By Ann Baldelli The Day, New London, Conn.
Annie Vanaman started doodling in an effort to quit smoking.
Facing surgery and under pressure to give up cigarettes, Vanaman says, she needed more than a prescription medicine to kick the habit.
So she started doodling, filling notebooks with mindless lines and squiggles and then filling them in -- until she discovered adult coloring books.
Now Vanaman, a 55-year-old Hopkinton, R.I., resident, is one of legions of grownups who spend some of their leisure time coloring in adult versions of books typically associated with little kids clutching crayons.
Last week, six of the top 20 best-selling books on amazon.com were adult coloring books, down from a high of nine in the top 20 in December, during the holiday buying frenzy.
At A.C. Moore in New London last week, the store's foyer was filled with an array of adult coloring books, bright leaded pencils and gel pens, and shoppers crowded around the large display to make their selections.
Vanaman was one of them, choosing a new packet of poster-size sketch sheets.
She did quit smoking, had the surgery, and has continued coloring.
"It's kind of like an escape. The colors have a lot of influence on me," said Vanaman, who said she colors every day. "It's hard to describe, but it's just so relaxing. You go into that world and become one with the color."
Beth Camassar is another devotee.
Following neck surgery in December 2014, Camassar, 69, added coloring to her therapies in an effort to regenerate hand nerves.
"They told me I had to wait six months to two years for the nerves to come back," said Camassar, who said she wants to do everything possible to restore the nerves as quickly as possible and get back to her everyday routines.
No one ever told her to try coloring, but she decided on her own that it was good hand exercise.
She said that while her nerves are not fully regenerated, the coloring has helped improve her printing, which is now smaller, neater and straighter.
"I couldn't even draw a straight line before I started," said the New London wife, mother and grandmother, who used to do calligraphy and needlepoint before losing hand control. "But you can see I've gotten better. I stay inside the lines now."
Camassar prefers the gel pens to pencils (which she has difficulty sharpening) and posts her completed projects on her Facebook page, garnering dozens of "likes."
She's also made a scrapbook of all of her drawings that she shares with family and friends, and some of them have taken up coloring, too.
Her home companion, Nicole Lagasse, said coloring has helped Camassar to focus on her artwork and color selection rather than her inabilities.
"It's a challenge because each time I do want it, I want to make it better than the one before," said Camassar. "And it really does relax you."
A.C. Moore manager Missy Hyde said while adult coloring books have been available for a long time, they have become increasingly popular over the past several months.
"They are the trend right now, and trends happen every couple of months," she said.
Asked who the typical customer is, Hyde said it is a wide range of men and women, young and old.
Customers browsing in the adult coloring book section often comment that they've taken up the activity as a way to unwind, relax or not focus on unpleasantries, she said.
"They've really taken off. They're selling so fast, we have trouble keeping some in stock," Hyde said.
Online and in stores, the selection of adult coloring books covers all possibilities, from the Bible to pets, swirls and mandalas, flowers, henna art, cityscapes, fairies and fantasies, Harry Potter and even swear words.
The designs are more intricate and detailed than coloring books for children, with smaller spaces to fill and a need for a sharp-tipped pen or pencil to complete them.
Twenty-seven-year-old Merideth Payne lives in Salem and works as a medical assistant and said coloring is one way she "de-stresses" after a long day at work.
"Sometimes you just want to unplug from the TV, iPad or phone," she said, explaining that coloring helps her do that.
And if she starts an illustration and decides it's just too difficult or intricate, "I just say, 'OK, I can't do this one,' and I put it aside," she said.
At Lawrence + Memorial Hospital's adult inpatient psychiatric unit, coloring has been offered as an activity for years.
"We don't prescribe it, but we use it as an elective alternative and during free time, if (patients) would like to, there are illustrations and markers and pencils," occupational therapist Valerie Sears said.
"I see them focusing on the now, and staying present," she said. "It helps with focus and concentration. And it distracts them. It takes their minds away from the thoughts that they have been thinking."
A friend of Camassar who is grieving the death of her husband has started coloring, and a customer at A.C. Moore selecting a new adult coloring book said she colors rather than watch the evening news now, which she said depresses her.
The woman declined to give her name, but said she no longer wants to hear stories about things like the plight of Syrian refugees, terrorist attacks in Paris and California, and horrific flooding in the Midwest.
"I can only take so much," she said. "I internalize it, so I've turned off the TV and taken up coloring instead. It's incredibly relaxing and affordable."
Sears said some of her patients continue coloring when they leave her care, and she noted, too, that it is an affordable activity.
"There are just so many choices for so many interests," said Hyde, at A.C. Moore. "From gardening to animals to travel to tattoo pictures, so anyone, male or female, can do it. I bought one for my husband for Christmas," she said.
"My advice is that it's for anybody -- men, women, anybody," Camassar said. "It's a great way to calm down. People should try it."