Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coloring Books for Grown-ups: Five Picks

I love that coloring books for grown-ups is now a thing.

Really, really love. I hit a spot a couple years ago when I decided that I needed a coloring book, and Johanna Basford's books hadn't made it big, yet. 

So I started out with a set of entry-level pencils and a book of fairy tale illustrations geared toward children. And that was fine. But when Basford's books did start to get buzz on this side of the pond, I was totally on board.

I've got a collection of books, now, and while my time to sit can come and go, sometimes it's reassuring just to know they're there. Also, I've got a selection of Prismacolor, Caran d'Ache, Progresso, and Irojiten pencils to keep things bright and lively. Here are the books in my stash - 

Enchanted Forest: My gateway drug to the genre. I managed to get my hands on several copies at my local New Seasons, back when adult coloring books were just becoming a thing, and Johanna Basford’s books were sold out with most retailers.
Inside Imagery: Forests, flowers, some fairy-tale elements.

Color palate: I quickly got bored with the greens and browns that came with my original Prismacolor set. At my local art-supply store, I stocked up with shades like Moss Green and Mushroom, and that made it a lot more fun.

Paper stock: Nice and thick, though I do know there are reviews of people who wish it were thicker for pens. Basford addresses this on her website, though, and recommends her favorite pens. I have gotten some bleed-through just with pencils, though. 

Time to Complete a Page: Sharpen those pencils, there is a lot of detail work. Depending on how much time you spend on a section, you can easily find yourself devoting multiple evenings to a single page.

Secret Garden: It was on back-order for the longest time, but I was super happy when it showed up in my mailbox! If you like flowers, this one’s for you. 

Inside Imagery: Mainly flowers and foliage. 

Color Palate: More opportunities for color than in the Enchanted Forest book. But I was happy to add some carmine red, goldenrod, and pale blue to my color stash.

Time to Complete a Page/ Paper Stock: Same as Enchanted Garden. 

Whatever Is Lovely: WaterBrook’s first foray into coloring books is extremely pretty. There are quotes from scripture, hymns, and non-fiction authors written out in trendy calligraphy and surrounded by flowers or designs.

Inside Imagery: What’s interesting is that the book isn’t all by the same artist, so there’s a larger variety than in many books. Some feature larger designs that are faster to complete, others feature more intricate designs.

Because of the nature of the book, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If I come to it feeling hopeful and peaceful, I enjoy the text. But if I come to it feeling frustrated and angsty? Some of them just won’t hit me right, especially the ones exhorting me to feel peaceful. I don’t turn to coloring for a spot of exhortation, I turn to it for distraction with colored pencils. But seriously, some of them will hit me differently on different days.

Update: I really want you to know I like this book a lot. I do. I reach for it often, and I think one of the reasons is that it's just so pretty. So as long as I'm not in a complete mood spiral, this one is at the top of the pile these days.

Color Palate: Bright and varied! You can really go to town with this one.

Paper Quality: High – it's actually a bit heavier than Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden. Also, opposite the pages are text explaining the quote, so if you have bleed-through, it’s not like you’re hitting another illustration on the opposite side.

Time to Complete a Page: Because you've got different illustrations from different artists, it's going to vary - and that's something I like. 

Secret Paris: This is my most recent and least explored acquisition! The artwork has a sketchier aesthetic than most of the available coloring books, making me wish that you could remove pages to watercolor over. They remind me of some of my grandmother’s pen and ink sketches, in the best way.

Color Palate: You may want to stock up on some neutrals for this one. 

Paper quality: The lightest weight of the bunch, but it’s not bad. I probably wouldn’t use markers on it at all.

Time to Complete a Page: Fairly long. The architectural ones less so, but the pages full of shoes, teapots, and pastries are pretty intricate.

Great Fairy Tale Illustrations: And this is my first coloring book! And you know? It's still great. 

Inside Imagery: Fairy Tales! And all kinds. So you've got your princesses, but you've also got your Goose Girls, mermaids, kings, and giants. And because each illustration is based on classic fairy tale illustrations by artists such as Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, and Charles Folkard, you get a wide variety of styles. 

Color Palate: Everything! Lots of forests, so having a good selection of browns and greens is important. And there are people, so you'll want a nice variety of skin tone options. But if you want to color pretty clothes, this is your catnip.

Paper weight: heavier than typing paper, but not by much. What I did was scan the illustrations and print them out for my personal use, so that I don't biff the other pages while I work. 

Time to Complete a Page: Long - there's quite a lot of detail. But they're fun, and there's lots of room for interpretation.

What about you? Have you taken the coloring book plunge? What books and color mediums do you prefer?
What do you do to relax? Sound off in the comments!


  1. Nice list! I haven't seen the Secret Paris one yet. I looked Johanna Basford up and she totally seems like someone we'd want to be friends with. Whatever is Lovely is really unique, I think.

  2. Just purchased my first two -- Secret Garden and Creative Cats, both via Amazon. I'm testing and honing my childhood coloring skills with the cats before I delve into Secret Garden. My husband had two Prismacolor sets, one very basic and a very LARGE set never opened! I've also got some pens, but think I need an upgrade here. Love these for times when I've spent TOO MUCH TIME at the computer and need relaxation. Thanks for the overview.


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