How colouring books became an adult obsession

Feeling stressed by the demands of modern life? Forget drink and drugs, make like the French and grab a colouring book. Sarah Freeman reports.

Like it or not French women have always been seen as the pinnacle of style. It’s something to do with their perfectly tousled hair and their ability to make a simple Breton top look effortlessly chic.

It was thanks to them, that for a while in the early 1990s after a long weekend in Paris I took to sandpapering my throat with duty free Gauloise cigarettes. The flirtation was brief - the most exotic tobacco our local shop sold was Consulate Menthols which didn’t have the Bridget Bardot factor.

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Thankfully, the latest trend to emerge from the cafes of the French capital is easier on the lungs. Forget downing tiny espressos and glasses of Pinot Noir, these days, the Parisian elite apparently prefer to spend their time colouring in. Yep, that’s right, colouring in. In fact French women are apparently so taken with it, that it has sparked a trend for adult colouring books which have recently made it across The Channel.

At Waterstone’s sales of adult colouring books - pretty much the only difference with the average child’s book is that the paper’s better - have risen 300 per cent year on year.

In France, last year’s big hit was, Johanna Basford’s Jardin Secret (published in the UK as Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book). It sold more than one million copies and Mark Schottlander, chief executive of Phoenix Yard Books is hoping to repeat the success when the company launches The One and Only Colouring Book series in the UK next month.

“To me, it’s similar to knitting or sitting down to do a sodoku puzzle or a crossword,” says Schottlander, who confesses to being a recent convert to the art of colouring in. “Over recent years the pace of life has ratcheted up a few notches, so much so that increasing numbers of people are looking for a way to slowdown.

“For many that used to be an hour in front of the television, but that often doesn’t provide the relaxation it used to and colouring books are part of a general trend of I guess what you could call creative escapism.

“If you have children and a full time job, you can find that there is very little time for yourself. Colouring books are great because you can take them anywhere and after 10 or 15 minutes you can produce - if not quite a work of art - then at least something pretty to look at. For me it’s the same sense of satisfaction someone gets out of building a model aeroplane, but it’s even simpler.”

Schottlander, who is a coloured pencil rather than felt tip man, will initially launch five books, but he already has another two planned for September and with WH Smiths, as well as 100 independent booksellers on board, it’s a trend which has already gone mainstream.

British illustrator Richard Merritt is a graduate of St Martin’s College and the man behind The Art Therapy Colouring Book which has sold in its thousands since it came out last year. His designs are more sophisticated and a little more surreal than a typical child’s colouring book, but he is no doubt as to the benefits of this latest trend.

“It’s quite therapeutic when you get into it,” he said. “Occasionally people might think it is daunting, but when you get started you lose yourself. You go into a trance. Your brain switches off. You almost go on autopilot. All around are digital devices singing and dancing at you. If you have a phone you’re always checking it. It’s nice when all you’ve got is a piece of paper, colouring pencil in hand.

“There are no rules or complicated step-by-step instructions in these pages and no need for expensive art and craft supplies. Readers can simply scribble, scrawl and shade to their hearts’ content. And if you really want, you can even go over the lines.”