Dear Artists: Colouring Books Are Not Your Enemy

The internet is full of people doing Not Cool things, and one thing that falls into that category that I’ve observed recently is the trend of some artists and illustrators making fun of or attacking other adults who enjoy colouring books.

This mindset really confuses me, and I have to admit that it also saddens me a bit, knowing that as a community, artists are generally friendly and willing to offer advice to less experienced artists (obviously there are always exceptions). When artists belittle or discourage others from using colouring books, do they do it out of a sense of snobbery? Is it a territorial thing? “No non-creative types allowed anywhere near our hobby”?

The thing is, colouring books don’t hurt anyone, and one person using a colouring book does not prevent an artist from painting or drawing their own masterpiece*. No one is forcing artists or illustrators to put away their drawing tools and pick up a colouring book instead.

Carly's Colouring Books

A selection of adult colouring books. **

If you don’t like colouring books, don’t use them, but stop whining at people over a harmless hobby they enjoy. Because trust me, it says a lot more about you than it does about them, and if you find yourself utterly unable to paint because of the mere knowledge someone you know is colouring in cartoon dogs or flowers or whatever, well… chances are, you’ve got far bigger problems.

An article that popped up in my Facebook feed recently about a supposed shortage of artist grade coloured pencils brought on by the surge in popularity of colouring books also seemed to add fuel to the fire, with many of the comments under the Facebook post bitching about “why can’t they just use the pencils you get from the supermarket if they’re only going to use them on colouring books?” and “people buying up all the artist grade pencils to waste on colouring books means that real artists can’t get any” (seriously, you’d be surprised at how many of the comments were basically just variations on those two complaints). Leaving aside my suspicions that the whole article could just as easily be some sort of marketing ploy (“Coloured pencils are running out! Quick, you’d better buy some right now so you don’t miss out, too!”), let me address these comments – and other common criticisms I see thrown at adult colouring books – separately.

“Why can’t they just use the pencils you get from the supermarket if they’re only going to use them on colouring books?”

Firstly, have you ever used those supermarket pencils? The no-name brand ones you get in a plastic packet with ten colours or the sort you buy in the newsagent where you get a big set of 70 cut-price brand pencils for like $20? There’s a reason they’re so cheap: they are horrid to use. I would rather use those pencils to gouge out my own eyes than try to colour anything in with them. They usually seem to contain more wax/filler than pigment so the leads are hard and need far more pressure to apply colour to the page, and even then, the colours look weak and pathetic compared to marks made with artist grade pencils. And the whole “You shouldn’t use high quality materials if you’re not doing anything important” mindset is idiotic anyway. By that logic, you could argue that someone making dinner for themselves instead of for a party shouldn’t bother using the freshest ingredients. Or that there’s no point in buying a top-of-the-range power tool if you’re just going to use it for odd household projects. Better quality tools can help make a task easier, or at the very least, more enjoyable. Sure, it could be considered a luxury, but if someone has the money or resources to allow them to do that, why shouldn’t they do so? Layering colours with good quality pencils like Faber-Castell Polychromos or Derwent Coloursofts is far nicer and soothing than trying to scratch colour onto the page with a $3 box of pencils bought from Safeway.

Coloured Pencils

Some of my artist grade coloured pencils.

“People buying up all the coloured pencils to waste on colouring books means that real artists can’t get any.”

As much as it may pain you to hear this, being a “real artist” does not actually make you entitled to the best art supplies. Sure, it would be disappointing to try to buy something you want but miss out, but like many things in life, it’s first come, first served. It’s also a slippery slope from saying “only real artists should be allowed to have good coloured pencils” to saying “only real expert artists should be allowed to have good coloured pencils” (and now I’m having visions of some apocalyptic future where no one is allowed to buy artist grade pencils until they’ve done a 3 year art-and-design degree and have sold at least five pieces of artwork or something). And besides, it’s entirely possible that someone who gets into colouring with decent coloured pencils may enjoy it so much that they decide to start doing their own drawings anyway. Also, the whole “real artists can’t get any” part just isn’t true; sure, your local store may sell out, but they will get more in, and even if they don’t, it is easy enough to visit other stores or order online, as the vast majority of art supply retailers appear to have ample stock in most coloured pencil brands (and, if you live in Australia like me, you’ll probably find it still works out cheaper than buying locally, even with postage). So, for those of you who are imagining the ‘run on the bank’ scene at the end of Mary Poppins but with everyone scurrying around and spilling tins of pencils instead of money, I wouldn’t go marching down to your local art shop with a torch and pitchfork just yet. (also, lots of people who use adult colouring books use markers instead of pencils anyway)

“Colouring books are just for kids.”

