff happened.

The tension in me began to melt like butter on a hot potato. The sounds of the world faded to a soothing buzz. Though I was aware of those around me, they became unimportant — meaningless moving shapes on the periphery.

I was concentrating on coloring the shapes in a random coloring book and the effect was narcotic: meditative almost to the point of hypnosis.

If this sudden sedation hadn’t been so deep, I might have jumped to my feet and yelled, “Eureka! I have discovered the way to inner peace!”

Only, I hadn’t discovered anything at all. People have been coloring their way to relaxation for many years and now the pastime is exploding into the mainstream. Stores like Hobby Lobby are selling coloring books as fast as they can stock the shelves and the sheer number of options you can find online is simply staggering.

Coloring is not just for kids anymore. In fact, adult coloring has become so popular, for the first time those kids might be in the minority.

“I am a senior citizen who has been coloring since I could hold a crayon,” confessed Joanne Mitchell-Trask, a grandmother of Livermore. “I have always kept a pile of coloring books in my closet just in case a grandchild — and now great-grandchildren — may pop in for a visit. I have had one adult coloring book for many years, long before it became a new fad. I have my own giant box of Crayolas that I keep hidden from the little ones. Plus, I have two sets of colored pencils. My daughter gave me a new adult coloring book this past Christmas. I really enjoy them. It’s very relaxing.”

People from 3 to 103 are coloring and they all seem to use the same terms to describe it: soothing, calming, even cathartic. And these aren’t just empty words. When you sit down to color, be it with crayons, markers or colored pencils, you face a series of decisions. What landscape, animal or shape will you choose to color? What colors will you use. Where will you put them?

Experts say that making these small, inconsequential decisions provides a refreshing sense of self-control after a day of facing bigger, more meaningful choices. Coloring allows the busy, buzzing parts of the brain to become still and the creative forces take over.

“It’s kind of Zen,” said Ruth Perry, a 66-year-old of Auburn. “You have all these patterns and all you have to do is color them in. You get to mess with all the colors, but you don’t have to think too much. It’s like being a kid again.”

Perry was one of a dozen people who showed up recently at an adult coloring event at the Lewiston Public Library. The turnout was a pleasant surprise, said event host Ruby Jones. It was, after all, the very first gathering of a program she called “Color the Night Away.”

Perhaps the fact that the event was held in late January played a part.

“I always feel like I’m not getting enough sunlight in wintertime,” said Perry. “Working with all these bright colors, it feels like it’s good for my brain.”

Like most in the room, Perry said she was fairly new to the world of adult coloring, although her supply of pencils, crayons, markers and double-sided markers number in the hundreds. Not to mention the respectable array of coloring books with exotic titles such as “Midnight Garden,” “Nature’s fractals” and “Patchwork Quilt.”

“You’ve got to have the tools,” said Perry, as she carefully colored in the leaves of a cattail.

Outside the lines?

Jones set a mood at her event. There was Mozart playing on the stereo and the scent of incense in the air. In a room where a dozen people were coloring mostly in silence, the lack of stress was something you could actually feel. It was like group therapy without all the talking. Even those who were coloring for the first time since childhood were relaxed. Many of them were humming softly as they created. The rules were that there ain’t no rules.

“I do a little blue, then I do a little orange,” said Paula Aldrich of Lewiston. “I really have no method here. I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to color. I’m not going to worry about going outside of the lines.”

That anarchistic view of things is not exclusive to the public coloring scene. If anything, those who color in the privacy and solitude of their homes are even more inclined toward a relaxed attitude about the process.

“Coloring lets me be mindlessly creative. I can push artistic boundaries without caring about the end result,” said Amy Dionne, a 38-year-old of Bowdoinham. “As an art quilter, preparing items for my Etsy shop requires planning and conscious design. Coloring is just for me, so I can break rules without minding that I do so. Colors don’t have to make sense or follow any realistic patterns, which in turn helps me with my art quilting by opening up artistic possibilities with color and pattern.”

Dionne said she first took up coloring as an adult just six months ago. It quickly became an important part of her life — a simple way to decompress at the end of her day.

“It’s a stress reducer for me,” Dionne said. “I also use coloring as a form of meditation, especially with use of a mandala coloring book. With mandalas, they are about patterns and repetition while being creative, which allows me to shut my brain off and focus on those.”

