We chat to Johanna Basford, creator of a popular range of grown-up colouring books, about how they’re helping those affected by dementia and mental health problems.
How did you get started in creating colouring books?
‘Back in 2011 I received an email from a publisher asking if I would like to create a traditional kid’s colouring book. I immediately replied saying that I’d love to do a colouring book, but that I wanted to do one for adults, not children. This was before the current trend for adult colouring had really started to blossom, so you can imagine how nervous the publisher was! I was convinced though that adults might like the creative escape of colouring, to make beautiful pictures and lose themselves in an analogue task for a few hours. I felt that if the artwork was sophisticated and elegant we could elevate the humble kid’s colouring book and introduce it to a whole new audience.’
Where do you get your inspiration for creating your drawings?
‘Mainly from nature. I love flora and fauna and think Mother Nature is the greatest artist. Whether it’s a beautiful blossom, a delicate feather or even the faint lines of a seashell, I think there’s beauty in everything, we just need to look closer.’
How do you feel about the idea of your books helping those with mental health problems (and in our case dementia) by providing them with an enjoyable activity?
‘I get so many letters and emails each week from people who have found the books in some way beneficial to their health and happiness, it’s truly humbling. When I started out on this colouring book adventure my main aim was to just share the books with some like-minded people, who perhaps wanted to be creative but didn’t want to be daunted by a blank sheet of paper. It hadn’t occurred to me that they could help people with mental or cognitive health problems but I can totally understand why they might find comfort in the pages. There’s something very calming, almost meditative about being caught up in the simple task of filling shapes with colour. It allows us to quieten our thoughts, focus on one simple task and of course engages our creative brains.’
Where do you think colouring for adults gets its appeal from?
‘Sometimes it may be that an elderly relative had been artistic in their younger days, but lost their passion for painting or drawing with age. The colouring books are a lovely and accessible way of bring that pastime back into their lives. The joy of colouring is also that you don’t need a studio, an easel, a tonne of art supplies… all you need is your book and some pens or pencils and you are all set to start work.’
Dementia carers may want to buy your books too, as they’re a great stress reliever. Do you think this is because people are seeking ways to feel calmer by means other than the usual ones of medication or exercise?
‘I think people are just a little screen weary and in need of a digital detox. So much of our modern lives evolves around laptops, phones and TV. I think the chance to unplug, to spend your relaxing time doing something analogue and focussed, is so rare. People need time to revive themselves, to zone out and let your mind quieten and prepare for the next big challenge. Colouring is the perfect escape to give you that much needed down time without all the distractions.’
Johanna’s latest book, Magical Jungle (Virgin Books, £12.99), is out now.