Artist and Adult Coloring Books

2020 update: I no longer have time for coloring books, but my overall recommendation: colored pencil works on all, and a few may have paper that can work with light watercolor or markers.

Coloring books have been all the rage lately – everyone’s talking about them! Check out the articles in Huffington Post and Parade, just for a few. It’s as though the rest of the world is finding out what we as artists and crafters have always known – coloring is relaxing!

What is the straight skinny? From Urban Dictionary: the bare, whole, and honest truth about a situation.

As I’ve shared some of the pages colored in my books, I’ve received lots of the same questions – and this post is an attempt to answer them. Please watch the video and then read info below in this ginormous post. (Did I say ginormous? I think it needs to be in all caps like GINORMOUS!)

This is a long video so pull up a chair!

The Questions

  1. Which books are good for which medium? Every book is on different paper. Some are thinner or thicker, some are printed on one side or two. You need to test for yourself – generally colored pencil on all, and others maybe a few other mediums.
  2. Which ones bleed through the back of the paper? Pretty much all of them, just some minimal exceptions. I always put a piece of cardstock behind whatever I am coloring or painting in the book. However – consider there are a LOT of pages in each book, and think about how fast you color. How many months worth of coloring joy do you have with just coloring one side? Question answered.
  3. Can I treat the paper with anything to keep it from warping? Some folks use different art mediums to coat pages first. I find that’s overkill for the way I work; if I want art to be fancier than I can get in a coloring book, I just begin to create a work of art instead and save my mediums for those pieces.
  4. What do you do with your pages when you’re finished? I leave them in the book. Just like I did when I was a kid! To me these are not finished works of art.
  5. If I frame it, will it fade in the light? If you use artist quality mediums, you might be okay; I’m not certain if really awful paper and really lovely paints cancel each other out. If you use regular craft markers, it’ll likely fade – so just change the picture out periodically, that’s all.
  6. Will coloring in these help me become a better artist? Yes and no. No because you’ll likely never be coloring on these papers in your regular art or craft projects. Techniques need to be altered, sometimes drastically, to work in these books. But YES because any time spent with a pen or brush in your hand is a good thing, right? I try out color combos in my coloring books – that’s a great way to learn how colors look together.
  7. Can I flatten a page that got crinkly with water? Try ironing it carefully between sheets of copy paper. However if you use anything thick, or paints with mica, those may iron off on the copy paper.

The Mediums: Test yours!

We as artists and crafters have a variety of mediums at our disposal. These books, though, were made for a general audience – people who pick up pencils or crayons at the drug store. Keep that in mind as you try things out! Dedicate your least-favorite page in a book to testing and try out all the mediums, keeping good notes on what it was and how you applied it. I’ve listed below a bunch of ideas – but please, try out what you have! Don’t make it hard on yourself, unless Santa needs to tuck an item into your stocking, of course, just put it on your Christmas list! 

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  • Crayons: Why not! Just get a good sharpener.
  • Pencils: I like Prismacolor pencils and Polychromos – but with coloring books – use whatever kind you like. Cheap ones from the drug store are usually just fine. With most coloring books, you’ll use up a lot of the medium, and lots of folks don’t want to use up expensive brand pencils. For a sharpener, I love the Quietsharp.
  • Fineline Pens: Before getting to markers, let’s talk pens. Some of the books, as you’ll see below, have either areas you can zentangle (doodle) in – or they have SUCH tiny sections to color that you really do need a tiny nib!
  • Watercolor Pencils: With these, color on the paper, then move the color around with a damp brush. There are some less expensive pencils available but these provide the best color:
  • Water-based Markers: There are lots of options here! Try coloring both on the paper, and test coloring on an acrylic block or a piece of plastic and picking up color with a brush. Again, lots of brands out there.
    • Tombow: they seem to work most consistently and break down into watercolor best across different books; the brush nibs seem to push the color around best on many of the books I tried out.
    • Marvy Le Plume: I love the teeeeny tiny writing nib end! They also have a brush nib – they sometimes pill a little when applied direct-to-paper. But they watercolor pretty nicely.
    • Zig Clean Color Real Brush Markers: These have an actual brush for a nib. On some papers colors blend without water, but not on all. The brush nib can be too wide for tiny detailed areas.
  • Watercolors: These can be as inexpensive as dollar store paints or as high end as you want to go! My favorite two types for coloring books, and again using very little water:
  • Alcohol-based Markers: I wouldn’t recommend these in general for blending in almost any coloring book. The color blends within the fibers of the paper, and there’s not really enough fiber for the color to get into with these thin pages.

