I’ve been obsessing about the adult coloring phenomenon since December when I bought some of the popular books for my kids. I found myself enjoying the seemingly mindless and relaxing activity with my family but not really sure why. Since then, I’ve begun to put out coloring pages, markers and pencils at my art studio before my classes begin. I’m always surprised to find that everyone starts coloring. It’s like serving a plate of cookies at a party that even the hardcore health nuts can’t resist. I felt that there had to be a reason other than relaxation that people are drawn, almost against their will, to coloring. I thought it must be appealing to people on a more elemental level for it to be so popular that the coloring industry has gone from selling one million books in 2014 to twelve million in 2015.
It wasn’t until I was on a beach this past March looking at the designs on a seashell and those left in the sand by the receding tide that the answer to my coloring book conundrum hit me: patterns! People love to color, sometimes in spite of themselves, because coloring appeals to our brain’s primordial need for patterns and coloring pages can be intricately patterned. Have you ever wondered why you find the sound of the ocean soothing, why leopard and cheetah print decor and clothing never go out of style, or why you love when your dog puts his nose in your face at five-thirty every morning? It’s because we look for and want patterns in everything we see, hear, feel and do because they are the building blocks of everything in the world.
You know how once you become aware of something, that that thing begins appearing in your life? It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. When I returned home from my trip I was given a copy of Philip Ball’s Patterns in Nature and also came across a Call For Artists listing for an exhibition, Patterns, at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts. Their description of the artwork wanted: “Open to all mediums, sizes & concepts that relate to, or include, a pattern. Consider zebra stripes, the family tartan, flight patterns, nautilus shell curves, quilts, breathing patterns, a strand of pearls, dress patterns, kaleidoscopes, waffle irons, wallpaper…” In his book, Mr. Ball explores our fascinating patterned world with images of fractals, spirals, and cracks, feathers, fur and bubbles. He mentions that the Scottish zoologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson felt that even living creatures have to be soundly engineered to withstand the whims of fate. So patterns truly are the natural world’s infrastructure and we are pattern-craving creatures.
All sensory information enters the human brain as patterns, regardless of whether it is through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth or skin. The reason why the ocean is soothing is because the waves break in a pattern. We love looking at nature because everything in nature is patterned from the fractals of trees, to the hexagon of the honeycomb to the perfect circles raindrops make when they land in a puddle. I believe this is why animal print never goes out of style. That wet nose that greets you every morning, that’s a behavior pattern that you’ve come to expect and in my case, enjoy.
Conversely, have you ever wondered why a one-sided cell phone conversation, a snoring spouse, or the death of a young person disturbs you? It’s because there is no pattern or a broken pattern and your brain doesn’t like that. You can read on a train with the rhythmic clacking of the wheels and the two people talking behind you because their conversation follows a pattern: she talks, he talks, she talks, etc. Even though we are not consciously listening, the conversation flows and our brain registers that. In a one-sided cell phone conversation, we only hear: she talks…..she talks………she talks. The conversation doesn’t flow; it’s disjointed and not following a pattern.
It’s the same situation when you’re in a room with a person who snores. The snoring has no pattern. You can’t sleep because of your anticipation of the snore that doesn’t come and then “SNORE!” There is no rhythm that our brains can follow. We expect the life cycle pattern of human beings to be from fetus to baby to child to adult to senior. When a child or a young adult dies it is disturbing because the life cycle pattern has been broken.
So what can you do with this information? Enjoy all of the patterns in nature on your next walk. Maybe you want to try the relaxing and soothing experience of coloring; it’s good for your brain. You may begin to recognize the behavior patterns of yourself and those around you and perhaps use that to your benefit in your job and personal life. New patterns can be created and old patterns can be changed…
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a teaching studio, art gallery and retailer of its signature art kits in Western Springs. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. Check out the Doodle Art website at www.doodleartanddesign.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.