Not for women only

As trends go, adult coloring is relatively new. The first commercially successful adult coloring books appeared in 2012 after many years during which it was considered more of a niche hobby.

Although there don’t appear to be hard numbers on how many adults are coloring these days, some sense of it can be gleaned through the sales of coloring books. One book in particular, “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book,” was published in 2014. It has since sold over 2 million copies. And that’s just one coloring book among thousands.

The effects of coloring on the brain and body have been studied by researchers from a number of institutions, from the American Art Therapy Association to Johns Hopkins University. Researchers tend to agree on one important fact: While art has long been lauded as therapeutic, not all forms of it are as accessible as simple coloring. Anybody can fill in the lines of a mandala or a pre-drawn forest scene, where trying to paint from scratch is likely to be daunting to someone who hasn’t done it before. With coloring, there is no risk of failure to get stressed about.

Although coloring is overwhelmingly more popular among women than men, the hobby is not exclusive to the fairer sex. A quick scan of Amazon shows a good number of coloring books targeted specifically to men: books featuring shapely women, muscle cars, dogs, sports and few things better left unsaid, all waiting to receive the crayon.

Coloring seems to be something that a boy will grow out of and then possibly grow back into in later years. At the public coloring event in Lewiston, there was a boy of about 10 in attendance who came to color alongside his mother. Jared lasted about three minutes once the coloring began. When the others got started, he scribbled with his crayon for about a minute, began to fidget, tried again for another minute and finally gave up his crayon for good and left to wander the library. Coloring was something he left behind three or four years ago. Why would he want to pick it up again so soon?

Meanwhile, responses to a Sun Journal query on the matter indicates that men are more likely to take up coloring as part of a team effort — possibly something they can do with their wives that doesn’t involve a lot of effort or deep discussions about feelings.

“On the first book, she just kept asking me if I wanted to color,” said Wayne Heyward, a 52-year-old field engineer of Sabattus, “and I turned her down for a week before finally deciding I really had nothing better to do.”

Heyward took a page and started coloring. When his wife, Lisanne, brought home a second book, Wayne took a page from that one, too. And then another, and another after that.

“My method,” he said, “is to close my eyes and pick a color at random and then decide where to put it.”

“Coloring was always one of my favorite pastimes as a kid,” said Lisanne. “I continued to color (crayons and kids’ coloring books) into my 30s. Since it’s now socially acceptable, and more challenging coloring books are available, I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy coloring. Now I’m hooked.”

C.J. Tolini of Sabattus didn’t have to convince her husband, Ron, to join her in her hobby.

“The first day I bought myself one, he said, ‘Hey, I want one too,'” C.J. said. “We both love it. We don’t do mandala. We do buildings, farm scenes or animals, like squirrels, birds, fish and butterflies.”

The Tolinis have bought more than a dozen coloring books from online vendors and a handful from a local hobby shop. Between them, they’ve finished at least a dozen. They also boast over 400 colored pencils.

Look at the pretty !%*#@!# pictures!

The tools of the coloring trade are as varied as the people who have taken it up. Crayola is still very much in the game, but they’re not the only providers of crayons, markers and pencils anymore. These days, a person with a coloring fancy can spend up to $50 on a set of crayons and markers or as little as a buck at the dollar stores. The colors options are almost endless — Crayola alone has 120 colors to choose from, including a delightful shade called “Macaroni and Cheese.”

“I use thick and thin markers, highlighters, old-school crayons, new crayons in twistable containers and colored pencils,” said Melissa Long of Auburn. “Tons of colors in each kind! I have it all covered!”

If the vast options for coloring implements seems a little overwhelming, the variety of books available might cause one to faint. Mandalas, flowers, animals, landscapes, dinosaurs, outer space, undersea, paisley? Well, sure. You can find that stuff anywhere. Particularly popular right now are books with titles like “The Sweary Coloring Book for Adults,” “Swearing Cats” and a good number of books where the titles themselves are swear words. We shan’t list those here.

For some, coloring in a nasty word is the height of rebellious relaxation, and posting the finished product on Facebook is even better. Different strokes, right?

Of course, if you want to cheap out, there is no end of free coloring pages that can be printed straight off the Web. You could get started this very day if you wanted to. We’ll let you get to it. Just remember to follow the rules.

Kidding! Remember, in the wonderful world of adult coloring, there ARE no rules!

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.