Adult Coloring Books 2: Someone's else lines, old insecurities and my style

October 23, 2015 | 8 Comments

This is Part 2 of a series all about reviewing and exploring the latest craze of adult colouring books. Today I want to share with you what I experienced when I did my first coloured pencil colouring in since my childhood. It was only a little test, but I discovered a lot of interesting things.

However before I get into the big ideas that I want to share with you today, I just want ot thank everyone who left a comment on Part 1. Wow! So many comments and great thoughts. As many of my readers are people who already sketch, the comments were leaning towards drawing rather than colouring in, so I am very thankful to hear from some people who are really enjoying their colouring books and do not draw for themselves – yet!

A few general comments:
– I wasn’t trying to make a definitive judgment on the whole Adult Colouring Book movement and I am certainly not at all dismissive of it. I was hoping to start a discussion – which I did! – and to flesh out some ideas.
– I am also very aware of the irony of attempting a review before actually doing any colouring in! This post hopefully addresses that short-coming a little… although as you will see it was only a ‘mucking around’ attempt.
– I was remiss in not purchasing a ‘mindfulness’ based example so I have since bought ‘The Mindfulness Coluring Book’ which is a nice little book full of patterns and simple objects (including a tea cup page!) with clean but heavy ink outlines. More about this book soon, but I am a little surprised how much I like it.
– I am not going to comment any further on the ‘mindfulness/ art therapy’ component, but rather want to focus on more the art side –  techniques, process and my personal responses.

BTW these blog posts are fun to put together but take me many hours… I always feel afterwards like I have only said half of what I wanted to. So this might end up being a series of posts whenever I get a chance over the next few months – whenever I get a chance to do a little. And just for the record I am NOT going to become a coloured pencil colouring-in-er,  but I am sure that this little tangent will expand my visual thinking and art techniques in unexpected ways!

Ok… enough intro – let’s get going!

After I posted Part 1, I felt the urge to start one of the books, but to be honest, I was a bit intimidated! I was never good at neat pencil work and staying within the lines. And well three of the books I reviewed are a bit scary! So I choose the book that I didn’t like the linework of, but had a more approachable subject matter – Secret Paris. I opened a random page and just had a bit of fun. Ah! a handbag page – perfect!

Although the only pencils I use reguarly are my selection of 11 Faber Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils, I have a large collection of other water soluble pencils (Inktense, Graphitint and more many of the Faber Castell range) and my old 72 set of derwent studio coloured pencils with the odd Prismacolor. I store these in paper drawers sorted by colour. So I just pulled out a drawer and picked up a random pencil (no idea what the colour would look like on the page!) and started colouring. Note: I did not sharpen any of the pencils as this was only an exercise in mucking around – in fact it was a case of getting distracted – I think I was on my way to do a chore at the time but got side tracked!

And this was the result – it’s a bit crazy!

Here are a few thoughts:
– Without thinking I started colouring the way I did 20 years ago as an architecture student – crazy style with strokes in every direction! This was not at all what I was expecting but remarkably similar to the way I apply my watercolour strokes at times.
– I found deciding what colour to use a bit ‘stressful’ (that is a way too dramatic word) as I had no reference material in front of me. I am so used to responding to the colour as I see it!
– Colouring someone else’s lines was weird, especially when I don’t really like their lines to start with AND there were a few mistake lines. Colouring my mistakes is bad enough, but going over someone else’s in a commercially produced book didn’t feel right at all!
– However after a few bags, I was in the groove and accepted the fact I was just doing the colouring part. I then realised that this was liberating. “Hey – the mistakes aren’t mine!” All the pressure for accuracy that I feel (to some degree) when I draw an object was totally absent! Yay – this is good!
– I found myself adding shading and leaving lots of white just like I do with watercolour and I felt very relaxed about being loose(messy) and not staying within the lines. I was worried that I would feel too constrained by the lines. but it didn’t faze me at all. I don’t think I would feel as comfortable doing messy colouring in one of the other more elaborate books – but this needs to be tested!
– Bag no. 6 was fun. It was a relatively neat checked pattern and I wanted to mess it up. Ironically there is another checked bag on the bag with some patchy linework, but the one I chose to colour in was better drawn than that.
– It was very apparent that I didn’t know my tools well enough and I found that made my colour decisions much harder (Aside: Derwent pencils are the worst – so little label of the actual colour is visible and it is often very inaccurate.)
– Apart from starting to ‘stress’ about what the next coloured bag should be (after all most of the bags I own are brown!) this was a really fun exercise!!!

So the big takeaway from this exercise was: Colouring someone else’s lines was very liberating in regard to ‘accuracy pressure’, however I felt more pressure about colour.

