The idea of a grown-up hunkering down with a set of crayons and a colouring book for an evening filled with artistic adventure comes across as somewhat strange to those still unfamiliar with the world of  adult colouring books. This fast-emerging genre has taken the publishing industry by storm, with major players like Penguin Random House, bringing out a raft of colouring books for adults on themes ranging from literature to mythology.

A visit to your nearest bookstore will help elucidate the trend a little more clearly. It’s likely that you’ll find a whole properly stacked section devoted to adult colouring books.

“Adult colouring books have been an international trend for a little over a year now, and yes, they have become very popular in India as well,” says Udayan Mitra, associate publisher, Penguin Random House India.

One indication of that popularity is the number of mainstream publishers commissioning and releasing colouring books for adults.

A represenative of Simon & Schuster India tells Guardian 20, “Recently, we have seen an increase demand for adult colouring books and it’s growing still. Many stores have also realised the same and have devoted sections to such books.”

Very recently, Aleph Book Company launched a colouring-book adaptation of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, featuring illustrations by Sujaya Batra. “I was 16 when I first read The Prophet by Khalil Gibran,” Batra says, “and the depth of his wisdom struck a deep chord in my young heart.”

A trained commercial artist, Batra thought of dedicating a full-length work to Gibran’s poetry, which had inspired her at many points in life. “Drawing is my way of meditating, so it was inevitable that the verses that have been my guide throughout my life, and the hobby that calms my mind, would eventually come together,” she says.

Spending time with a colouring book can be, on some level, soothing for the mind. It’s a form of art therapy that actually seems to work, which may be why people are willing to invest time and effort in them.

Channeling your inner artist, and losing yourself in giving form to the exquisite scenes and patterns illustrated in colouring books is, for some, a pastime on a par with reading or watching TV.

“I believe it’s a phase we are going through. The Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, published in the UK, is at the forefront of this trend. It sold over 10 million copies!  And it inspired a huge trend,” says Bena Sareen, creative director, Aleph Book Company.

“Adult colouring books are an international publishing trend – they allow you to focus on the colouring task at hand and give free rein to your artistic imagination. They are great stress-busters.”

It’s also rather curious that in a world of smartphones and high-tech apps, the tangible feel of paper and paint still has its appeal. A colouring book, apart from taking you back, in a sense, to your childhood, affords you some time off of the multiple gadgets and the TV screen that dominate our lives.

As per Udayan Mitra of Penguin Random House, “Adult colouring books  allow you to focus on the colouring task at hand and give free rein to your artistic imagination. They are great stress-busters. Also, for many, this activity is a pleasurable throwback to our childhood days, when all of us had fun with colouring books.”

But what is the basic difference between a colouring book for children and the one published for adults? “Not much,” Bena Sareen of Aleph. “It’s the same concept essentially — brings pure joy, you play with colours, get your hands dirty if you like, is a focussed activity, let’s your imagination soar and there aren’t too many rules. The only difference is that adult books mostly have intricate drawings, given that today’s adults need more focus!”

Sujaya Batra.Essentially, an adult colouring book involves more intricate designs, and it takes more expertise to colour the illustration. “Often the design is a work of art, and the colourist participates artistically in the process of colouring it in,” adds Udayan Mitra of Penguin.

The rise of the ACBs, as adult colouring books are sometimes referred to, isn’t by any means recent. “It’s not a sudden change, ACB has been a big phenomenon in the US for the past few years and now here in India. Adult coloring books have gained extreme popularity over the past year because they allow people to ‘unplug’ and take a break from technology, while engaging in a therapeutic and calming activity and embracing their inner artist. According to Amazon, their top selling books are not fiction, classics or Sci-Fi but adult colouring books!”

We can expect the trend to now flourish. Many more ACB titles, some of them part of big-ticket contracts, are already in the pipeline. And,  who knows, in the coming years, we may end up having more colourists among us than readers.

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