Adult Coloring Book Club

With her pencils carefully arranged, colorist Barbara Frey admires the hummingbird picture she is coloring at the North Clairemont Library (photo by Bill Swank)

I never really liked coloring books when I was a kid. Although I didn’t understand the concept at the time, I found coloring between the lines too confining, too unimaginative. It didn’t help that teachers praised girls, because they stayed inside the lines. Being a child in the Age of Conformity, I kept my mouth shut.

In the 1950s, “paint-by-number” was a national fad. I remember people painting Mona Lisas by number, framing and hanging their masterpieces on the wall. They bragged that they were artists. The scary part is other people believed they were.

One of the many circular Hindu/Buddhist mandala designs used by the Adult Coloring Club at the North Clairemont Library (photo by Bill Swank)

Next it became popular to assemble 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles of art masterpieces. They would glue the finished puzzles onto masonite and put them on display. Then, macramé and velvet paintings became the rage for wall art. Women loved to weave macramé, but we had to travel south of the border for a quality velvet Elvis or Tweety Bird.

As early twentieth century newspaper cynic H.L. Mencken wryly noted, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” which brings us to the latest craze: adult coloring books.

This is a recent advertisement for a New York Times best selling coloring book: “In Marty Noble’s Peaceful World, bestselling coloring book artist Marty Noble invites colorists to explore the rainbow of our kaleidoscopic, multicultural world through coloring.”

The American Art Therapy Association “does not discourage the use of coloring books for recreation and self-care, (but) coloring activities must be distinguished from art therapy sessions provided by a credentialed art therapist.”

In reference to coloring within the lines and adult coloring books, Donna Betts, an art therapy professor at George Washington University notes, “They limit artistic and personal expression; the creative processes aren’t being truly tapped into.”

Coloring books took the publishing industry by surprise. In 2014, a million adult coloring books were sold. A year later, that figure jumped to twelve million, but there are signs the bubble might soon burst.

With extreme prejudice, but an absence of malice, I recently attended an “adult coloring meeting” at the North Clairemont Library to meet some colorists.

Had I stumbled into the new cultural center of Clairemont?

Arianne Leigh holds a picture she colored as part of the Adult Coloring Club at the North Clairemont Library (photo by Bill Swank)

Arianne Leigh is the delightful branch manager of the North Clairemont Library. She has a large questionnaire posted as you enter the library that lists the type of activities adults would prefer the library to schedule. The most interest is shown for gardening, health & wellness, arts & crafts, California history, music and financial.

“We want to provide activities at the library that the community wants,” she said. “The North Clairemont branch began the Adult Coloring Club about two months ago and it is slowly catching on. One woman who attends likes to do Mandalas which are colorful circular designs. We even have a teenager who joins us.”

“I play soft jazz music in the background. People like to visit and relax as they color. They don’t talk about what color to use, but rather about anything that comes up in conversation.

“I thank God every day for Arianne,” says Barbara Frey, an 80-year-old regular. “I color every day. I’m a different person when I color. Two doctors recommended that I should color. When I concentrate on coloring, my headaches go away. I’ve colored all my life. It’s the best therapy you can do.”

Johanna Bamford’s Secret Garden, the adult coloring book that portended the craze said to be more addictive than cell phones (photo by Bill Swank)

Barbara is particular about the colors she selects. “Prismacolor pencils are better than Crayola pencils, but they are expensive. The library provides them for us to use.”

She boasts, “My great-grandkids get a lot of compliments in school because their teachers are impressed they can draw inside the lines.”

Barbara offers this advice. “If people are lonely or older, I highly recommend coloring. Since my husband died, I get up at night to color. My favorite things to color are hummingbirds and butterflies.”

There is no mistaking the positive effect this has on Barbara Frey. She doesn’t claim to be an artist, but she is proud to tell her great-grandkids that she is a colorist.

At the end of the session, it was clear that coloring can provide solace and comfort. Barbara’s face reflected contentment.

We don’t live in San Francisco. We live in Clairemont.

We have come a long way from the days when having your initials engraved in your bowling ball was the apex of sophistication in Squaremont.

Putting aside my aversion for coloring books, kindness and happiness are more important than sophistication. Clairemont is fortunate to have three branch libraries with helpful and dedicated staff.

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