I felt as an artist I ‘should’ be more mindful of what colours I was using even though this was just a warmup. I nearly always tweak the colour of my subject to suit what I want to do on the page, but without a reference I felt a little bit lost! Looking through the more elaborate Enchanted Forest or Animal Kingdom books made me worry even more – “how would I go about making the decisions to colour these?”I am sure that I will get into the groove fairly easily, but these were my initial reactions!

Note: I am playing up my ‘stress-outs’ a little bit and with all my experience no longer take them very seriously. However,  for someone who hasn’t done any art since childhood because they believe ‘they are not talented’ these would be things that their inner critic would be shouting at them – and  this could become a real barrier. The fact that my old childhood insecurities about choosing colour re-surfaced was fascinating, so I am certainly very sympathetic if anyone else has them!

So what did I feel like I needed to do next? Draw and paint some of my own bag collection – of course! This was much more satisfying for me – more fun, more relaxing and more meaningful.

But of course I have a lot of experience behind me (150 sketchbooks worth), and as a result have a lot of confidence and acceptance of my own work – even when I make mistakes. And there are numerous mistakes in this sketch.  While I was drawing these bags I was thinking about the line vs colour relationship in new ways, and I couldn’t help asking myself what would a coloring book that I drew be like? (Note: this is not a serious future project… just wondering about it in abstract!)

As I result I decided to scan the first pass (linework) to show you, and then I started thinking about different ways of  drawing these bags. As a result each bag is done differently – each one of these approaches are explained in my online SketchingNow Foundations course, so for those of you who have done/are doing it, I will use my terms. (A little refresher course!)

My main goal in sharing this exercise is to show you how many options are available when we sketch and combine our own lines with our own colours based on our own subjects.

Click on this image to view larger!

Bag 1. Feeling edges, I started doing a contour drawing working from one part to the next and embracing the wonkiness! Because of the way I was working, all my lines were the same line weight.
Bag 2. I decided to vary my line weight by lightening the lines that described the texture and only doing this partially. Would most colouring books would draw it all? When I painted I applied my strokes to correspond to the texture.
Bag 3. The simplicity and symetry of this little bag increased the pressure for accuracy…. so I decided that I would get a pencil to help for the next one. Random Fact No 1: This is a rare black object (I don’t wear black generally). Random Fact No 2: When was the last time I use a tiny bag/purse like this or bag 8?? Gone are the days of small handbags – just simply my Lamy pen wouldn’t even fit in those bags!
Bag 4. I used pencil for some gestural setup. This helped me work freer and looser and use less linework!  Interesting to compare this with bag 1, where my tendency was to draw outline around every part.
Bag 5. Constructing volumes, (but without my pencil!) I started with the big overall shape which helped me place the internal components. Oops! a smudge when I was applying paint.
Bag 6. Back to the pencil, using the constructing volumes approach again, this time to help draw some guidelines for the pattern which I decided I didn’t want ink outline around.
Bag 7. Time to put away the black pen and try coloured water-soluble lines instead.
Bag 8. And oh! i just had to throw in an abstracting shapes version – putting down the paint first. This really helped me minimise my lines (oops – that is an Edges concept!)
Bag 9. And finally, using paint as my setup for a more complex pattern.

Do I need to tell you that I had so much fun… and also as a result of doing this sketch am able to ‘discard’ a few of these bags that I no longer use – another benefit of sketching your own life as I was discussing earlier in the week!)

Well, another LONG post… but just before I finish I just want to say that I did have a lot of fun colouring and will be doing some more in the coming months. It is an art form in its own right, with lots of great things about it,  but I do hope that it will open the door for more people wanting to sketch for themselves – and be able to tell the stories of their own lives…because I think that is more meaningful


Subscribe to my mailing list for my monthly newsletters including first notification of my new SketchingNow Online Sketching Courses and face-to-face workshops.


  • sandra de says:

    Hi Liz, I so enjoy your take on the colouring in faze. But I shouldn't complain my daughter got into the craze and it is lovely to see her relax and enjoy the process. I prefer to draw, splash paint and learn from online classes (like yours) which really push me to try something new i.e. sitting out in public and doing a sketch! Thank you Liz for always putting such a fun slant on sketching/painting.

  • MiataGrrl says:

    Fantastic, thorough analysis of your process, Liz! I am impressed and amazed at how closely you would analyze something like coloring! I'm not teasing you — I'm serious! And I'm happy to see that you were not at all bored! 😉

    – Tina

  • Thanks for sharing! It is so much more fun to look at your handbag sketches which are lively and done with your different approaches than those with static lines and no soul. I am currently clearing stuff from my life and this approach of 'mindful' techniques and set-ups makes it even more meaningful. I can sketch – then send the objects on to a new life.