Samples

Links aren’t available for most of these years past when this post was made – but the assessment of the brands likely still stands; companies may have changed papers over time but they usually stick with one thing.

Adult Coloring Books Creative Haven

Creative Haven: Least expensive of the ones I tried.  I only have two but I assume they’re all on the same paper. Images are very detailed, lots of cute ones, but blending colors in these is more than a little challenging.

  1. Specs: 64 pages – 8¼” × 11″ (21 cm × 28 cm)
  2. Printing and paper: 31 designs in each book, printed on one side only; pages are perforated. Thin paper.
  3. Authors and designers — there’s a wide collection from a variety of people: African Designs, Art Nouveau Animals, Art Nouveau Designs, Creative Cats, Entangled, Flower Fashion Fantasies, In Bloom,  Japanese Prints, Lotus Designs, Modern Tattoo, Nature, Mandalas, NatureScapes, Steampunk, and Whimsical Gardens
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, and any watercolor medium with very light use of water.
Adult Coloring Books Calm Meditation

Calm and Meditation –  On extremely thin paper, but the lines? Nice heavy lines. I’m going to try some crayon with these since my crayons can probably handle it…stay tuned for the photo above to change out when I get time to do that!

Zolocolor: Designs in this book are widely varied – some loose and scribbly, some geometric, but all very graphical. You can do fun zentangling amid all the shapes, both organic and rigid ones. Some have a lot of black ink, some less. Mediums above: Top/back doodled piece is done with Staedtler Triplus Fineliner, the other two use a mix of Tombow and Marvy LePlume pens, no water.

  1. Specs: 96 pages. 8½” × 11″ (22 cm × 28 cm).
  2. Printing and paper: 46 designs in the book, printed on one side only. Thin paper.
  3. Authors and designers —Byron Glaser and Sandra Higashi.
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, any waterbased pens – the spaces are small so pilling shouldn’t be a bad issue. For Zentangling, the Staedtler or Copic Multiliners are fab.

Charley Harper Coloring Books: Renown illustrator Charley Harper has a unique style that lends well to coloring books – they’re one of the most fun image styles I came across. You can see more of his work HERE….expect a CASE of his style sometime, I think that’d be fun! The paper in this book is thin but has less of a coating than in other books, so I think it’ll have some interesting technique effects – but still limit the amount of water. I want to give this one a go with regular old crayons!

  1. Specs: 64 pages. 9″ × 12″ (23 cm × 31 cm)
  2. Printing and paper: 32 designs in each of the two books, printed on one side only. Thin paper.
  3. Authors and designers —Charley Harper
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, Inktense pencil with light water, crayon, any watercolor medium with very light use of water.

Color Me – There are a few books in this series (Stress Free, Calm, and Happy…pick what YOU need most!), and they’re created by an art therapist as well as an artist – so maybe these have magical powers?! The papers have colored printing on the edges and back sides of most of them. Water or Copic pulls that color through to the front while you’re coloring but seems to dry back fine.

  1. Specs: 208 pages. 8½” × 9½” (22 cm × 24 cm).
  2. Printing and paper: 32 designs in the book, printed on 2 sides with color. Thin paper, slightly slick.
  3. Authors and designers —Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter.
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, most watercolor mediums with very light use of water, test which one works best for you.

Just Add Color – Very interesting designs in these books! Lots of unique modern lines. I picked up the Animals but who knows, I may need more. (Botanicals, Carnival, Circus, Day of the Dead, Folk Art, Geometric Patterns, Mid-Century Modern Animals, and Modern Patterns). The art above was colored in Inktense pencils, using just a little water.

