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The color of calm

Many adult coloring books have Christian themes. Vermont Catholic photo by Cori Fugere Urban Many adult coloring books have Christian themes.

If you gave, received as a gift, or purchased an adult coloring book for yourself in the last two years, you are not alone.  The current trend (some people call it a “craze”) for coloring books specifically geared toward adults has been growing steadily since they were first introduced commercially in the United States in 2012.  

In 2014, overall sales reached about 1 million copies; by the end of 2015, that number had skyrocketed to more than 12 million, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  As of the end of October, nine of the top 100 books sold on Amazon were adult coloring books. 
Many people who swear by their coloring books cite their “de-stressing” factor as the reason for their popularity, and there seems to be some objective evidence for that. Although coloring requires focus, it doesn’t necessarily require great artistic skill; the mere process of choosing colors and filling in spaces accounts for its calming effect. 
The subject matter of the books can also be very satisfying, as there seems to be a book to match every interest; they run the gamut from abstract designs to nature themes, from history to classic cars and from animals to Victorian fashions. Happily, there are also many religiously themed coloring books available, with more than a few geared specifically to a Catholic audience.  (To find an extensive list of these books, simply go to Amazon and type “Catholic adult coloring books” into the search line.)
For Sister of Mercy Lorraine Ambrosini who takes an art class at Mount St. Mary Convent in Burlington, art has always been an avenue to peace and relaxation. “Art is a tool to create something new. And God is the Master of Creation,” she said. “So, yes, art can be a religious experience.”
She said that people in her class appreciate “God’s creation in nature” as they paint scenes that depict the natural beauty that surrounds them. “For me, while painting a landscape, it’s easy to be in awe of the beauty in nature as created by God.”
While coloring can be a great way to nurture appreciation for God’s creation or relax at the end of a busy day, there are other positive effects. People with dementia or other cognitive impairment seem to garner its benefits.
“Actually, it was the participants in our program who taught us about the value of coloring books,” said Diane Olechna, manager of adult day programs with the Visiting Nurses Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. She and Kellie Parks, communications manager of the VNA, recently spoke to Vermont Catholic about why this particular activity is part of their program. 
About a year ago, some of their clients began bringing in their books, and they thought it was a good idea so began using them. There has been a good response to them from all their sites.
Olechna agreed that coloring seems to have a tranquil effect on the participants in their program. “Emotionally, it is a benefit because it is calming,” she said.  “One of our clients, for instance, who sometimes has a hard time settling in, loves to color.”  As it turns out, that activity has been the perfect vehicle to get her into a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Staff members say coloring gives their clients a sense of meaning and accomplishment in their day. Many times, the feeling of having done something of some consequence is severely diminished in people with cognitive issues, but choosing colors and completing a picture can give clients a great sense of personal satisfaction.
There is also the positive affirmation from others for their work. “Our clients will praise one another’s coloring,” Olechna said. “They will comment that someone has done a nice picture or chosen nice colors.” There is even a wall at the VNA program site on which some 40 pictures are displayed, all colored by participants in the Adult Day Program.
The benefits of coloring were echoed by Pat Sager, who currently serves as the organist and music director at Holy Mother and Child Parish in Lake Luzerne/Corinth, N.Y.  She and her husband, Jim, have been married for 34 years; both were Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Albany, which is where they met. He has been suffering from frontotemporal dementia, a fairly rare form of the disease, for the past three or four years.
“He was the first one who noticed that something was not right,” Sager recently told Vermont Catholic.  “He said to his brother at one point that there was something wrong with his brain.” Once she “knew where things were going,” Sager began to engage him with puzzles, games and activities that were picture oriented. “He was always artistic,” she said, “so coloring books were a natural choice.” Because he loves nature, his preference has been for pictures that have that kind of theme.
“At first he was able to pick out pictures on his own,” she continued, “and I would often sit and color with him.” At that point, he was also able to look in the back of the book, matching suggested colors to the ones he chose to work with. As the disease progressed, though, he began to need more help, even to get started on a picture, at least at home. “At his day program, where everyone is involved, it’s a different matter,” Sager noted. “There he is more on task.” 
She also sees coloring as a way for cognitively challenged people to continue to be involved with life and with others; lately, she has been searching for Christmas- themed books for him to work with. “I feel that he did so well with his pictures that I wanted to take a Christmas one and turn it into a card,” she said. “Even if a person’s brain isn’t working in every area, there is still a way for them to communicate. And if I label the picture as ‘Artwork done by Jim,’ then he still has input into the season, and it gives him something meaningful to do.”
Olechna and Parks also note that coloring facilitates communication across cultural lines as well. They have a non-English speaking client from Nepal. He loves to color, and he completes some of the most beautiful work. His art transcends language, they agreed.
Last modified onFriday, 16 December 2016 09:42
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