Johanna Basford, a talented illustrator and artists in the UK, has created a series of coloring books that have become wildly popular, selling more than a million copies. Basford’s beautiful books, which can be found on Amazon, are full of beautiful illustrations of fairytale forests and beasts. Inspired by her childhood visits to her grandparents’ home on the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire in south-western Scotland she draws with found memories.
“Every piece I create starts life as a simple pencil sketch, evolving into a rambling pen and ink drawing usually spanning several sheets of paper. I love the tactile nature of the materials I use and the joy of smudgy fingerprints,” she writes on her website. “For me, computer generated graphics can feel cold and soulless whereas hand drawing captures a sense of energy and character which no pixel can ever replicate.”
One of the first psychologists to apply coloring as a relaxation technique was Carl G. Jüng in the early 20th century. He did this through mandalas: circular designs with concentric shapes similar to the Gothic churches’ rose windows. They have their origin in India.
When coloring, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres, says psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala. “The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
In simplest terms, coloring has a de-stressing effect because when we focus on a particular activity, we focus on it and not on our worries. But it also “brings out our imagination and takes us back to our childhood, a period in which we most certainly had a lot less stress.” This leads us immediately and unconsciously to welfare, exposes the specialist.
“I recommend it as a relaxation technique,” says psychologist Antoni Martínez. “We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state,” he assures. We can also use it to connect with how we feel, since depending on our mood we choose different colors or intensity. “I myself have practiced that. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the color and the lines flow.”
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