Relive Your Childhood, Relieve Stress With Art Geared For Adults

By Emily Carrigan Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

Most people can probably recall a time during their childhood when they could spend hours coloring the pages of a blank coloring book, splashing paint across a canvas or completely engaged in making a piece of pottery.

Whether it's coloring or going out with friends to paint at a bar, there is a growing market that caters to providing adults with opportunities to create art reminiscent of their childhoods -- usually in an environment that is therapeutic or relaxing.

Dawn Boyer, a Virginia Beach resident, learned about adult coloring books on Facebook when she saw that Johanna Basford's "Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book" became a best seller.

The more she browsed online, Boyer said she found that there were a lot of coloring books on the market, but not a lot that catered to adults.

"I saw that as a market that could be explored and added to," Boyer said. "So I said, 'I'll just create the coloring books, put them out there and see what happens.'"

After this, her "Big Kids Coloring Books" took off.

"All the sudden people started buying it, so I thought, 'OK, I'm on to a good thing here.'"

Boyer published her first coloring book about a year ago, but today, the market has grown so that when you walk into a big-box bookstore, you can find aisles and tables dedicated solely to coloring books for adults.

In a statement, Boyer cited research that indicates a correlation between the joys of coloring and pleasant memories of childhood that "brings out the kid in all of us."

"I realized there are folks who are not professional artists, but who love finishing these types of work with their personalized colors," Boyer wrote.

Boyer has published 24 adult coloring books using some of the hundreds of sketches she has created and saved throughout her life.

Her most recent book, "Big Kids Coloring Book: Fairy Houses and Fairy Doors," was released in July. She created one variation that has double-sided pages for crayons and colored pencil and another single-sided page book for wet medium like paint or markers.

"More and more people are realizing coloring is a relaxing way to de-stress at the end of a long workday or as an activity to keep their hands busy while listening to music or watching television," Boyer wrote.

Amber Kennedy, marketing director at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, recalls seeing her mother work on coloring books when she was younger.

"When I was a child, my mom had coloring books of mandalas and tessellations that she would do while I did my homework and it was just a total practice in Zen activity," Kennedy said.

Boyer noted that art therapists will use coloring techniques to treat patients with stress-related issue, such as Jenn Abrams, an art therapist at Creative Counseling Center in Newport News.

"Art therapy would be utilizing art and various art media as a way to communicate and articulate things, feelings and emotions nonverbally to channel difficult experiences and the emotional attachment in a less threatening way than verbal communication," Abrams said.

Abrams has found that art therapy helps her clients, who are typically seeking help after experiencing a trauma or series of traumas, express emotions that are sometimes hard to find the words for in a process she describes as being cathartic and relaxing.

"Sometimes it's the process itself of painting an abstract image and simply moving your arm side to side and making large brush strokes," Abrams said. "There's actually research that has been done that shows that lowers your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure just by doing that movement."

At her practice, Abrams focuses on how the process of doing art can help her clients feel more whole when they're done with a session than when they came in, and even personally resorts to doing art at times to relieve stress or relax.

"Really, if you go back to your own childhood and think about things that were fun and relaxing, why does that ever have to stop?" Abrams said.

The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News offers a variety of ceramics, painting and glass classes specifically for adults who might not necessarily want to stop, or want to pick up the things they enjoyed doing when they were children again.

"We really try to tell people it's not about being the best," Kennedy said. "You'll be amazed at the relief that it brings you just creating something."

Abrams says at her practice, she thinks of art in two ways: art 'is' therapy and art 'as' therapy.

Art 'is' therapy means that her clients benefit from producing something that they can feel proud of.

"The product is therapeutic and the product is good, so somebody has something to feel proud of, they feel successful at the end, they've mastered a skill, they've tried something different and found another way of coping with things," Abrams said.

Art 'as' therapy implies that there is value in the process of making art itself, whether it's a way to express difficult emotions or as a form of relaxation. Kennedy, who has participated in a few art classes at PFAC herself, can attest to how art can be relaxing.

"I know personally, I'm always amazed how just three hours of concentrated effort just gets lost," Kennedy said. "You completely loose that time because you were in a Zen place and you're focusing on everything but work."

While Boyer has noticed that coloring books might be a popular artistic outlet for people who have disabilities, are sick or might have to stay home and take care of sick family members, adult art can have social qualities as well.

Paint Nite is an organization that specializes in social activity. Paint Nites, held at local bars and restaurants, provide participants with step-by-step instructions from a professional artist.

ChaVonne Whisonant said she hosts between five and seven Paint Nite events around the Hampton Roads area each week, and has hosted around 230 events within the past year.

"It's like that favorite elective that you had in school, without the academic portion," Whisonant said. "You actually get to have fun and drink and hang out with friends so I think it's a really great idea."

At her events, it's typical for Whisonant to see mothers and daughters, couples, large groups of women or people who come alone. Paint Nite provides canvases, easels, smocks, paint and paint brushes, and Whisonant provides the party-like atmosphere by playing loud music, encouraging participants to get out of their seats and making sure everyone has a drink.

Whisonant assures her participants that they do not need to be artists to enjoy Paint Nite. Before painting, Whisonant has her participants repeat after her, pledging that they are there to have a good time, not to get frustrated and not say "I messed up" or "can you fix this?"

"I tell my people all the time and I have them repeat after me, 'shapes and lines, you'll be fine,'" Whisonant said. "You've been drawing all your life with every letter that you write, with every heart that you scribble. All these things make up what you need to do this, it's just transferring that skill."

Michele Chase and Shannon Partain are Paint Nite veterans, having attended more than two events. The two laughed when asked if they considered themselves artistic, saying they enjoy Paint Nite because it gets them out with friends.

"We just have a good time," Chase said. "We like painting and drinking and you're with your girlfriends and we get to try different places."

While Paint Nite provides a party-like atmosphere, Starving Artist Studio in Newport News provides a more Zen atmosphere for adults looking to decompress while painting pottery, a canvas or making glass fusion.

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