On this Monday night, Rose Meyrer and Danielle Jensen had something different in mind for a girls’ night out.
They joined about 30 other people at the Rock Island Public Library for an evening of adult coloring. They were both skeptical at first, but after a few minutes, Jensen and Meyrer were hooked on staying in the lines.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and she kind of dragged me along,” Jensen, who is 31, said. “But I really like it. You can see the progress from something blank to something colorful, and you can feel like an artist.”
No one in this room is the next Picasso or has ambitions of selling artwork anytime soon. But for an hour or so, they feel like art isn’t something to look at from afar. For Jensen and Meyrer, and others who have bought into the "coloring is for grown-ups, too" trend, art is suddenly something they can easily do.
“It’s a way to be artistic that doesn’t take a lot talent,” said Amy Sisul, who works at the library. “Everyone wants to believe they have a creative side, and this is an easy way to get at that.”
Look inside any grocery store or Amazon's best-selling lists, and you'll find an adult coloring book. Most weeks, a crop of coloring nights are offered at a variety of Quad-City venues. By now, it's safe to say that coloring is no longer age-exclusive.
And according to some local creative-types, these coloring books, as well as things like wine and painting classes, tap into the root of what art is all about — creating for the sake of creating.
Rowen Schussheim, chair of the art department at Augustana College, isn’t surprised by the trend, which she says “exploded” over the past year or so. She uses the books as inspiration in her drawing classes.
“We all have a natural craving to be expressive and creative,” Schussheim said. “Everyone likes to doodle, but we don’t always have an excuse to do that.”
While coloring involves decision-making (what kind of book, which page, what colors), it’s not so much about being productive.
“It's not a task you have to complete or something stressful. There are so many ways we stress ourselves out throughout the day, and then we text or sit in front of a screen, and we don’t really relax,” she said. “I think when you’re being creative, you can really feel re-energized.”
In fact, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say adult coloring could be the new meditation. Last year’s boost in print-book sales came largely from adult coloring books, according to an article in Fortune. And, coloring-book covers tout benefits such as “stress-relieving” and “sleep better” and “good vibes.”
Schussheim says those ideas seem to hold true.
“Any activity like that, such as knitting, can be stress-relieving,” she said. "You don't have to really think about it."
Although some coloring books have higher-brow subject matters, others revolve around characters from TV shows or boy bands. One, more “adult” line of books, features different curse words with the motto “color the things you can’t say.”
Whatever the patterns are, they serve as a good starting point for wannabe-artists.
“Starting with a coloring book page is way less intimidating than a blank page," Schussheim said. "I think that's part of why it's so popular right now."
These kind of trends tend to bridge the gap to the "scary world of art," said Tim Schiffer, director of the Figge Art Museum.
“Sometimes, people have a perception that it’s too intimidating to like art,” he said. “But there’s so many entry points, and we like to think there’s something for everyone in the art world.”
For example, the museum recently launched an exhibit featuring sculptures crafted out of Legos. They often host wine and art classes, as well as guided tours, during the week.
"We're trying to break down the barrier," he said. "There are so many things you could do to appreciate and celebrate art. And I think it's important to do that."
And Virginia Cooper, curator at Muscatine Arts Center, said the more interactive you can make art, the better. They have a family-friendly exhibit called "Step into art" currently.
“You’re always targeting something people can do hands-on rather than just something to stare at quietly,” she said. “It brings in a different crowd than the people who are there to see the French Impressionist paintings.”
Joe Taylor, president of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, has noticed more classes like this pop up and decided to try one on Monday.
“It seems like they are everywhere all of the sudden,” he said. “It seems like most entertainment bombards you with sights and sounds, and it’s overwhelming. So, this is appealing because it’s something we know from childhood and crosses over."
Schussheim has experienced it for herself: sitting with a stack of markers and a mapped-out page can be cathartic. And, put simply, it can be an escape.
“You forget about everything else,” Schussheim said. “Our lives have become stressful, so it’s a relief to sit and get into the zone and zen of it. That’s what art is at its core — getting into the zone.”