  • Thanks, Liz for taking a look at the adult coloring book craze. (I m 66 so I have seen variations on this before – as a girl I even had a "color it yourself" dress that came with a set of markers) and I remember color your own poster sets many years ago. I recently saw an old friend who says she finds adult coloring books relaxing and like some of the respondents said she does not feel she can draw. I can't help but feel sad every time I hear someone say that. I want to tell them to find Lynda Barry's fabulous book about drawing one's own lines and shapes ("Picture This") and read it and try some of her suggestions. There is not a "pretty" picture in the book. There is genius, though. The idea that our drawings are no good if they are not precise (like the ones in the coloring books) or photographic is so unfortunate. Drawing is not just a skill. It is a human right and I think our world is a better place when we exercise that right. Skill is just a by product. Thanks for your wonderful blog and have a great well-deserved rest on the island!!

  • Hi Liz, I'm a lifelong artist (I have some natural talent and a huge drive to improve, first went pro in my teens and have spent my life exploring different media, styles and techniques), and I have fallen in love with the "adult coloring" thing. I was bored to death with coloring books as a child – I was far more interested in drawing my own images than coloring someone else's – especially since the coloring books I recall from childhood were pretty basic cartoony stuff without much artistry. But a lot of the new books have some really interesting and beautiful artwork to work with. Even though I've been working with color for decades, I find that coloring in this way has made me think about colors differently. When creating original artwork with the intent to create one single final image, I got caught up in determining the "one best color scheme" for a piece. Trying Coloring again recently has made me think in terms of exploring many different color scheme possibilities and seeing how different color choices make for very different effects within the same image, which I find fascinating and educational.
    I also think the value of having a whole "new" market for artists to publish within is amazing. The availability of free imagery on the internet has had the effect of devaluing artist's work. It is wonderful to see this new way for artist to reach and connect with a lot more people (and make some money to – you know – survive and support their families). And it's a truly interactive, collaborative process.
    I've self-published 3 coloring books so far (working on my 4th), and they are selling pretty well, and picking up steam as word-of-mouth spreads. It's a much-welcomed and needed income stream for me.
    I truly love designing imagery for others to color. It is an art in itself – creating images that offer lots of opportunities for creative color choices and exploring how colors work. Not every subject is a good one for a coloring page. I put a lot of thought and effort into my subject matter and compositions. It's so cool to see so many more people getting into it and discovering the magic of color and creating different effects with color. Color and coloring can be a very powerful thing – it effects us emotionally, it engages us, it can be challenging (which can help people grow and learn new skills and levels of satisfying accomplishment), it can be soothing and engaging the way knitting is. It involves the eyes and the hands and the brain in many ways that are far more beneficial than the passive entertainment that most of us partake in to "relax".
    If you look at the posts and comments in some of the coloring groups that have sprung up on Facebook, you'll find thousands of people who have found comfort, therapeutic effects, new challenges that are teaching them new things, connection to other colorists who share their interest, sharing of techniques and innovation of techniques, communication between artists and colorists to create mutually beneficial products, people spending more time with their families doing something creative that they can share and talk about and explore together. It's really quite exciting.
    There are so many different kinds of imagery and art styles and moods to explore, so many different coloring mediums to play with. There's a huge range of possibilities and preferences to explore.
    Right now I think there's a glut of publishers jumping on the bandwagon, resulting in some crappy books with rushed or generic imagery. But there is also a wave of really cool books by artists who love this genre and are creating quality books that offer colorists wonderful coloring experiences. I think after awhile, some of fervor will die down and colorists will gravitate toward artists and books that really put some effort into it and it could be a market that offers long term benefits to both artists and colorists.
    I'm hoping so, anyway! 🙂
    You can check out my books here:

  • i guess i'm a small percentage that doesn't really think much about the color i want to use, i just dig in and grab whatever comes to mind and flow from there. i can take more than a week to color a picture and i don't have the urge to be perfect. i use it as a way to relax and since i am a very impatient person and easily lose interest in a hobby this was recommended to me and so far it seems to be doing the trick. my patience meter seems to be improving and i dont have any "next hobby crave" . so i guess its a win win for me.
    i don't like to draw, i have tried it but its not something i can dedicate myself to , i do remember gravitating towards coloring when i was younger so i guess it was pretty much a sealed deal.

    the only draw back is when i get into something new i want to buy a whole lot , which i did. sorry my pocket

  • Flora Bernstein says:

    I find I like your page orientation for the bags better than the commercially available one because of it’s wonky Thrown on the bed quality. It is definitely more interesting to look at than the soldier straight every bag in a boring line. I can see using one of these things to inform ideas for myself but not to color in.
    Though if you were to do an “adult coloring book” you would be brilliant at it!

Leave a Reply