The Art of Color

Feeling stressed?  There is a simple solution that will cost you a whole lot less than stress-related medical bills or years of therapy. Try coloring. Go to you local toy store or book store and pick up a coloring book; swing by an art supply store (in our area…Mish Mish or Michael’s) and buy some colored pencils and a small pencil sharpener (if you don’t have one stuck in the back of a kitchen junk drawer); and sit down at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and color.

You can thank Joshua Reynolds, a British artist, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Frobel (Swiss educators), Kate Greenway, and the McLoughlin Brothers for the coloring book.

In 1769, Josh Reynolds, gave a series of lectures in which he argued, essentially, that art and art instruction should be made accessible to the masses (the democratization of art) rather than merely to the upper echelons of society. Artists became art educators who based their production of art education materials (drawing and painting manuals, templates, etc.) on the premise that “art could be learned by anyone because it consisted of teachable knowledge (‘general truths’ or principles established by the great masters) and skills”  (Masien, 2014). In short, anyone can become an artist and can learn to appreciate art.

PaintBook1The McLoughlin Brothers published the first “paint book,” The Little Folks Painting Book, in 1879. The book feature illustrations from Kate Greenway, an English illustrator best known for childrens’ illustrations and a contemporary of Randolph Caldecott. The annual awards for best children’s illustrations are called the Caldecotts in the US and the Greenways in the United Kingdom (just an aside). Other companies soon followed suit: Charles E. Graham Company,

Enter the Crayon and the Depression. If you look closely at the toys created during the Depression (with the exception of Legos–yep, a product of the 1930s), you will notice that the vast majority of products were paper based, from paper dolls to fiberboard dollhouses to games (think Monopoly) to card models included in and on the back of cereal boxes. Paper products took off because they were relatively inexpensive and could be included as part of a wide-range of promotions aimed at the persuasive power of children. Coloring books were on the forefront, especially as crayons entered popular use (again, they were far less expensive to produce than other artists’ mediums). While crayons had long been a medium for artists, with versions dating by to Da Vinci, they became the child’s medium with the development of the wax stick crayon in the early 20th Century (you can thank Binney & Smith, aka Crayola; Prang; Milton Bradley, and Joseph Dixon).  By World War II, coloring was firmly a child’s activity despite its adult roots.

According to the Washington Post, the act of coloring “generates wellness, quietness and … stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.” (Elena Santos, 2014). Carl Jung colored mandalas as a relaxation technique. Just ask the French. In France, coloring books designed for adults are one of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry. According to clinical psychologist Sally Austen,

“Because coloring-in requires focus, it is quite meditative and mindful. You are completely in the moment, not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future….There is also–and this is probably quite significant–no element of competition or possible failure, which is quite rare these days…Colouring in is as near to doing nothing as you can get…It is creative and peaceful; a lovely moment of inane happiness.”

So the next time you stop by to pick up a coloring book for your child, buy two–one for the child and one for you and pick up an extra-large canister of crayons (or colored pencils). Set aside 15 or 20 minutes each day and color.  You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

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