Not Your Usual Research Tool

The other day, when I was chatting with a friend about the current fad of coloring books for adults, I said, “I’m not really into coloring, but even so, I have two coloring books and I quite like them.  When I was sick earlier this year, I found sitting down and coloring very restful.”

Some of My Collection

Some of My Collection

After my friend left, I realized that I don’t have just two coloring books.  I have something more like forty.  My collection pre-dates the current fad by more than a decade and began as research aids.

“What?!” saith you.  “Coloring books as research aids?  How could those be of any help?”

To me, line drawings show detail in a way even the best photos can’t.  Also, while photos are representative of individual items (leaving the question of Photoshopped montages out), drawings can be more representative than any photo.  There’s a reason why field guides to birds or plants or whatever usually include drawings as well as photos.  In fact, many such guides skip photos entirely in favor of drawings.

Does this mean I don’t use photos?  Of course I do!  I have pages of photos of wolves (and other animals) scavenged from everything from greeting cards to calendars to advertisements.  I use these as reference, especially when designing distinct individuals.

So what sort of coloring books do I have in my collection?  Well, I have a fair number devoted to attire, including Colonial and Early American, Ancient Egyptian, Medieval, Renaissance, Victorian, and both traditional Chinese and Japanese.  I have a bunch devoted to cultures such as Life in a Medieval Castle and Village and Life in Old Japan, both by John Green.  I have several on water craft, and on houses (including Victorian “painted ladies,” if you were wondering).  Oh, and of course I have a lot on animals, both real and mythological.  Some of the more off-beat coloring books on my research shelf include one that encourages you to design your own coat of arms, one depicting common weeds, and another on Japanese hiragana.

Many of these came from Dover Publications.  The pictures in Dover coloring books usually include captions, often providing date, color options, and some explanatory details.  Books on fashion almost always include a page or two focusing on specifics of footwear or head gear.  Dover also does an excellent line of books containing copyright free images, both in color and black and white.

While the first wave of adult coloring books (such as Johanna Basford’s Enchanted Forest) often focused on intricate designs, I’ve noticed branching out, especially in the area of fashion.  Among my birthday presents was David Bowie: Starman, a posthumous tribute in which the simple line drawings show more details of Bowie’s various stage costumes than could be garnered from any number of photos.

While the color book boom lasts, I certainly plan to add to my research collection.  I bet more than one picture will be the seed from which a story will grow!

17 Responses to “Not Your Usual Research Tool”

  1. Dawn Says:

    I have gotten into the coloring books in the past year. I got about a dozen for my birthday last month. Including the Dover Victorian Houses. I have been copying the pages and scanning them (as the whole book) into my computer. That way I can redo the images if I do not like my results and leave the book blank.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Maybe we should have a coloring corner at Bubonicon… SF/F themed, of course!

      • Dawn Says:

        Harriet Engle did do that this year. It was in the Art Show. she had her computer and printed images for folks to color. I had emailed her the PDF scanned copies of the 6 coloring books I had at that time.

  2. James M. Six Says:

    The other research tool I’ve heard about is getting books for kids from other countries/cultures, especially their picture books about history and such. They sometimes provide cultural touchstones and details that offical histories and research papers wouldn’t think to mention.

    • Peter Says:

      Another one that can change the way you look at the world (literally!) is maps (or atlases) from other countries.

      One of my classrooms here in Cambodia has a world map on the wall (I believe it was printed in Viet Nam) that has Asia on the left, the Americas in the middle, and Europe on the right.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      These are both great ideas… I have a friend who collects old maps, so I’ve seen some of what Peter mentioned, but never thought about such in a classroom.

      And I use kid’s books all the time as research foundation, tool. (They explain common terms.) However, again, never thought about using them for a shift in perspective.

  3. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Well Jane I enjoy art enough that I can’t stop myself from forming personal mandalas of my own, by tracing my favorite mandalas in my coloring books. And I also think Creative Haven has cool choices of coloring books too. I have more than 6 coloring books with what I sometimes get as a gift from my two aunts, and what I choose for myself once in a while from close stores.

    I’d enjoy drawing or coloring family stuff, for sure some look cool.

    Yin Yang
    coat of arms
    Shiny parts of a castle

    I just don’t have coloring books that can help me draw these few things yet. It’s common that I imagine an enchanted hideout for myself with wild animals, and friends like Sherriff Woody from Toy Story, plus fantasy creatures.

    And it would be fun to see you and give you a medium ceramic wolf Jane I’ve chosen 3 for myself, and I’m kind of called the paint color queen since I can help people mix colors to form the shades they wish to use. Yes some of the fun things you mention make me wish that I was a bit closer to you, but I’m in Roy UT. I enjoy activity moments quite well With you, the beady pictures you form are one of the few cool crafts I’d really enjoy learning the steps of Jane.

    Do you know if Dover shares more choices of art than Creative Haven Jane??

    Jasmine Olson sharing some interest.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      I wish I had more time for crafts. Today I’m going to be painting, but not anything fun. It’s going to be the shelves in my kitchen where my cookbooks and guinea pigs live.

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Mainly I would be totally pleased if I someday discovered how my whole pretend enchanted hideout would / should / shall look

  5. Dawn Barela Says:

    Henrietta Try Amazon! They have tons of coloring books. Including Dover & Creative Haven. In almost EVERY topic imaginable.

    • henrietta abeyta Says:

      Thank You Dawn. Barnes and Nobles sells Creative Haven, but not that many choices of designs to color. And until Jane mentioned them on this blog I didn’t know about Dover coloring books.

  6. Louis Robinson Says:


    You should talk to Toni. Coincidentally or otherwise, a couple of days ago she asked in the Table about the potential for publishing some colouring books based on book covers.

  7. Dawn Says:

    Henrietta, you are welcome. Creative Haven coloring books are actually published by Dover.

  8. henrietta abeyta Says:

    I’d love it if the Toucans were popular in coloring books, because I’d enjoy of fun challenges of choosing how rainbowish I wanted each Toucan to look, this sort of fun challenge would easily help me repress on hard days. Except I’ve only seen the Toucan Coloring Pages online. Antistress Toucan pictures are the ones I’m talking about.

    I’ve already Drawn Alue who didn’t know she was a wolf with Rafael the Toucan who helped Blue a parrot, return to Rio, in a few pictures

    Wolf coloring pages done for comfort, Toucan coloring pages done to repress bad emotions as quick as possible on hard days. And personal drawings of toucans and wolves spending time together because art is one of my main hobbies, plus my insight of how the two match. This is my opinion of the two animals.

    Jasmine Olson’s Self-entertainment Thoughts Shared Here.

  9. Tyler Says:

    First of all I would like to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Many thanks!|

    • janelindskold Says:

      Only ten to fifteen minutes? You’re actually pretty quick. Some writers review what they wrote the day before. This enables them to polish, and takes them back into the flow. I suppose I do something similar, but not always. Be careful, however, that you don’t get eaten by the Polishing Bug. This is more a means to get into the flow, not to make for a flawless first draft.

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