Despite their recent burst of popularity, the first coloring books go back several centuries. Here is a short history of coloring books.
Although people in the early 1600s were apparently fond of coloring in the illustrations that were included along with a popular volume of poetry, the real precursors to modern coloring books were typically created to teach affluent people how to paint. After all, painting was often considered a skill that educated aristocrats need to acquire. The illustrations in these books were made using woodcuts or copper plates, which made them expensive to produce. As a result, painting books for children were few and far between.
However, advances in technology eventually changed that. The lithograph made it cheaper and easier to produce quality illustrations. The lack of modern copyright laws also helped speed up the process by allowing publishers to “borrow” from one another without running into any serious legal problems and they did so quite freely during those years. In addition, the early 1900s was the period that parents started being encouraged to provide their children with creative outlets.
The Little Folks’ Painting Book was eventually published by the McLoughlin Brothers in 1879. It featured the works of the popular artist Kate Greenaway, who may or may not have supported their efforts. Even so, the company went on to produce a number of similar publications in the decades that followed, before they were bought out by Milton Bradley.
Coloring books were traditionally filled in with watercolors or other paints. However, crayons started becoming popular around the 1930s and eventually became the design implement of choice for youngsters. After all, crayons were and are a lot less messy than paints. So it was even easier for busy parents to clean up after their young artists were finished with their work.
From the beginning, coloring books have featured popular comic book characters and they have been frequently used to advertise popular films. Botanic illustrations, classic cars, and scenic spaces have also been commonly seen in adult coloring (and painting) books. However, creative entrepreneurs throughout history have also used coloring books to promote products and services that may not have even appealed to the children that were typically filling in the pages.
During the 1960s, some coloring books started taking a political turn. A particularly popular one featured the Kennedy family. Others published around the same time were far more controversial and presumably intended for adult audiences. These included one that portrayed policemen as pigs and another that focused on female anatomy as part of its creator’s feminist agenda. The political trend in coloring books has continued to this day with modern ones focusing on events like the election of President Obama.
From the very beginning of their existence, coloring books have been used for educational purposes. Learners of all ages have benefited from their inclusion in various classroom settings. As it turns out, coloring books are particularly helpful as a non-verbal means of communication, making them ideal for children who can’t speak well and those who don’t speak the same language as their teachers. Coloring books are also useful at illustrating complex concepts for older learners, particularly in the math, science, and technology fields.
In recent years, psychiatrists have also decided that coloring books have therapeutic uses. This has undoubtedly led to the growing popularity of adult coloring books. Of course, this new trend is not without its detractors, but it shows no signs of stopping, much less slowing down, anytime soon.