Coloring Books: The Expressive Art Form Reborn for Adults

Coloring books can help reduce depression

Posted Nov 23, 2015

Serani - personal drawing
Source: Serani - personal drawing

Coloring books geared for grown-ups have been gaining a lot of traction over the last few years. But this is really old-news-reborn. Some of the earliest findings regarding expressive art therapy and well-being were noted in the 1920’s by psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who found that coloring mandalas had a calming effect on his adult patients[i].

Drawing, coloring and other kinds of expressive art have long enjoyed a solid foothold in the annals of well-being research, but recent studies reporting coloring reduces anxiety[ii], depression[iii] and fatigue[iv] have led to a publishing boon. All you have to do is take a look in your local bookstore or online. You’ll discover that crayons and paper aren’t just for kids anymore.

Tips for Coloring 

If you’ve decided to use this art form as a way to decrease your depression or lift your mood, here are some tips to consider.

  • Follow your heart. Seek out a coloring book that suits your interests. There are many to choose from – geometric designs, landscapes, animals, characters, story-driven, spiritual and religious, just to name a few. And don’t forget that plain white paper and a great set of colorful tools can be as good as a pre-printed book.   
  • Consider your eyes. Once you’ve found a theme, choose a book that’s easy on your eyes. For example, older adults prefer less intricately drawn pictures to color. 
  • Choose variety and richness. If you can, spend a little extra on your coloring tools. Be it crayons, pencils, watercolors, gel pens, markers or pastels, the more color choices and textures, the better your coloring experience.
  • Be present. When using coloring as a way to increase well-being, find a way to revel in the solitude of the experience. Reduce distractions and focus your intentions on the colored hues, patterns and strokes you choose.
  • Use mindfulness techniques. Studies suggest that using positive expression as you color offers beneficial effects[v]. Try saying things like “I enjoy doing this” or “I like this color blue. It reminds me of my favorite beach.” Recalling meaningful moments or just having a one-word mantra like “Peace” or “Joy” can help you get there.


[i] Jung, C. G. (1972). Mandala Symbolism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

[ii] Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 22, 81–85.

[iii] McCaffrey, R. (2007).The effect of healing gardens and art therapy on older adults with mild to moderate depression. Holistic nursing practice, 21(2): 79-84.

[iv] Bar‐Sela, Gil, et al. (2007). Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Psycho‐Oncology,16(11): 980-984.

[v] Smolarski, K. et. al. (2015).Reducing negative mood through drawing: Comparing venting, positive expression and tracing. Art Therapy, 32(4):197-201.