Bill Jamieson: Add some colour to a grey election

Johanna Basford thinks her colouring books have become best-sellers because 'it is really relaxing'. Picture: Contributed
Johanna Basford thinks her colouring books have become best-sellers because 'it is really relaxing'. Picture: Contributed
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NEW craze for colouring books for adults is an opportunity to look anew at the world of electoral politics, says Bill Jamieson.

RATTLE your crayons and wave your colouring books today for Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford. Her colouring books for adults are topping the charts and taking top spots on Amazon’s best-seller lists.

Surely we can be allowed to regress once in a while into the simple pleasures of childhood?

And before you settle down for this article, please have your crayons ready for some general election Special colouring ideas below!

Johanna hails from Aberdeenshire and her intricate drawings of flora and fauna in Secret Garden have sold 1.4 million copies worldwide so far. Her follow-up colouring book, Enchanted Forest, has sold 226,000 copies already.

Her publisher, Eleanor Blatherwick, says the last few weeks since Enchanted Forest came out have been “utter madness, but fantastic madness. We knew the books would be beautiful but we didn’t realise it would be such a phenomenal success.”

Nor is Johanna alone in this new craze that is sweeping the publishing world. Richard Merritt’s Art Therapy Colouring Book is at number four on Amazon’s bestseller lists, Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom – detailed pictures of animals to colour – sits in seventh place, and a mindfulness colouring book sits in ninth. With Johanna’s titles in second and eighth place, this means half of Amazon.co.uk’s top 10 is taken up by colouring books for adults.

Johanna thinks “it is really relaxing, to do something analogue, to unplug, and it’s creative”.

Now behavioural psychologists are getting in on the act. The Guardian, which has led the field in coverage of the craze, reports claims that it can be a tool to help meditation. There’s something called Mandala Coloring Meditation, a website that offers you free mandalas to colour in. A mandala? It’s a “sacred circle of light and energy” – apparently – that can help to centre you and “heal your mind, body and spirit”.

What of the benefits of doodling? A 2009 study examined whether subjects retained more from a list of random names being read aloud if they doodled at the same time. The researchers had suspected doodling might help the brain to remain active by engaging its “default networks”. Subjects who doodled while listening to the list remembered 29 per cent more of the names than those who didn’t doodle. And the doodling they were doing? They were shading printed shapes – in other words, they were colouring in.

By far the greatest exponent in Scotland of creative doodling was the former SNP enterprise minister Jim Mather, the master of the mind map. Sitting next to Mr Mather on a political platform was always a revelatory experience. Other panellists would be frantically scribbling notes, Mr Mather would coolly construct complex maps of words and associations, beguiling in their imaginative complexity but intelligible only to himself. Assuming he had carefully filed these away, surely a multi-million-pound book deal now awaits their publication.

Whatever all this means, it’s an adult craze that is sweeping into homes and offices across the land. The New York Times reports that in Australia there is even a group for adults to meet up to colour in together, like a knitting circle.

Is this a quest for mindless relaxation therapy, a need to de-stress in an ever more tense and combative world? Or simply a desire to return to the innocent preoccupations of childhood?

The Telegraph columnist Harry de Quetteville wrote a scathing column this week. “What on Earth is going on here?” he asked. “Have hundreds of thousands of people lost their minds? Has the creeping infantilisation of the adult world reached a new nadir?”

Spoilsport! Surely we can be allowed to regress once in a while into the simple pleasures of childhood, allowing our creative instincts to roam – or roam as far as Johanna Basford’s outlines will allow?

In fact, I don’t think the colouring craze has gone far enough. How soothing, how therapeutic it would be were we able to resort to crayons and colouring books while following the ever more raucous general election battle: they dribble, we doodle!

Here are a few ideas that might enable us to relax and allow our creative juices to flow in the run-up to 7 May. Have a big sketch book ready for this, and the biggest box of crayons you can find.

• Imagine you’ve been called in by a TV network to devise a brand new all-comers party political election debate.

There are seven new parties. Your task is to create new party icons – but ones that do not feature the existing motifs – trees, birds, roses, pints of beer or the Saltire. In addition, you have to choose colours for the seven new parties but without using green, red, purple, orange, maroon or blue. What new colours would you choose?

• Create “secret gardens” that in your view best illustrate the leafy foliage and plant shapes of Nicola Sturgeon, Ed Miliband, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Natalie Bennett, Leanne Wood and Nigel Farage. Draw hidden monsters, such as dragons and tigers, and a path avoiding these hazards. Suggest a range of colours that people can use to shade in the shapes and spaces.

• Colourful Buzzword Bingo: You have been asked to write a speech for one of the main party leaders. Construct a box comprising 12 squares with each square containing a buzzword word or phrase that can be linked to the others in the same colour sequence. For example: hard-working families, economic levers, sustainable, long-term plan, stakeholder engagement, living wage, more powers, fair and balanced, income inequality, billowing public debt, etc.

• Here’s a mind map maze. Auntie Betty, temporarily resident in the Buddleigh Salterton but with a holiday home in Tenerife, wants to send you a legacy. Construct a choice of routes through the maze using different colours that avoid your Revenue Scotland tax office, Betty’s HMRC office, the Non-Dom Statutory Authority, the Inheritance Inspection Office, the Sheriff Court and Saughton Prison.

• You have a pile of bright, shiny coins – silver, gold, copper etc. Show which coins you would put on squares representing NHS, schools, welfare, roads, defence and so on. Now draw buckets of paint for each party political colour being decanted into a deep black hole.

Then drop your crayons into the hole. Your election colouring book therapy will now be complete!

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