Zen colouring … for the benefit of who?

black and white mandalaI have a good friend who suffers from mental health issues who has made positive progress in the last few years and who, importantly, puts this down to something called zen colouring or perhaps adult colouring for the less spiritually inclined. These are intricate mandalas and geometric patterns that can be carefully filled with vibrant colours by hand.  I have another friend who actively continues to colour, printing free pages from the internet after first encountering zen colouring whilst on an art therapy programme in psychiatric hospital. They are both hooked! Whilst pages are free in therapeutic circumstances there are also books for sale for anyone (and seemingly everyone).

For those that may not have clocked them in the magazine racks of late I will quickly pitch a zen colouring book to you: ‘Unwind whilst colouring the hours away in a meditative and focused flow’, ‘hone your attention, enter in to a state of calm’ whilst making sure to stay within the lines! – OK I doubt they’d say that last bit, that’s just the voice in my own head! anyway, you get the picture.

The first adult colouring book on the radar was Scottish artist Johanna Basford’s book The Secret Garden in 2013, at first a small run, now having sold over 6 million copies [See here.] I certainly have nothing against an artist doing what she does best, nor making a living. Quite the opposite, good on her. My bugbear is beyond poor Johanna or any other decent working artist.

A quick google search tells me that there are 320,000 results for ‘zen colouring books’ and 1,880,000 results for ‘adult colouring books!. I even found a magazine or two dedicated to this pastime; one specifically with almost 6.5 thousand followers on Facebook and for which 6 issues will cost you £44.49. This is a phenomenon, of which one must ask – why? What are people looking for and how do these wee books cater to the demand?

These books are now available from Tesco to Sainsbury’s, Amazon to WHSmith and in your average news agent amongst the headlines and morning rolls. They will set you back around 6 to 15 quid! The fancy pens that are placed craftily (excuse the pun) alongside these might cost you a fair few too. These black and white patterns even have best sellers [see here] that are outstripping fiction and non-fiction in the Amazon best sellers list.

For several reasons these books have started to rub me the wrong way. So I posed the question on Twitter – What makes these books different to your average kids colouring book from Poundland? OK perhaps a little tongue in cheek but the sentiment remains. My initial guess is perhaps a little cynical; they do, explicitly, promise so much. Perhaps even the most intricate of children’s colouring books just wouldn’t do the trick? After coincidentally reading The Happiness Industry – how governments and big business have sold us wellbeing by William Davies, I couldn’t help but get ruffled feathers at this new mass money making craze.

Whilst I absolutely don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, disagree with the principles of meditation, the benefits of art therapy nor the importance of looking out for ones wellbeing; nor do I have a vendetta against colouring in (I have never been very good at it!) per se . I do despair at the mercenary bandwagon upon which many publishers have jumped in order to ride the public’s desire for wellbeing all the way to the bank. I must admit that some good, less economically concerned, people offer similar pages to print for free here. There are also social groups dedicated to this – and gathering with people, I would always agree, is a positive thing to do. It really isn’t the concept that bugs me, but the price and the hype.

What do you think? Let me know! 

Another who is up on his high horse about this craze – see here

Someone else has spoken about the rise of zen colouring here

image: www.shropshire-events-guide.co.uk/events/ludlow/charity/social-zen-colouring/
image: http://www.shropshire-events-guide.co.uk/events/ludlow/charity/social-zen-colouring/