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Coloring books for adults hit the best-seller lists, and the libraries

Joseph Marrone of Florida uses markers to color

Joseph Marrone of Florida uses markers to color faces at the Student Center at Hofstra University. Photo Credit: Marísol Diaz

Coloring is no longer just child’s play.

At craft shops, bookstores and even college campuses around Long Island, the pastime usually associated with tots and toddlers has extended its reach.

Adult coloring books are in such great demand that retail giants like Barnes & Noble and Michaels craft stores have created individual displays for them during the holiday season. Elwood Public Library in East Northport is among the latest local venues to host a free coloring event for grown-ups. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, and will become a recurring series depending on the response, organizers say.

So what’s the big draw? The possibilities provided by the pages in each coloring book are endless, and some enthusiasts and experts think coloring offers a therapeutic creative outlet.

“We’ve advanced from thinking coloring is just for children,” says Joan Bloomgarden, a therapist and director of Hofstra University’s creative arts therapy graduate program, “because we see it serving more than one purpose — of socialization, of being inclusive, of the time you put toward completing a positive experience.” Christin Corwin, community business development manager for the Barnes & Noble outlet in Carle Place, says the bookseller noticed a surge in demand for adult coloring books last summer. She adds that the store responded by stocking coloring books featuring everything from elaborate designs to artistic medallions to seasonal collections. The books are typically priced between $5 and $20.

Adult coloring books have even landed on the Amazon and New York Times best-seller lists. “Secret Garden,” a 96-page coloring book by Johanna Basford featuring black-and-white ink drawings of trees, birds and flowers, became an international success, selling more than 1 million copies since its release in spring 2013. Laurence King Publishing originally printed just 16,000 copies of “Secret Garden.” Sales exploded and Basford was inundated with feedback via email and on social media from parents and professionals who praised her books as therapeutic and nostalgic. Adult colorers also proudly showcased their work on social media, which experts say contributed to the breakout success of her book.

“There are intricate [geometric] designs called mandalas that I enjoy coloring. I am not coloring pigs and cows,” says Carol Nissenbaum, 54, of East Meadow, who started coloring about six months ago. “There is no right or wrong, you can do whatever you like, and there are many themed books out there so you can pinpoint your specific interests.”

Nissenbaum, who works as a freelance editor and writer, adds that coloring helps put her at ease after a stressful day. “I find it relaxing and it helps me unwind,” says Nissenbaum, who typically colors before bed. “I can stop in the middle and just pick it up again whenever I want. It’s not competitive and I can do it on my own pace.”

Online adult coloring communities have also sprung up. Nissenbaum uses the app Recolor on her iPad. With a tap of a shade from the coloring tools, she can change individual areas of a picture. She regularly prints the finished pieces or posts them online.

Amy Russell, 57, of Port Jefferson Station, a business owner and legal assistant, has been coloring for the past year, and spends about six hours a week doing it.

“Coloring helps get my creative juices flowing, which ultimately helps when I am designing a website or brochure,” Russell says, adding that she also enjoys coloring with friends.

When coloring becomes a group activity, Bloomgarden says, the crayons can even help widen someone’s social circle.

“In some sense, people of all abilities can get together,” Bloomgarden says. “Someone who is quiet and reserved can participate in a group where someone is very active and able.”

Zack Davis, a junior at Hofstra University, was reintroduced to coloring by classmate Elisabeth Diana during their freshman year. “It’s an activity that brings you back to your childhood and reminds you of youthful fun,” says Davis, 20, an Ohio native.

Last fall, Diana started a coloring club dubbed In the Lines at the university, with about 15 members. Diana has been coloring since she was a child, though not as frequently when she was in middle school and high school. When she went away to college, Diana brought her coloring books with her. Soon she was coloring regularly with her friends in the residence halls.

“We were doing this before it became ‘a thing,’ ” Diana, 20, of Smithtown, says. “It’s a great way to spend time with people. It’s relaxing. It’s inexpensive. And now, there are more challenging books for adults.”

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