Well, no. They are for whoever likes to use them. There are no legal restrictions on who can buy and use colouring books. It’s not like a reverse-alcohol scenario, where you walk in and plop the colouring book on the book shop counter and the cashier checks your license and says “Sorry, you’re over 18, I can’t sell this to you”. Remember when video games were “just for kids”? That is definitely not the case now, as adults play as many (if not more) games than their children (though on a side note, if you buy Grand Theft Auto for your 6-year-old, you’re a bad parent; some games are definitely not for kids).

Also, shaming someone for indulging in a completely harmless hobby is a dick move, so cut it out.

CJ's colouring in progress

Iron Man colouring book page. ***

“Colouring books stifle people’s creativity”.

I call bullshit. Do you honestly think a colouring book will stop someone from drawing or painting if they really want to? Are potential artists sitting at their kitchen tables muttering to themselves, “Well, shit, I was going to have a go at painting a still life but these unicorns aren’t gonna colour themselves in.” Let’s be honest: if someone who has a colouring book doesn’t have the creativity or motivation to draw their own pictures, they probably still wouldn’t be drawing their own pictures even if they didn’t have the colouring book.

This is not a zero-sum game. People don’t have to choose between making their own art OR using colouring books. They can do both. Hell, they don’t have to want to make their own art at all. Maybe they just like colouring shit in because it’s relaxing or it helps them calm down after a stressful day. There is no harm in that. In fact, that’s what appeals to a lot of people; the ability to exercise some creativity in blending and colour choice without stressing about drawing a subject and fretting over proportions and composition and so on. Or maybe they do sometimes draw their own pictures but just want to practice different colouring or layering techniques before applying it to their own work-in-progress.

Carly's Colouring Page in progress

Flowers colouring book page. **

I suppose the tl;dr of all this is is that artists getting angry at other people for using colouring books is like gourmet chefs getting angry at other people for eating McDonalds. It may not be something you enjoy, but if they enjoy it and it isn’t hurting anyone, live and let live.

(this rant brought to you by a beginner/intermediate artist who hasn’t touched a colouring book since she was about 6 years old and who hasn’t had caffeine for two days, hence the grouchiness and the sweary-ness of it all)

*Unless the person with a colouring book has knocked the artist down and is sitting on them and using their chest as an easel, in which case, feel free to yell at them, because that’s rude.
**Photos marked with a ** were kindly provided by my friend, Carly Short.
***Photos marked with a *** were kindly provided by my friend, CJ Dee.

This entry was posted in Articles and Opinion Pieces, Materials, Pencils and Blocks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dear Artists: Colouring Books Are Not Your Enemy

  1. Anna Cull says:

    You make many valid points but my absolute favourite is: “Well, shit, I was going to have a go at painting a still life but these unicorns aren’t gonna colour themselves in.” Great post.


  2. debiriley says:

    I enjoyed your post! I try to stay away from FB, but still…. its amazing about the ‘real artist’ comment. my adult daughter uses these for stress relief!


  3. craftwerx says:

    Brilliant! And I am an artist who also loves colouring in.


  4. AskiaLuna/Macarona says:

    I do not know what colored pencils you have tried out of the supermarket, which were so bad.
    I use colored pencils from the supermarket to make sketches and to color coloring books and had no hard scratching colored pencils caught.

    I have the Faber Castell Classic Color pencils and Colors from Nature, Fantasia and NoName colored pencils in a wooden box from the 1 € shop and many old ones have accumulated, there are of almost all manufacturers that you can buy here in Germany in the supermarkets.
    Lyra, Staedler, Herlitz, Pelikan and so on.
    They are a bit harder than Polychromos, but that does not bother me, they still give off good color, if you do not use them on printer paper but some fine grained drawing paper or the paper of most of the books is sufficient.

    There are also special editions with a coloring book, I have seen only so beginner color pencils there in such an edition, not the artist ones.

    On Amazon, I have seen cheaper larger sets of colored pencils that I think are for coloring books and for beginners starting colored pencil drawings and paintings.
    Like Marco Raffine, Art n Fly, Arteza, Guang Hui and so on.

    I have recently bought the Guang hui pencils because the colored pencils from the supermarket are only available in sets up to 48 and I miss some colors.
    They are very good and feel very soft and mix well, so soft colored pencils I had not yet.

    Such colored pencils are not really light fast, but it does not matter for the coloring book and sketchbook.
    They are then in the other points quite similar to the artists’ color pencils, as reports on Amazon and Youtube shows.

    It is not necessary to spend so much money, if someone wants more colors and a better quality for coloring books or drawings.

    I myself use artist colored pencils to give my watercolors the finishing touch and then hang the pictures on the wall.
    Unfortunately, I can not draw properly, if I have learned that, I can also make pure color pencil pictures.
    With them from the supermarket fist as long as I am a beginner.

    In my opinion it is shot over the target, if someone wants to have good pens for coloring books and then buys artist pencils.


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