Coloring books for adults have exploded onto the bookstore scene in the past two years.
What was once considered a hobby for the kids is now
all the rage for people who are full-grown.
While the most popular books out there feature images of gardens,
forests and beautiful patterns, Ave Maria Press and Catholic artist
Daniel Mitsui are creating adult coloring books that draw from something
else: the tradition of medieval Catholic art.
Mitsui, who lives in Chicago with his wife and their three children,
specializes in ink drawing and describes his style as very graphic, with
“precise edges and sharp outlines.” He’s heavily inspired by Catholic
art from the 14th and 15th century, but is also influenced by the
graphic elements of Japanese art, particularly with how it treats light
While Mitsui told CNA that he hadn’t paid much attention to the adult
coloring book trend at first, he has done a lot of work in black and
white, which works well for the medium. He would print a lot of images
in black and white and then color them in to sell as hand-colored
images, and he would give his children the extra prints, or the prints
that didn’t turn out just right, for them to color.
“I would save all of the ones that didn’t pass my quality control,
and I would give them to my kids to color at Mass,” he told CNA.
“I have small children who have a hard time paying attention so I
would give them some of these coloring sheets. And friends of mine
started asking for them and I thought, you know, I should really make
this available to the public.”
With this in mind, Mitsui started adding the black and white images –
usually of saints or other religious images – to his website, so that
parents could access them for their kids and leave a little donation.
Almost immediately, he was contacted by Ave Maria publishing company
about creating a book for adults.
His first book features images from the mysteries of the rosary.
Mitsui had been privately commissioned for a project on the rosary a few
years back, and so he said it was easy to compile those images and
create a coloring book with a unifying theme.
Faced with quick success, he soon began planning for another book,
featuring colorable images of the Saints. While the book includes many
of the main players – the Virgin Mary, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Michael
the Archangel – it also includes some more obscure figures like St.
Robert of Newminster, St. Gobnait, and St. Hugh of Lincoln.
While many of Mitsui's images in the coloring books come from
privately commissioned pieces he’s done in the past, some of them also
come from images he's created as part of lessons for his children, who
Mitsui added that he finds it unnecessary to divide coloring books
into categories for children and adults. Children deserve, and equally
enjoy, the beautiful and more intricate images that are often only
marketed to adults, he said.
“I don’t think that you should say well, we have these really
sophisticated coloring books with detailed art, and we’re going to give
these to adults, and then we present things that have artwork in them
that we don’t really think is that good, and then give those to kids,”
“There’s so many children’s picture books that are really beautiful
and really sophisticated and intelligent artwork, but they kind of get
drowned out by so many ones that are sort of insipid, and I don’t think
that that’s right,” he added.
“Kids like to see detailed images, they can actually appreciate
serious art, and a good way to introduce them to it is to look through
what coloring books are being sold for the adults.”
The sudden upsurge in the popularity of coloring books for adults has
fascinated everyone from researchers to art therapists to yoga and
Mitsui said he’s excited about the trend, because it may mean that
more adults are acknowledging their desire to express themselves
“It seems there’s an idea that a lot of adults have that drawing or
making art is something that you do when you’re a child, and then unless
you become a professional you kind of give it up,” he said. “And I
think that’s just sort of a poverty...I don’t know why there’s a
reluctance on the part of so many adults to create artwork.”
Drawing used to be the fashionable thing for adults to do in the
Victorian era, he added.
Many adults, particularly women, had their own
sketchbooks and honed their drawing skills.
Some of these sketchbooks
have been preserved, and some of the work is quite good.
“I think what that demonstrates is that a lot of what goes into being
an artist is skill that is learnable with practice,” Mitsui said.
“People have this idea that somehow when it comes to art, you’re given
this measure of ability from the beginning and you can never do anything
to increase or decrease that, and I don’t think that’s true.”
For Catholics in particular, a Catholic adult coloring book is a way
to become familiar with the rich tradition of Catholic art in a way that
is different than viewing a painting in a museum, he said.
“The Catholic church has such a superabundance of wealth in terms of its
artistic tradition, that sometimes it can get lost when it’s just sort
of viewed as data,” he said.
“I’m interested in medieval religious art, and I think the art of
that era certainly is very rich in terms of what it can teach you about
the Catholic religion in that it’s very precise theologically, it
corroborates the writings of the Church fathers, it corroborates the
liturgy. So you see all of the Catholic tradition more clearly if you’re
familiar with its presentation,” he said.
Having a book that you’re able to look at closely, and an image that
you’re engaging not just with your eyes but also your hands, forces you
to slow down and really concentrate on the image, he added.
“It’s a way to train yourself to really look at art and I think to
really look at anything,” he said. “That more concentrated vision is
something that is quite peculiar to a mass media age.”