A few years ago, you may remember, the distressing news went round that George W. Bush’s library had burned down. Both books had been destroyed, and what was worse he hadn’t yet finished colouring one of them in.
The gag relied on a snobbery about what is in truth a wonderful and noble activity. The moment my son became old enough to use colouring-in books I was reminded of just how relaxing they are. Choosing the right colour, drawing the initial line that somehow seems to stop you going over the edges (how does that work?), getting annoyed when your three year-old goes over the edges. Ah, the joy of it. You can forget drugs and therapy, all I need to de-stress is an outline picture of a farmyard and a packet of Crayolas. So soothing is the activity, in fact, that I’m often to be found blissfully completing a page long after my son has lost interest and departed in search of fresh amusement, such as torturing the dog.
Lots of people must feel the same way, because sales of The Creative Colouring Book for Grown-Ups and The Gorgeous Colouring Book for Grown-Ups (published by Michael O’Mara) have sailed well past the 100,000 mark (a pleasing figure for us colourers – all those zeroes). The company has just added more titles to the series, including a book of tattoo designs. Stocking filler for Sam Cam, perhaps?
As well as its calming effect, the real attraction of colouring-in is that it’s art for people who can’t do art. My skills in the drawing stakes begin and end at curtains, yet give me one of these books and some pens and I can, after a soothing couple of hours (you think I’m exaggerating for effect, don’t you?) make the proud claim that ‘I created that’. The ‘… albeit only in part’ remains unsaid. There’s also an appeal to my nerdish, mathematical side: see earlier comments about precision with lines. By combining artistic flair and geometrical precision in this way I am, basically, another Jackson Pollock.
If you want real proof of just how fundamental a human urge we’re dealing with here, take the best piece of football trivia ever, the one about Hull City being the only team in the top four divisions whose name contains no letters you can colour in. I once tried to find out who it was who’d first spotted that. No one knows, it seems. But the best guess came from a friend: surely, he said, it has to have been a bloke in a bookies on a Saturday afternoon. What did he do as he waited for the results to come in? He looked at a league table in a newspaper. Then the pen in his hand started to move …