Bank Holiday Monday turned out surprisingly restful. And I'm embarrassed to admit why, but, yes, it involved watercolours and a colouring book. I'm now one of the thousands of adults who are colouring things in.
I wasn't just colouring in (she says, defensively). I had a new Leonard Cohen LP (new, as in bought from a retro record shop) on the turntable. So, sitting in a room, listening to Songs from a Room, making room for colour.
There are theories popping up like mushrooms as to why colouring books are so of the moment, the main one being that they're destressing. The Washington Post mentions "digital detox". Some books, such as Colour Yourself Calm are being sold specifically as therapy. Comments on the Independent website ask, "Why can't it just be because it's fun?" after journalist Nash Riggins describes it as "a depressing insight into the terrifying times in which we’re living".
Well, I guess it's all those things. Monday afternoon I was nowhere but in front of that book, listening to that music. All thoughts of where I should be and what I should be doing vanished. However, it's also something else. And there's relevance to gardening, not just because Johanna Basford's The Enchanted Garden is one of the best-sellers and the two books I'm enjoying, published by Michael O'Mara, are Glorious Gardens and Fabulous Flowers.
For anyone with a creative urge to paint but without the training, aptitude or time to produce anything that would make it even close to being clamped to the fridge door, they let you concentrate on just one element: colour.
And what I like about these two books is, not just that they offer patterns, rather than actual scenes, but that the flowers aren't, for the most part, particularly recognisable. A rule-follower as a child, I always found it weird that others might colour the sky red and, even now, confronted with, say, a sunflower, I automatically find myself reaching for yellow (or red, at a push). Though, getting on top of the idea that one can dream, I can say my horizons are widening.
I'm using watercolour pencils (interesting in that they act as both crayons and paints). Frustrated by the limited number of colours, I also dug out my old watercolour paintbox from childhood. Thinking about what colours to use where as I fill in petals, buds and leaves, what tones to use, and creating different shades, experimenting with juxtapositions, using the "wrong" combinations - it's a calming, restful way to get to know how colours work. All grist to the mill for thinking about flower beds.
Perspective and texture are important, of course, but juggling all three can feel defeating. Focusing on just one element is helping me to explore and crystallise ideas on just that one area.
Oddly, I don't remember enjoying colouring as a child. Lots of things got in the way, and not just the rule-following. Pictures were usually pretty dull, I remember, requiring the use of one colour (those self-imposed rules!) on rather large areas. My mother also showed me pictures completed by my great aunt in one of her own childhood books (there, adult colouring, not so new!) and I could never get mine to look that good.
Children generally don't, I think, have motor skills developed enough to produce really good colouring. Well, I didn't - bits would escape the lines, the colours themselves would be uneven. Even felt tips take a bit of handling to ensure that you don't get heavy overlines in one part and tiny white patches of missed paper in others. Developing your skills isn't something you tend to recognise as a kid, so you just think you're rubbish at it.
I can't (and nor can you, looking at the picture at the top) say that I'm much better at the actually colouring now, but crucially, I don't care. It's meditative, relaxing, inspirational and subtly, unimposingly, instructive.
Of Glorious Gardens and Fabulous Flowers, the second will, I think, appeal to those who'd like a slightly more abstract approach and a daintier feel. It also includes the interesting variation of pages with black backgrounds. Glorious Gardens tends to larger, less delicate images. And, if you're still feeling guilty at the potential waste of time, you can cut them up later to make gift tags, cards and wrapping paper.
With over 200 pages waiting for attention between these two books, I may even need a new box of paints!