  1. Specs: 64 pages. 8½” × 10″ (22 cm × 25 cm).
  2. Printing and paper: 30 designs in the book, printed on 1 side. A little heavier paper than most.
  3. Authors and designers —Jenn Ski (for this book pictured) and various (other books).
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, most watercolor mediums with very light use of water, test which one works best for you.

Just Add Color – Very interesting designs in these books! Lots of unique modern lines. I picked up the Animals but who knows, I may need more. (Botanicals, Carnival, Circus, Day of the Dead, Folk Art, Geometric Patterns, Mid-Century Modern Animals, and Modern Patterns). The art above was colored in Inktense pencils, using just a little water.

  1. Specs: 64 pages. 8½” × 10″ (22 cm × 25 cm).
  2. Printing and paper: 30 designs in the book, printed on 1 side. A little heavier paper than most.
  3. Authors and designers —Jenn Ski (for this book pictured) and various (other books).
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, most watercolor mediums with very light use of water, test which one works best for you.

Animal Kingdom – A wide variety of image styles. The paper is a nice bright white, so you can get intense colors. Mediums above: Prismacolor pencil moth, mandala in Clean Color pen (limited blending), Prismacolor fox, Copic butterfly floral – flat, no blending on this paper.

  • Specs: 96 pages. 9¾” × 9¾” (25 cm × 25 cm).
  • Printing and paper: 90 designs in the book, printed on 2 sides. Thin paper but bright white.
  • Authors and designers —Millie Marotta.
  • Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, some watercolor mediums with very light use of water.

Secret Garden – one of the most popular books! Detailed illustrations with hidden images, suggestions for drawing images to complete the picture. Above the fish are done in Copic – very light touch to try to get limited blending. Tree is done with Marvy LePlume pens. I have heard there’s a version of this book with heavier paper, but I did not have that one to test.

  1. Specs: 96 pages. 10″ x 9.9″
  2. Printing and paper: 90 designs in the book, printed on 2 sides. Thin paper, an off-white.
  3. Authors and designers —Johanna Basford
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, most watercolor mediums with very light use of water, test which one works best for you. Copic does very limited blending.

Art Therapy – The only books with hard covers. Imagery in the one I have varies widely, taken from stained glass art. Some drawn well, others not so much.

  1. Specs: 128 pages. 8¼” × 11¾” (21 cm × 30 cm).
  2. Printing and paper: 124 designs in the book, printed on 2 sides. Slightly heavier than some papers.
  3. Authors and designers —unknown
  4. Mediums I prefer: Colored Pencil, crayon, most watercolor mediums with very light use of water, test which one works best for you.

Pepin Artist Coloring Books

These are an exception to the rest of the books; I’ve shared about these books before, and I have more information and samples for you now. (See that earlier post HERE – video included).

What makes them different: The paper. It’s lightweight drawing paper. That means it’ll accept mediums in a very different way than the other books listed so far. The illustrations are made with very thin lines and they’re halftone – meaning they’re lighter than black. So your finished piece can look like a no-line painting!

Note that they also have fewer pages, and are the most expensive of the ones included in this review – though spending less than $20 for this much fun is really a deal anyway. (Think about it – if you bought a pad of drawing paper – add on beautiful illustrations – and the cost doesn’t seem nearly so bad, right?) Specs for all these:

  1. Specs: 16 pages. 10″ x 13.5″. (25 x 34.5 cm)
  2. Printing and paper: 16 designs in the book, printed on 1 side. Off white lightweight drawing paper
  3. Authors and designers —Pepin van Roojen
  4. Mediums I prefer: Light watercolor using some kind of water-based markers is my favorite for these books.  They’re large format which makes pencil take a long time, but it’s also gorgeous. Copic doesn’t blend at all, really. But take the bullet/writing nib of a water-based marker, draw along the thin lines of the drawing, then take a just-damp brush and color inside the shape. The color should move with most water-based pens.

Interested in learning more?

Students highly recommend the Colored Pencil Jumpstart class to learn how to select colors, apply them, do some shading and blending, and grasp new techniques! You can use your coloring books for homework rather than buying the stamps, too. Enjoy 10% off with coupon code START!