By Lucia Maffei
For Imelda Fiedler, it all started with a casual meeting on the bus.
On her way back from Baltimore, she sat next to a woman who had just started a new hobby: coloring. The woman couldn’t resist telling Imelda how funny coloring was, and how much she enjoyed her new passion.
The talk must have been persuasive, since Imelda bought a coloring book for adults at the bus’s next rest stop.
“It’s a book with images of birds and flowers,” said Imelda, a former housewife in her seventies who lives in Elmwood Park, Ill. “So far, I’ve colored only the simpler drawings, but I hope to improve.”
Imelda thinks that this activity is so relaxing that buying a book with black-and-white images to color is well worth the expense. She’s not the only one.
Since its release in Spring 2013, “Secret Garden” – the book that started the trend, by triggering many imitators – has sold more than 1.4 million copies in 22 languages, according to The New York Times. Such a success stimulated the author, Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford, to create a series; her fourth coloring book, “Magical Jungle,” is scheduled to be released next August.
Basford’s books are not the only titles available for people who want to color. The list of topics is endless: gardens, cats, clocks, Paris postcards, buildings, Japanese Geisha girls, Harry Potter characters, mandalas, geometric patterns, famous paintings.
Even Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has his own coloring book, with images of him driving a plane or a race car. “People do buy it, they consider it a gag,” confirms Tammye Bush, assistant general manager at a Books-A-Million store downtown Chicago.
“We sell between 15 and 25 coloring books every day, and we receive new editions every week,” continues Bush. “People buy more than one coloring book at a time, usually to give them as presents.”
Prices can range from $4.99 for a pocket edition to around $20 for books inspired by brands. “The Doctor Who” coloring book for adults, for example, with 45 images from the science-fiction series, costs $15.95.
Traditional bookstores have rushed to supply customers’ demand. Wherever the bookstore is, it’s not unusual to see a table with multiple coloring books for adults on display, right next to the bestsellers’ shelves.
Amazon’s online store offers countless options as well. In the Top Ten of 2015 Best Craft Books, three of them are coloring books. The Pennsylvania-based company Crayola has a line of coloring books for grown-ups, combined with a set of its crayons.
Since so many adults enjoy coloring, meetings of fans have started to be set all across the U.S. The website Cleverpedia, which says it supports “coloring books addiction,” provides a complete list of coloring clubs.
Number of Coloring Clubs for Adults by State
Usually organized in public libraries, meetings generally consist of one-hour gatherings where people bring their pencils and books and color together. In Chicago, the Elmwood Park Public Library three months ago began organizing such meetings twice a month. Last Saturday there were 20 people.
“It’s a social opportunity, but people come here mostly to color,” said Daria Orlowska, 25, an adult-service associate who oversees the meetings. “They do it because it triggers memories of the time they were younger.”
If you suppose that adult coloring books are only for retired people, you would be wrong.
“I work full time in a doctor’s office, and sometimes it’s really demanding,” said Bernadine Hable, 63, who bought a book with Christmas images for $6 and a set of pencils for $20. “Coloring is something I can do with my son Mark.” Mark, by the way, is an adult who likes to color trees and hang his drawings on the fridge when they’re finished.
For many people, coloring is a family activity. Craig Fang, for example, a 58-year-old carpenter, noticed that his daughter Tess, 18, enjoyed coloring together with her grandma on Sundays. As a result, he bought a book – with images of citizens and buildings – and joined them. “I can pass a whole day doing it,” said Fang. “It’s really relaxing.”
The reason most people give for coloring is recurrent: forgetting stress and enjoying peace. “I have a 9-year-old daughter,” is the only explanation given to her passion for coloring purple patterns by Tammy Budz, 37, a former retail manager who lives in Elmwood Park. She did not buy a book, however. She prints out images from the Web for free.
The Internet offers plenty of free drawings ready to color. The website Coloring, for example, has an archive with more than 500 images. There is also a free app on iTunes, called Color Therapy; after downloading it, people can color different illustrations by simply tapping the screen.
Even though alternatives are available, coloring books may be more than a fad. “You know, Americans are always stressed out,” concluded Bush.