History of adult coloring


The history of adult coloring is longer than one might first expect.  

Although the first adult coloring book was published in 1961, it was far from the likes of what we are seeing on the store shelves today. That first venture into adult coloring entertainment was actually created by a couple of advertising executives who were poking fun at the corporate world. The pictures were accurate, portraying what looked like a coloring book aimed at children explaining what daddy did at work, however the captions were complete adult satire. One page of the “Executive Coloring Book” shows a picture of a man in his underwear and holding a briefcase in one hand and a suit on a hanger in the other, the caption reads, “THIS IS MY SUIT. Color it grey or I will lose my job.”

After that first edition became popular, others followed including coloring books reflecting the era: politics, sex, technology, muscle cars, and even two about President Kennedy, just to name a few.

One such book, “Just For Laughs #10: The Hipster Coloring Book” (1962) has a picture of a man in a suit, holding a smoking cigarette and the caption reads, “This is a Hipster. He has a fun time. You can see he has a fun time by the gleam in his eyes. Color the gleam in his eyes brightly.” These adult coloring book parodies lasted throughout the 1960’s and tapered off in the early to mid 1970’s.

Around the time the sarcastic coloring books sales were declining, the trend towards more conventionally themed coloring books began trending. According to Dover Publications, they created the first unique coloring book, targeted at adults, in 1970, the very first one entitled, “Antique Automobiles.” Since then, Dover Publications has published adult books themed on everything from stained glass and flowers to human anatomy, cooking and ballet.

The trend of what we see on every shelf in nearly every store, started only a few years ago. Touted as a relaxing exercise for America’s overly stressed and overworked, once the trend fully hit the shelves in 2015, it proved its worth not just therapeutically but for big business as well. Sales went from one million units sold in 2014 to twelve million units sold in 2015.

However, it is hard, if not impossible, to argue with adult colorings actual therapeutic benefits. Studies have shown that it helps lower anxiety and stress, brings comfort, joy and alleviates depression, helps remove mental blocks by helping with focus, creativity and meditation, stimulates the brain and senses and even helps with fine motor skills.

Although true art therapy often uses specific tools, colors and subject matter directed under the supervision of a licensed art therapist, its benefits have been proven to help with depression, dementia, anxiety and even PTSD. Adult coloring may lack a licensed and knowledgeable therapist, but could nearly be considered the do-it-yourself version of art therapy.

Regardless whether one is coloring for the therapeutic benefits or to provide a needed respite from the computer screen, coloring has proven beneficial to people of all ages. Even the act of coloring flowers, birds and the like during the winter months could relive some of the feelings that arise from being cooped up; taking one’s mind outdoors into imaginative or natural outdoor scenes where the cold winds and snow can’t follow.

The National Coloring Book Day website suggests finding or starting a group or party in your neighborhood to encourage others in participating in the fun and fellowship of coloring. National Coloring Day is Aug. 2, and this year’s theme is, “A Day to Relax and Color.”

Next week, look for photos from Kimball’s own coloring group that is held every Thursday at 10 a.m. at Vista Villa.


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