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.”
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!