Adult Coloring Books: Rad, Bad, or Fad?

display of coloring books at the store

When I asked my mother what she wanted for her birthday, I expected a list filled with ideas like clothes, shoes, books, and music. Instead, I found an interesting item at the top of her list –an adult coloring book. I was surprised, however, she assured me it was “the new ‘cool’ thing to do.”

I thought the latest fad was Paint and Sip Parties, but apparently, something new is on the scene. When I went to purchase an adult coloring book I was shocked to find a huge display front and center when I walked though the doors. After elbowing many patrons out of the way, I settled on a book that looked interesting.

display of coloring books at the store

Rad? Fad? Bad?

As I thumbed through the rest of the coloring books, I couldn’t help but take an art teacher’s perspective. Sure, I loved that some form of creative outlet was a featured display at a major retailer. But on the other hand, I felt weird participating in the “cookie-cutter-not-really-art-but-maybe-it-is” fad. I loved coloring books when I was a kid, but it suddenly felt strange as an adult.

I couldn’t really settle on whether this new fad was indeed rad or if it might actually be bad. So I took it to the most knowledgeable artists I know; our own AOE fans on Facebook and Instagram. Read on to see some of their thoughts on the subject.

How do you feel about adult coloring books?

“Bad fad. I think it’s weird seeing my middle schoolers revert back to ‘coloring’ UNLESS they are designing the coloring pages themselves!” -Abby S.

screenshot of FB poll

“As a graphic designer originally, I really value the beautiful illustration work that goes into them! The better books have a lot to teach students…not about coloring in, but about design, illustration, and general graphics skills…” -Julie R.

“Bad…right up there with painting parties…” -Christopher S.

“I started a Coloring Club in my high school during activity period. It is so popular that the club was profiled in the monthly school magazine and will be in the yearbook. Recent research has shown that coloring is a great for reducing anxiety and stress, allowing both kids and adults to focus, sometimes leading to new ideas in many areas. We discuss color symbolism and they just color. They love it!” -Kelly H.

“I hate them with a vengeance – and they are everywhere.” -Grainne H.

“I think they are great for adults, especially ones that feel they are not artistic. They are a great stress reliever, and allows them to do something with art that doesn’t intimidate them.” -Julie B.

What I learned from Adult Coloring Books

As much as I enjoyed hearing many art teachers’ opinions on adult coloring books, I knew the only way I would form my own opinion was by trying it out myself. So I left the store with not one, but two coloring books in my bag.

Coloring page partially finished

The truth is, I NEVER seem to have time to get creative with something of my own choosing. So sitting down with a coloring book made me excited, and it felt a bit foreign. Even my husband was surprised to find out that I had actually spent my evening doing something he deemed “artsy.”

After spending a few hours sprawled out on the couch with my coloring book and markers three things became pretty clear:

  1. Coloring books ARE a mind-numbing creative outlet.
  2. I need to spend more time doing creative things.
  3. They have art room potential!

I ended up loving the time I spent in front of my coloring book because it let me shut my mind down from a long day of teaching and daily tasks. I truly felt less stressed as I colored. But working in my book reminded me how important it is to carve out that creative time for myself. How often do we forget that we are art teachers AND artists. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Art Room Potential

I think the biggest takeaway was the potential for these books in the art room. As I sat there coloring some classroom ideas came to mind:

  1. Use them as a fundraiser.
    Have your students create their own “coloring book page” and make multiple copies of each student’s artwork. Combine those into a book and you’ve got a brilliant coloring book you can sell during events like Back to School Night or your art show.
  2. Make them a free-choice option.
    Make copies of the pictures in a book and piece them together on a wall in your room. Send students to color the pictures on the wall if they end up with a bit of extra time.
  3. Use them as a resource.
    Coloring books (especially those with specific types of patterns) can make handy resources when explaining certain topics in art.
  4. Use them to encourage collaborative artwork.
    Have a class create their own coloring book design on a large sheet of roll paper. Display in the hallway for people to add color as they pass by.
  5. Make them into an emergency sub plan.
    If you’re in a pinch and need emergency sub plans, use coloring book pages! Have a sub talk about color theory, pattern, color symbolism, shading, or a host of other options as students add color to their pages.

We can all agree that adult coloring books are the latest rage right now. However, even if you aren’t a fan, consider how you might be able to use something like them in your own classroom. No matter how you feel about coloring books, we want to hear from you below. Chime in with your thoughts on this latest fad.

What are your thoughts on coloring books. Rad? Bad? Fad?

What other ways can art teachers utilize coloring books in the classroom?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jennifer Borel

Jennifer Borel is one of AOEU’s Adjunct Instructors and Academic Advisors and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She runs her own photography business and is passionate about students exploring the medium.

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