I have a new favourite book. Sorry, Harper Lee, sorry J. K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, George R. R. Martin and Phillip Pullman. It’s honestly nothing personal, I still love all your work – I’ve just found something new. I’ve not even finished this new book – barely started it, in fact – but already it’s found its way to my heart. There’s all the usual signs of love-at-first-page: when I’m not spending time with the book, I’m thinking about it, looking forward to when I can next see it. When I am with it, I savour the time we have together, dreading already the arrival of the last page and realising it’s over. Now I have this book in my life, everything just feels a bit better. So what is this gift from the bookish heavens, you might be asking? What book has had such an impact?
It’s a colouring book, Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta.
Now stop rolling those eyes and judging and tsking and whatnot. Alright, it’s not a book like you might’ve been expecting, and it’s certainly not literary fiction – it’s barely got any words, in fact – but I’m telling you guys, it has been a revelation. The trend of colouring books for adults – I hesitate to use the term ‘adult colouring books’ in case it gives anyone the wrong idea – is one that has been on the rise recently, and a quick Amazon search will show to you just how many are actually out there. These aren’t pictures of puppies in baskets or princess castles or teddy bears – these are genuinely complex images that are as beautiful in monochrome as they are in colour, ones that require concentration, a steady hand and time.
|The first double-page spread.|
I actually only heard about adult colouring books about a month ago – like so much of my knowledge on news, trends and fandoms these days, there was a feature on Buzzfeed about them. I read the article with the same kind of detached interest you may be reading this (I flatter myself anyone has got this far…) but forgot about them, until an unpleasant and stressful few months finally hit their zenith and I was in a bit of a low place. Suddenly, I recalled the article and found myself thinking about how nice it would be to just sit for half an hour, and colour something in. I’m no artist – several attempts at painting and sketching have taught me that – so drawing something for myself to colour was out of the question. Naturally, a grown-up colouring book was the ideal – someone who could draw, providing me with the outlines I needed. So I ordered myself a copy of Animal Kingdom and some pencils, and eagerly awaited its arrival.
When it did eventually turn up (why is it the stuff you’re only marginally fussed about always arrives the next day, when things you REALLY want take aaaaaaages?), it was completely worth the wait and money. It’s a beautiful book to look at, never mind to colour in, and the many images inside are a mix of the immensely detailed and intricate, and the somewhat simpler – ostensibly to allow you to add your own details and flourishes if you like, but I’m interpreting them as just being for simpler souls, like me, or people who don’t want to squint too much. A bit like the easier crossword vs. the cryptic in the papers. Some are double-page spreads, others are single images, and all of mammals, amphibians, insects, birds and fish. The artist puts her botanical experience to good work as a lot of the images incorporate flowers, leaves and general flora to make up and decorate the fauna.
But the best thing about this book wasn’t the beautiful pictures – it was the peace of mind it gave me.
I sat down on Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea, my new colouring book and pencils, put Classic FM on and then entered into one of the most relaxing hours I’ve ever spent in my life. In that time, my only worries were when I selected the wrong shade of blue, or got a bit of hand-cramp because I’m not used to holding pencils for that long anymore, or wondering why Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen has a show on Classic FM. I didn’t think about work, or chores around the house, or personal problems – I just sat and coloured, and it was fantastic. Johanna Basford, artist of the Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest colouring books, made the suggestion that, “Colouring seems to help people think about a time when life was simpler and more carefree,” and it’s so true– the last time I did any colouring for fun (I don’t include schoolwork in that) I was probably about 10, maybe 11, when my biggest concerns would’ve been getting to stay up late on Fridays, maintaining my not-very-convincing ruse that I watched Eastenders to friends and whether I’d be allowed to play outside after dinner. I’m not saying that this colouring book made me feel 10 again, but it certainly allowed me a few minutes of peace that I’ve not felt in a long time – emptying out my brain of all those worrisome thoughts that can interrupt even the most pleasant of tasks or intervals, concentrating just on the page and colours. And best of all, it wasn’t a one-off – later on, I went back to do some more, and managed to capture the same feeling as before.
Colouring in books are the ideal hobby for someone like me – not particularly talented at anything, too lazy to learn a new skill and too poor to invest in the supplies needed for a more complicated hobby. Like all hobbies, it’ll cost, but with plenty of colouring books available for under a tenner and pencils for the same (depending on how fancy you want to get with them), I reckon it’ll be cheaper than taking up, say, knitting, or watercolour painting. It’s certainly proving cheaper than my chain-buying book habit. I’m a complete convert: it’s fun, simple, cheap and requires minimal mental strain (unless you lose your shit over whether to go red or green on a section, in which case, you probably should talk to someone about that).
Yes, my first elephant IS a bit psychedelic.