Three things you should know:
1. I really like to play with art supplies. It doesn’t matter what kind. I love them, and never really need an excuse to obtain more.
2. It’s stressful being an adult. One of the best things about it, however, is remembering that the only person making rules about when it is and isn’t okay to play is ME.
3. Therapy is expensive. Crayons and colored pencils are not. Arts and crafts therapy is a thing… a real thing. A good thing, too. More on that in a minute.
Oh, and one more thing:
4. I have moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. It’s relevant to this post… just hang with me.
Since I was a kid, I’ve loved to color. Every year at Christmas, I break out four or five coloring books that contain many, many years’ worth of pages that I’ve filled in, or that my mom completed on Christmas Eve in my kitchen, or that my children colored with me, or with one another, or by themselves. The pictures are dated and usually signed — and, of course, the ones with the wonderful, spidery kid scrawls are my favorites, and are precious to me. There’s something about going from a black-and-white page to something alive and imbued with colors, and the emotion that helped shape it, that’s almost mystical.
Sounds corny, I know. But it’s true.
So… Art. Stress. There’s a relationship here, in the sense that when I’m stressed, art makes me feel better. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s difficult to go from a closet full of art supplies to an art journal page, or a painting, or a beautifully-drawn bit of Zendoodletanglescribble fun. However, there’s a wonderful product that’s been around forever, and it’s been revived and re-branded and reinvented for grownups. Behold: the adult coloring book.
What I’ve discovered, through the use of adult coloring books, is that I can recapture that same feeling — the joy and the wonder of something so simple as the choosing of one color over another, because it feels right, and the delight in seeing the finished page, a one-of-a-kind creation.
The stress evaporates in an almost tangible way. With each tiny segment filled in, these complex drawings and doodles have the power to siphon the very noisy excess ick in my brain and channel it into something almost medicinal, and certainly therapeutic.
This is doubly true in my case, as there are days I can barely hold a fork.
I’ve been instructed to stay busy, and I know that keeping active and my joints flexible is a way to prevent the swelling and stiffening that are hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s been a challenge, partly because I’m so frustrated at my inability to do the simplest things, and partly because the disease appeared to have really kicked me when I was down. But then, I learned something fascinating: famous Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir suffered from RA, too. He is quoted as having said, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
It struck a chord with me.
I may not be able to do things the same way that I used to… but adult coloring books have made something amazing possible. I can physically exercise my hands in a way that helps maintain my range of motion, and I can exorcise the demons in my head that tell me I am stuck, or limited, or unable to make beautiful things.
This is what this Leisure Arts publication allowed me to do: make something lovely using little more than a colored pencil and the limits of my own imagination. The book contains a variety of designs and patterns — everything from mandalas to paisleys (similar to the shapes you might see in Mehndi or henna body art), and floral designs, to which I’m especially drawn (no pun intended).
And that’s not all — the book contains tips on shading, an explanation of the color wheel and color combinations, and comparisons of different media you might want to use in your art. I used colored pencils, but the paper is heavy enough that markers or watercolor pencils could just as easily work.
The pages are perforated, and the art continues on past the perforations, which means you get a nice sharp edge to your work if you decide to remove it from the book to frame or scan in, or if you simply prefer to work on individual, unbound pages. I like that the option is there and that you don’t have to risk destroying the whole book for the sake of a single beautiful piece.
One common thread to the book as a whole is that the pieces do seem to all have a kaleidoscope effect. The artwork is mostly abstract, which is a wonderful thing to me. It allows me to not be constrained by pre-conceived ideas of what colors to use, or the way things “ought” to look. It truly makes for a therapeutic, relaxing experience. While I received this book for review purposes, I have to tell you, the price is so reasonable as to make it a must-have for anyone who loves art, deserves a break, and needs to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from making something beautiful — you can purchase it at Leisure Arts for about the same price as a latte from your favorite coffee shop.
And if you do happen to have arthritis, or you’re interested in the merits of art as a form of physical therapy, ask your doctor(s) what they have to say about it. All I can tell you is that, for me, this little book has given me something incredible.
Pick up a pencil, or a pen, or a crayon, or a paintbrush today. Create something, in some way. See if you don’t feel years younger, happier, and healthier — in body and mind — as a result.