Combat stress and reinvent the joy of play with these bestselling adult colouring books

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Anna Brech
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Forget the literary theatrics of Hilary Mantel or Donna Tartt.

More and more of us are turning to the simple and restorative pleasure of colouring in, with adult art storming the book charts right now.

Secret Garden, an intricate colouring book from Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford, is the bestselling title on Amazon this week, with demand for it outstripping pre-orders for Harper Lee's hotly anticipated second novel Go Set a Watchman

The manual has sold 1.4 million copies to date and features fine black and white patterns of flora and fauna inspired by the illustrator's home region in rural Scotland. 

It's not an isolated trend, either; grown-ups the world over are getting out their crayons to find solace in this childhood delight.

In Australia, friends have started to gather in "colouring circles" - like a book club, but with art. Over in France, publisher Hachette has released a collection titled Art-Thérapie, with 20 de-stress volumes featuring designs that cover everything from cupcakes to graffiti. 

And here in the UK, Waterstones has reported a 300 per cent rise in sales of colouring books in the past year

So what's the appeal?

Clearly, colouring in has a nostalgic element. It takes us back to a simpler time, when our minds were free of the clutter and angst of adult life.

"It brings out our imagination and takes us back to our childhood, a period in which we most certainly had a lot less stress," says psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala.

And in a digital age where technology rules, colouring offers an escape from staring at a computer or iPhone. 

"People are really excited to do something analog and creative, at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the internet," says  Rebekah Jean Duthie, who set up the Australian colouring group. "And colouring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or canvas. It’s a great way to de-stress."

Mohara Gill, Head of Art at Foyles, agrees that colouring offers an important theraputic outlet for adults.

"Colouring books are great if you're interested in 'creativity' but don't know where to start," she says. "They’re also very therapeutic, lots of customers purchase these as gifts for other adults and children, and some of the titles are designed as such that you can tear out the images and frame them after you've coloured them in."

Psychologists also point to the absorbing element of colouring in. It's a process that demands coordination, logic and creativity. When we're engrossed in it, we forget our day-to-day worries. 

"The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress," says Ayala.

Colouring also introduces a sense of spontaneity and play into our lives - which, as adults, we can easily forget amid the drudgery of work and routine.

"As adults we can be in danger of forgetting how to play," says psychotherapist Philippa Perry

"Play is crucial at all stages of life; it can be used to practise spontaneity and to relieve stress. It helps to maintain our brain function, whether through solving the problems involved with colouring in, or the social interaction of a board game. Play also stimulates the imagination, helping us to stay flexible and develops a playful state of mind that is useful when coping with stressful situations, such as breaking the ice with strangers."

And, since we impulsively change colour and intensity according to mood, it helps us to get in touch with our feelings. 

 "We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state," says psychologist Antoni Martínez. "I myself have practiced that. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the colour and the lines flow."

With that in mind, take a look at six bestselling adult colouring books to unleash your creativity with...

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book by Johanna Basford

Tumble down the rabbit hole and find yourself in an inky black-and-white wonderland. This interactive activity book takes you on a ramble through a secret garden created in beautifully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations all waiting to be brought to life through colouring, but each also sheltering all kinds of tiny creatures just waiting to be found. And there are also bits of the garden that still need to be completed by you. Appealing to all ages, the intricately-realized world of the Secret Garden is both beautiful and inspirational.

Buy it here

Art-thérapie 100 coloriages anti-stress by Hachette publishers

This best-selling French book has over 100 drawings to colour in, from floral to abstract and geometric patterns.

"Find inspiration and a channel for concentration and relaxation," the publishers say. "Relax and revel in the pleasure of creating with these adult colouring designs." 

Buy it here

Art Therapy: Enchanted Forest by Marthe Mulkey

Enter the magical world of the Dark Forest: small animals, fairies and elves, magic plants and trees come together to create poetic wisdom that invites to dream. Unleash your creativity by filling these amazing illustrations with the shades you like the most.

Buy it here

Colour Me Good Fashion by I love Mel 

Cool contemporary colouring-book featuring famous models, designers, fashionistas, shoes, bags and so much more. Addictive, absorbing and irreverent stylish fun, and a brilliant gift to make any fashion victim happy.

Buy it here

Millie Marotta's Animal Kingdom - A Colouring Book Adventure

Add your own patterns to the lively forest scene, choose your own birds to add to the branches, or make a pattern with your colour choices. Each picture offers scope to improve your artistic skills while giving you a finished picture to show for your endeavours. The images and imaginative scenarios can be completed in colours of your choosing and are guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing. This is a book to be treasured by anyone who wants to enjoy the creative process.

Buy it here

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book by Johanna Basford 

This stunning new colouring book by Johanna Basford takes readers on a inky quest through an enchanted forest to discover what lies in the castle at its heart. As well as drawings to complete, colour and embellish, there are hidden objects to be found along the way including wild flowers, animals and birds, gems, lanterns, keys and treasure chests. Beginning at the entrance to the forest, the journey progresses through woodland, rocky caves and tree-lined mazes, over streams and a waterfall, across the trees tops, to finally reach the castle. 

Buy it here

Words: Anna Brech


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.