Coloring books… for adults? Meet some talent behind the trend

Coloring book author Wendy Piersall
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It’s the trend that preschoolers saw coming: the major popularity of coloring books. But this time, they’re being created specifically with grown-ups in mind.

The detailed black and white line art in these slim volumes have taken the publishing world by storm — and the mania is only growing, with adult coloring book sales already numbering in the millions. As the New York Times noted in July 2015, “Adult coloring books are giving Harper Lee a run for the money on best-seller lists this summer.”

Flowers & animals, oceans & dreams

At the forefront of this wave is artist Wendy Piersall, who has graced the world four times so far with coloring books that combine the beauty of the world with intricate, imaginative designs.

The drawings that fill each volume in her collection — Coloring Flower Mandalas, Coloring Animal Mandalas, Coloring Dream Mandalas and Coloring Ocean Mandalas — combine Piersall’s unique style with mesmerizing motifs.

Wendy’s been a friend of ours for many years, and watching the evolution of her creative endeavors and seeing her work become so successful has been an inspiration.

To share with you the story behind the trend that’s taken the publishing world by storm, we asked about her process, her take on the growing popularity of the medium, as well as what it’s been like to see her career and family grow side-by-side.

Adult coloring books: Not just for kids anymore

No longer the realm of just the kiddos, grown-ups are finally realizing the value of coloring. But what does Piersall think is behind the new wave of popularity?

“I think the reason that adults are finally coloring in large numbers is because it is fun!” she says. “Also, the popularity has likely taken some of the stigma away from what is traditionally considered a kids’ activity. With so many beautiful coloring books with art drawn with adult tastes in mind, it’s an easy sell to pick up a childhood hobby and jump back in.”

But her number one theory about why the concept is so hot today? Because coloring can be a major stress-buster and tension reliever.

“You know how artists create art to stay sane and get into the zone? That’s what coloring does for non-artists,” she says. “Personally, I don’t think that there is any wrong way to color for relaxation. For me personally, I like to color in my studio, which is an enclosed porch and has tons of natural light. I try to do it when I know I won’t be interrupted for at least 30 minutes.”

That doesn’t mean that Piersall is surprised by its popularity — but the fact that she can make a living out of her art has left her feeling ecstatic. As she said on her Facebook page in September 2014, just after inking the contract for her second mandala coloring book, “Seriously — if someone told me as a child I’d basically be a professional colorer and Spirograph maker as an adult, I would have told them they were high on drugs.”

Although the concept isn’t new to her, she plans to take full advantage of the buzz.

“I’ve been drawing adult coloring pages since 2009, and want to ride this current wave of popularity for as long as it will last!”

While the fad may fade a bit, it’s not likely to disappear anytime soon. Still, she has her eyes open to new possibilities.

“In the meantime, I am hoping to start licensing my art in 2016,” she says. “I’m starting to tip my toes into more traditional book illustration as well, because I love working with watercolors.”

About mandalas

But what is a mandala, anyhow? The word itself means “sacred circle” in Sanskrit.

“In various spiritual traditions, mandalas are used to facilitate meditation and are used in sacred rites as a transformative tool to assist with healing,” notes the University of New Hampshire’s Office of Health Education and Promotion. “Tibetan Buddhist Monks and Native American Indians all use mandalas as a way of evoking spiritual energy, meditation and healing.”

Considering that a major benefit of coloring seems to be the ability to get a little bit of peace in the day, the mandala patterns seems like a perfect fit. As her publisher, Ulysses Press, wrote of Coloring Dream Mandalas, “From dragons, castles, and fairies to butterflies, birds, and dream catchers, this book brings relaxation, focus, and a higher state of mindfulness to those coloring its pages.

A peek at the process

Given that the pages are so much more than fractals or simple designs, how does she actually create these works of art?

“I draw mandalas using Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom tablet, which I love,” she says. “Almost all of the elements are hand-drawn, but I do make extensive use of Illustrator’s custom brushes and symbols to replicate patterns.”

Technology, though, has its limits, she says. “When I am brainstorming ideas, I almost always just use a pencil and paper to get ideas out of my head. I don’t like using Illustrator for quick reference and idea sketches — it just doesn’t feel authentic. I love the feeling of putting ink, graphite or paint onto real paper.”

The art of motherhood

The mandala books aren’t her first foray into print, as Piersall was already the author of Mom Blogging For Dummies — a book that built on her years of experience online to create her first success in the publishing world.

As the mom of three, parenting, too, has long been a subject near and dear to her heart. So how has she been able to so adeptly combine work and motherhood all these years?

“Well, my kids are all teens now, with my oldest at 20. So now they want to spend a lot more time with friends than with me — and I don’t have to balance nearly as much as I used to,” she says. “And we try to get out as a family once a month, and way more often in the summer months. So we all have time for school, work and friends, and we get to connect as a family quite a bit.”

There is one constant, though. “No matter what’s going on in our lives, though, we eat dinner together as a family almost every single night,” Piersall says. “Sometimes dinner together is all we get for a while. But when we’re all busy, it’s still enough.”

The beauty of appreciation

One of the best things about creating anything getting feedback from fans. So what are some of the best things she’s heard?

“I’ve had a few people working with mental health issues tell me that my books have helped them reduce their anxiety, and that’s probably been the biggest compliment of all. Another person called my work ‘very spiritual,’ which was also an amazing thing to hear.

“But honestly, I really love the most simple feedback you can imagine — that people like coloring my art enough to take photos and post them on Facebook or Instagram,” she says. “It never gets old to see a new rendition of the colors of my work!”


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