I certainly missed the boat on getting rich making adult coloring pages. When my daughter was about four years old she’d ask me to draw pictures of her in various settings and situations; as a princess on her way to a gala, ice skating in one of those fancy outfits or just hanging out with the family dog. Using a sharpie, I’d quickly sketch out a cartoon picture of her and then she’d color it in with crayons or colored pencils. She compiled quite a large coloring book of personalized pictures of herself. Had I been as intrepid as the coloring book artist, Johanna Basford, I might be sitting pretty having sold millions of hand-drawn coloring books. Why do people love these things? I think that while they are relaxing, there is a deeper reason: most of us love lines and borders in all aspects of our lives because they let us feel in control of our world.

Years ago when my husband worked for M&M/Mars and was launching Peanut Butter M&M’s I was admiring the packaging. The label had a nice punch to it. It really popped. He told me that it was the keyline that made that happen. I learned that a keyline was used in printing to allow for imperfect registration during the printing process. Did you ever look at an image in the newspaper and it is blurry or fuzzy because the layers of colors did not exactly line up? That is an indication that the image is out of register. A keyline is used to allow for a margin of error in the registration during the printing process. Some use keylines or borders as an aesthetic tool as in the case of the M&M’s.

Since that time I have always used outlines in my artwork. My skills at painting and drawing are passable at best and I find that outlining my work gives it a neatness it wouldn’t have, as well as a little pizzazz. My work has a cartoony feel, which hopefully lets everyone know that I do not take myself as a painter or illustrator too seriously.

Plenty of well-known artists have used outlines in their work. You’ve probably seen Roy Lichtenstein’s giant cartoon frame paintings or Keith Haring’s colorful, dancing figures. If you’ve visited Chicago, you’ve may have walked by Jean Dubuffet’s Standing Beast in front of the James R. Thompson Center. These artists created very colorful artwork with heavy, black, cartoon-like lines. If you look at photos of them creating their work it looks like they are coloring on giant color books. They were clearly onto something as I discovered when chatting with an acquaintance last summer.

While we were discussing art, she shared with me that she had just gotten her certification in Zentangles. I had a very sketchy idea of the process; people drawing detailed doodles in ink. I thought that Zentangles were adult coloring pages and I was surprised to learn that they art not.

I soon discovered that there are a few different ways to do mindless/mindful drawing and coloring and it has become quite the rage. In addition to Zentangles, and guided doodling, there are adult coloring pages. One thing everyone seems to agree upon with the various techniques is that it is fun, relaxing and inspiring.

While I was shopping at Blick Art Materials this week, I asked the sales associate about these books. She informed me that Zentangles was the hot trend last year and adult coloring pages is the thing this year. She clearly wasn’t lying because the shelves were practically picked clean. I was able to purchase a couple of the books so I could try my hand at it and share it with my Doodle Art & Design students during our Keyline & Outline project this week.

I believe that outlining artwork is an aesthetic that some prefer but also fulfills a need for the artist, be he an amateur or professional, to be in control of his environment. It is this desire for control that I think is the reason why zentangles, adult coloring books and guided doodling are so popular. These processes give people an artistic outlet in a controlled environment where they won’t fail. Coloring relies on a skill every adult learned from using those rough-paper coloring books as a kid. These slick pages are so popular that adult coloring parties have sprung up around the country and adult coloring books were on Amazon’s bestseller list this year.

My son Max and I tried our hand at coloring. He found it frustrating when he colored outside the lines and quit after about three minutes. I have to say I found it relaxing, especially because the paper was so nice and my pencil slid across the surface. I enjoyed the coloring so much that I created my own version of a Zentangle drawing.

While discussing Zentangles, Max mentioned that he had done them at school and didn’t like it but that he likes watching videos of Zentangles being created. We watched one on YouTube and I have to say I found it mesmerizing. If you want to try it, you can print out this nice coloring page that I’ve designed or if you want to fully relax and watch, click here.

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, freelance writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a mobile art program. She has one husband, four children and three doodle dogs, Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. She blogs at kathleenthometz.com, has contributed to the mid and Chicago Parent.

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...