Once upon a time, colouring in with crayons was the domain of young children and no self-respecting adult would have dared to be seen doing the same - although as a parent, I secretly enjoyed ‘finishing off’ a picture one of my children had given up on and I could always blame them if I accidentally coloured over the edge, of course!
Oh how times have changed. Nowadays colouring is positively encouraged for people of all ages, and there is all manner of colouring books from psychedelic pop art through to scenic views of around the world for teens through to seniors – even the men are getting in on the act with tranquil harbour boats and wartime aircraft images to inspire a steady hand.
But what is particularly great is that it is being recognised as a form of mindfulness in its own right. The very act of repetitive colouring, the concentration needed to ensure the strokes are just the correct pressure, all in the same direction and inside the line help the brain to ‘switch off’ other thoughts in the same way as meditation does. It keeps negative feelings and images away and allows deep relaxation and steady breathing, giving a feeling of wellbeing and calm.
Another positive benefit is that it doesn’t require technology and therefore you are in control of the speed, colour choice and design. You can stop and start as you wish and there is no pesky internet ‘drop out’ to interfere with your progress. This also means it is a far more eco-friendly way to spend your spare time than playing internet games, which uses electricity and involves a great deal of plastic and air miles for the device to be obtained in the first place.
This hobby can also be transported easily and can be enjoyed at home, but also in the garden, while waiting for an appointment or waiting for the bus. It is also relatively inexpensive as the books often have a number of assorted images and the colouring pencils can be obtained almost everywhere. Better quality colouring pencils can be bought of course, watercolour pencils have a deeper pigment and take less pressure and have the added joy of being able to blend into each other, but these aren’t necessary for the same tranquil experience.
Care homes have for some time recognised that colouring can be a simple but enjoyable activity and is ideal for those living with dementia and these days special books are made especially for people who need simpler images. These are adult-friendly images with simple outlines to follow and often depict scenes or images of the past i.e. fashions and vehicles.
Care homes are by their very nature, a hive of activity with staff going about their duties in and around the home so it can be difficult to find a quiet area to quieten the mind whilst colouring, so try to arrange a time of day when activity will be less – possibly after lunch? If there are unavoidable background noises going on, try to play some relaxing music that the ear will tune into rather than voices talking or telephones ringing. It is surprising how the ear will focus into music and shut out unwanted noise when relaxed and this, along with the action of colouring should enable the experience to still be meditative.
An image can lend itself to more than just colouring it in, if given an outline of a person for instance, one participant may ‘dress’ the image in fashionable clothes or a bridal gown. Others might turn it into a clown or fantasy figure. Either way this can lead to extended discussion about their choices with maybe add to the activity by creating a collage filled with fashion from the past or wedding images.
Other extended activities could use tactile mediums such as paper mosaics to fill in the space or coloured rice/pulses or pasta – this works particularly well with simple geometric outlines such as stars or circles. Extra text can be added in the form of inspirational quotes or lines from poems to personalise a piece of artwork. The finished pieces do not have to be hung or displayed afterwards as this can create pressure on the participant to make something that looks ‘good’. The emphasis should always be on the creative process itself and the enjoyment that one gets out of it. Of course if they are happy to display their work it can encourage others to have a go too.
Pre-drawn images are a ‘safe’ way to create a piece of art. As time passes, some may wish to explore their own creativity and make their own using similar or different mediums. Try to have blank paper and a selection of other mediums available (paint, charcoal, marker pens, pastel sticks, fabric) with no pre-requisite to either finish or use any kind of style in their artwork.
If space allows, you may try eventually to encourage a group piece of artwork that can be worked on by several people who each adds their own unique style to the creation. There may not be any ‘design’ but just a random piece that will evolve by friendly collaboration and a shared love of creativity. As they work, they may talk about how art helps them and what they enjoy doing. The artwork then becomes almost secondary to the shared community experience and bonding that happens.