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Color me confused: more adult(ish?) coloring books

We’ve talked here before about the adult coloring craze (and its frequent connections to children’s literature, from Harry Potter coloring events to a coloring book inspired by The Little Prince. It seems this craze won’t be over any time soon, as these “grownup” coloring books just keep coming. In the name of research, I recently spent some time with four new coloring books to see how they live up to the hype.

The What Lifts You? Coloring Book (Harlequin, February 2016), created by street artist Kelsey Montague, extends her inspirational social media campaign #WhatLiftsYou into the activity book format. Her whimsical designs are accompanied by introspective questions, such as “What sets you free?,” “What tugs at your heart?,” and “Who gives you wings?” I decided to play along.

montague_what-lifts-you wish-this-year
The heavyweight pages are perforated, and the final section of “3D art” (designs such as a mask, wings, and a fan) is introduced with encouragement to “cut it out and take your art into the world.” I’m not sure exactly who is the intended audience for this book — beyond Montague’s Instagram followers — but the patterns are inventive and less eye-crossingly kaleidoscopic than those in many books specifically marketed to adults.

The next coloring book in my stack, Color Me Inspired (Harper, August 2016), also comes from a social media personality: “Instagram sensation @colour_me_creative,” otherwise known as Kristina Webb. With “cut-out greeting cards, frames to add photos to, and photo booth props…waiting to be brought to life through your artistry,” the book ends up being a sort of interactive coloring book/scrapbook hybrid, with plenty of prompts to inspire creativity.

webb_color-me-inspired dresses
Color Me Inspired is certainly the most aggressively gendered coloring book in the pile, with its images of dresses, tiaras, mermaids, cupcakes, and elaborately braided hair to color. It fits right in with the hyper-feminine, Lisa Frank–esque aesthetic captured on Webb’s Instagram account.

In contrast, Life in Color (Capstone/Switch, September 2016) features the work of twelve different artists, and supplies a variety of subject matter for coloring, from floral designs to skeletons wearing wolfskins.

life-in-color mythical-monster
Life in Color claims to be a “coloring book for bold, bright, messy works-in-progress,” much like the teens it targets. While it doesn’t have the interactive elements of the previous two books, it caters to a much wider range of interests and aesthetics.

The above books seem to actually be aimed at teens, who fall between the traditional coloring-book audience (children) and the trendy new coloring-book audience (adults) and therefore represent an untapped market for coloring book publishers. But I was amused — and a little confused — by the last book in my stack, The Kids’ Coloring Book: No Adults Allowed! This self-aware parody of the adult coloring book features “90+ designs for KIDS ONLY (i.e. ADULTS: KEEP OUT!!).” In fact, according to the review copy we received, the book was originally titled The Adult Coloring Book for Kids. The designs, which are just as intricate as those in any adult coloring book, are full of phrases like “Adults Enter at Your Own Risk” and “Coloring is 100% Natural…FOR KIDS.”

adult-coloring-book-for-kids get-your-own-coloring-book
I appreciate the way this book acknowledges that adults have appropriated a “kid thing” like coloring and rebranded it to make it seem sophisticated, without actually changing its essence; however, the humor in this book is still targeted at adults. It’s funny, but it doesn’t really reclaim coloring for children.

Ultimately, though, this new breed of coloring books, whether they’re marketed for adults, teens, or “kids of coloring-obsessed parents,” aren’t that different from traditional coloring books. All give their users license to take a break and focus on something simple and fun.



  1. Thank you for the introduction. In Scandinavia the adult colorbook market isn’t that big yet – there is certainly a lot of fantastic book over there with some original drawings in it. Cheers!

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