Not just for kids: The adult coloring craze hits the Vineyard

A pattern from the "Color Me Calm" coloring book filled in by Oak Bluffs program coordinator Nathan Luce. — Illustration Courtesy of Nathan Luce

What do you do with a bunch of kids on a rainy day? Sit them down with some coloring books, crayons, and pencils. That same scene played out on a recent rainy evening at the Oak Bluffs library — except the participants were all (with a couple of exceptions) old enough to vote, and the refreshment of choice was tea, not a juice box. The first adult coloring event at the Oak Bluffs library attracted around a dozen people, ranging in age from a 10-year-old to a grandmother (whose little granddaughter looked on patiently before they both headed upstairs to the children’s room for a coloring role reversal).

Adult coloring is the latest de-stress fad. It’s taken off quickly in Europe and North America. Adult coloring books are now making their way onto bestseller lists, and even celebrities like Alicia Keys have confessed to aquiring a coloring addiction.

The new trend has people who haven’t cracked open a coloring book for decades sitting down with pencils or markers and carefully staying within the lines. Adult coloring books, unlike kids’ versions, tend to feature complex designs drawing from mandalas, henna patterns, and kaleidoscopic images, as well as more representational subjects like Japanese prints, intricately decorated animals, and fanciful flower gardens.

Although adult coloring images are visually arresting, the appeal goes beyond the aesthetic. People have jumped on the coloring bandwagon as a means to relax, meditate, focus, and exercise their creativity.

According to InStyle magazine, “studies show that coloring as an adult can help with stress, work performance, and insomnia.” An article on the website states, “Like meditation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment. Tasks with predictable results, such as coloring or knitting, can often be calming.”

Not only are people using coloring for meditation, some have found that it helps them to stop fidgeting and concentrate in settings like college lecture halls and group therapy sessions. College administrators have come to accept the sight of students coloring while attending classes.

Among those attending the coloring event at the Oak Bluffs library were sisters Ana and Sophia Kyriacou of Hudson County, N.Y. They were visiting their Vineyard home over the holidays, and stopped in for the group activity. Both sisters were already coloring enthusiasts. Sophia even arrived equipped with a stack of her own adult coloring books, a large box of crayons, and Renaissance-style music by Kate Covington.

“I used to do this sort of thing after a long day of college and job interviews,” said Ana, who is currently a student at Bryn Mawr. “Sometimes I would stay up past midnight.” Ana writes and plays music, but has found a new artistic — yet less demanding — outlet with coloring. “I will admit I’m not very good at drawing,” she says. “But I have an eye for color. I find myself drawn to intricacy and geometric shapes.”

Barbara Plesser of Oak Bluffs brought along her granddaughter Mackenzie Plesser Raimunda. “Coloring teaches small motor skills,” said Ms. Plesser, explaining the difference between large motor activities, like working out, and small motor activities, which promote the coordination necessary to make small, precise movements.

After a while, a group of visitors from Philadelphia stopped by with their Vineyard host Astrid Tilton. They were looking for a group activity that could include a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, and discovered the Adult Coloring event listing in the Calendar section of the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Although most people practice adult coloring alone, the library event offered a bonus. While the attendees participated with varying levels of artistic intensity — some just halfheartedly filling in the lines — the activity promoted a social atmosphere, with locals and visitors getting to know one another, chatting, laughing, and making connections.

One young woman noted that she stopped by primarily to reconnect with the community after a five-year break from the Island. Despite her original motivation, she managed to complete a beautiful marker drawing of an elephant elaborately decorated with Indian designs.

Adult Coloring Night was introduced to the Oak Bluffs library by the new program coordinator, Nate Luce, who discovered that the library already had a collection of coloring books when he took over the position.

“I’m a meditator,” Mr. Luce said. “I heard that this can induce concentration and relaxation. I’m excited about a less imposing means of achieving transcendental states.”

Mr. Luce’s choice of image was a detailed fantasy scene of a waterfall flanked by tall rock pillars. “My idea of deep relaxation is this sort of natural scenery,” he said. “I’m simultaneously riffing on the colors and imagining myself in this idyllic setting.”

Adding to the atmosphere, calming New Age music played and visitors sipped on a variety of herbal teas provided by the Friends of the Oak Bluffs Library.

The Aquinnah library was the first locale on-Island to offer adult coloring. They hosted an event in November. Oak Bluffs will continue to offer the activity. The next Adult Coloring Night is scheduled for Jan. 26 from 5:30 to 7 pm. Books, markers, and colored pencils are provided.