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It's National Coloring Book Day: Guess Who's Celebrating? Grown-Ups

By Patty Wetli | July 31, 2015 7:07am | Updated on August 2, 2015 9:41am

LINCOLN SQUARE — Lately I've been searching the Internet for soft core.

And by soft core, obviously I mean Prismacolor's "premier soft core colored pencils," the brand most often recommended on message boards by my fellow adult coloring book devotees.

That's right. I'm a grown woman with a mortgage ... and I color.

When I picked up a copy of Johanna Basford's "Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book" at the Book Cellar — where it had been ingeniously placed right next to the cash register, prime position for an impulse purchase — I didn't realize I was jumping on a trend that's been gaining nothing but steam over the past several years.

I just knew that I had stress oozing out of my pores, and the thought of coloring made me happy.

Johanna Basford's "Enchanted Forest" is a huge hit among adult colorists. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

"It's joyful and creative," agreed Suzy Takacs, owner of the Book Cellar.

She first began to notice the adult coloring phenomenon back in 2009, she said, with the "Rosie Flo" line of books, which sort of combine coloring with playing dress up.

Then came the spoofy "Colour Me Good" books — "Colour Me Ryan Gosling," "Colour Me Benedict Cumberbatch," "Colour Me Harry Styles."

"It's kind of been out there for a while," Takacs said of the adult coloring book market. "I think people are enjoying it."

But it was Basford who sent the hobby into the stratosphere, first with "Secret Garden" in 2013 and then with "Enchanted Forest," a No. 1 New York Times bestseller published in February of this year.

"It became difficult to get — the wholesaler was out, the publisher was waiting on a second printing," Takacs said.

Convinced the market is "still blossoming," Takacs just ordered a case of postcards based on Basford's drawings, plus the pencils and markers to go with them.

The numbers bear out Takacs’ hunch.

“Secret Garden” had an initial print order of 13,000 copies. It’s sold more than 2 million. Following the release of “Enchanted Forest,” Basford’s coloring books had the top two spots on Amazon.

According to a report in the New York Post, two publishers alone — Dover and Quarto — have shipped more than 4 million copies of coloring books this year. “We cannot print them fast enough,” a Quarto marketing exec told the Post.

Sensing an opportunity to move even more product, Dover has dubbed Sunday “National Coloring Book Day,” complete with coloring parties and contests.

“Enjoy the creativity of making a picture come to life!” Dover’s website exclaims.

An early effort from the author.

Throwing cold water on the movement is a wet blanket who goes by the name of Susan Jacoby and has authored a book titled “The Age of American Unreason.”

“The coloring book is an artifact of a broader cultural shift. And that cultural shift is a bad thing,” Jacoby told the New Yorker.

She lumped coloring books with summer camps for adults and something called Preschool Mastermind in Brooklyn, a place where grown-ups make crafts with glitter glue and take naps. So much regression, Jacoby argued, is just a way for adults to avoid the big mean world around them.

Seriously? Sounds like someone could benefit from a coloring book.

Speaking from my own experience, I can attest that coloring is as therapeutic as advertised. It clears my mind of clutter the same way gardening does and, crucially, it gets me off the damn computer. Immersing myself in Basford’s forest an hour or so before I go to bed is a welcome break after a day of staring at glowing screens.

Basford's designs are incredibly intricate.

Therapeutic, I should note, isn’t the same thing as relaxing.

It’s not like I stop being me when I open my coloring book, and who I am is a perfectionist. Basford’s designs are incredibly intricate and I want to do them justice. I want to be good at coloring. Nay, I want to be great at coloring.

I started berating myself at one point for being so stubbornly literal-minded, shading trees green instead of letting my imagination run buck wild with purples and pinks.

“I’m not creative enough,” I complained to my husband. “I should be going all Willy Wonka.”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re the only person I know who can take something fun and make it stressful.”

But when I hit on an unexpectedly lovely combination, like this flower that I outlined in rosewood and filled in with peach, it feels ridiculously satisfying. I made something beautiful.

Pretty pencils.

Then there are the pencils themselves. They’re pretty just to look at — violet, plum, harvest yellow and ocean blue.

I’ve never considered myself an “artist” in the Monet sense of the word. I can’t draw or paint and, frankly, making crafts with glitter glue would probably tax my abilities, but I’ve always loved the tools of the artist’s trade — all those carrying cases of pastel crayons and tubes of oils and acrylics.

I sprung for a 32-color pack of pencils out of the gate and I’m already anticipating my next purchase — all those Basford trees have seriously whittled down my supply of brown and green.

Which reminds me, time to get back to my search for soft core.

Work in progress.

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