The adult colouring books craze

In the current flurry of shiny big-ticket releases, Indian indie artists are joining the genre

In August last year, Indu Harikumar, a Mumbai-based artist, self-published 200 copies of a colouring book for adults titled Beauty Needs Space: A Colouring Book For Big Children. In an interview to the Bangalore Mirror at the time, the 36-year-old artist had said, “I don’t think Indian publishers will do this." Her limited edition book, however, became an instant favourite with those who chanced upon it. It was filled with detailed sketches of a girl with free flowing hair, floating over gardens filled with flowers and clouds. The idea struck when she was told to disregard her body image issues. “Beauty needs space," she was told. Word of mouth, and ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of the first few pages that she put out on Facebook ensured that her book became an important milestone in the adult colouring book trend in India.

Indu Harikumar, writer and artist, photographed at her home in Navi Mumbai on February 27, 2016. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Indu Harikumar, writer and artist, photographed at her home in Navi Mumbai on February 27, 2016. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Page 7 (Lion of Lannister) of The Official A Game of Thrones Colouring Book, George RR Martin, published by Harper Voyager. Credit: Tomislav Tomić; and cover of Penguin Random House & Good Earth’s colouring book Bagh-e-Bahar. Courtesy: Penguin Random House
Page 7 (Lion of Lannister) of The Official A Game of Thrones Colouring Book, George RR Martin, published by Harper Voyager. Credit: Tomislav Tomić; and cover of Penguin Random House & Good Earth’s colouring book Bagh-e-Bahar. Courtesy: Penguin Random House

But it’s not just the “colourers" who get a sense of fulfilment through colour-in projects. Evidently, this is true for artists too. After she released Beauty Needs Space in 2015, Harikumar started receiving tweets from colour-happy grown-ups, which she says made her feel connected to her audience. Then they started sending her photos of coloured-in pages from her book. “I had never thought of the black-and-white sketches in my project as unfinished endeavours, to begin with. But seeing my creations become a medium where I can invite others to add to it…it feels like my art has grown from just being informed by my own ideas and limited experiences, to being enriched by someone else’s ideas," she says.

This is especially relevant given the surge in publishers adapting movie and book franchises into colouring books. The stress-busting pitch is now only a starting point. “When you are working with a Game of Thrones [colouring book], you are working with your understanding of the genre itself, as well as with your own personal history of engagement with the characters. In that sense you are not working with a blank canvas any more, as you were when just filling [colour into] patterns," says Karthika, whose publishing house has released the colouring book adaption of the TV series A Game of Thrones, and will this May publish The Art of Romance: Mills and Boons, which will feature sketches of the series’ most memorable book covers.

Bengaluru-based independent artist Alicia Souza agrees with Karthika. “Uncoloured does not mean incomplete," she says. Souza, who once worked with popular design start-up Chumbak, now freelances and has set up an online store of her own quirky products. “From a product point of view, the colour-in book is a complete product, but one that also serves its purpose," she says.

Harikumar experienced the magic of this “purpose" when Mauritius-based Anika Naeem stumbled upon her book at a friend’s house and fell head-first in love with it. “Indu is from India. And I am originally from Pakistan. And although her designs are not really ‘Indian’ per say, I felt like I wanted an Indian-Pakistani art piece…" says Naeem, a student of educational psychology, a trained chef and current owner of a sushi café in the island-country. After colouring the intricate illustrations in Beauty Needs Space, Naeem penned in, between the illustrations’ narrow lines, the Urdu verses of Muhammad Iqbal, a poet-barrister in British India regarded by many as the “spiritual father of Pakistan". “The verses are my Pakistani addition to the drawings," Naeem says. Harikumar’s first reaction when she received a photo of Naeem’s finished page was surprise: “I didn’t even know there was enough space for that!"

Both Souza and Harikumar say that they have been approached by several publishing houses. But in the meantime, Aleph will in August publish illustrator Sujaya Batra’s Meditations of the Prophet, based on verses from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and Prabha Mallya’s Fangs and Feathers that take you away to India’s mountains, jungles, and rivers with illustrations of the creatures that live there.

In the meantime, Harikumar is working on a true-to-the-term “adult" colouring book— one that’s based on the Kama Sutra. She is researching her illustrations thoroughly, she says, so as to not fall into the heteronormative trap.

Download these pages from some of these new colouring books:

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