Are adult colouring books as beneficial as you thought?

If you’ve been exploring the internet, bookstores or hipster coffee shops in the last little while, you’ll be familiar with the concept of the adult colouring book.

Traditionally following a theme of beautiful mandalas, but with a scope as wide-ranging as Drake, Ryan Gosling and alcohol, colouring books are no longer just for kids. Marketed as a stress-relieving wonder, adult colouring books are everywhere, even the UBC Bookstore.

UBC alumna Katie Matthews and her partner Geoff Matthews launched their first travel-themed adult colouring book just before Christmas. The Matthews’ have transformed their own travel photographs into 47 beautifully detailed cityscapes from 29 countries and 10 years worth of travel across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

The couple have been travelling since they met in Taiwan back in 2006. Describing themselves as 'city people,' “Travel Between the Lines” is full of memories of the places the two have been with stories connected to each location.

“I had this romantic notion that I would sit in front of the Eiffel Tower all day and sketch it,” said Ms. Matthews. “When we got there, I found that it was too overwhelming to be able to draw and sketch the way that it looked in my mind.” This is how they came up with the idea of converting their travel photographs.

The couple are targeting “daydreamers and wanderlusts,” according to Mr. Matthews. Moving from careers in sales and corporate recruiting respectively, the couple wanted to use their memories of places that they had visited and loved.

“We had these amazing photographs of all these places,” said Ms Matthews. “We didn’t take the photographs with the intention of making the book, but we used what we had as a way to share it.”

One reason colouring books are so popular in the lives of busy adults is the stress relief that is inherent to the meditative process of colouring. However, Dzung Vo, clinical assistant professor at the UBC hospital, suggests that mindless colouring is no more useful than any other mindless activities — what makes it a ruminative process is the act of meditating on the art itself.

“I think any activity can be done mindfully or unmindfully,” he said. “It’s not so important what the activity is — whether it’s colouring or walking — what’s more important is the quality and the presence you bring to the activity. If you’re colouring, pretending or suppressing what’s going on, then that’s not mindful.”

The intention of the colouring book was not, in fact, to provide a stress relief initially, but a byproduct of the publication.

“It’s amazing how quickly time passes when you’re colouring,” said Mr. Matthews. “I was new to the whole thing when we first started this, but I can sit in a cafe and suddenly an hour’s gone by. It is kind of stress relieving no matter how you do it.”

The 2,000 year-old tradition of mindfulness stems back to ancient Buddhist traditions in Taiwan and Japan, according to Vo. It is a perfect coincidence that “Travel Between the Lines” focuses on travel in all domains.

“Mindfulness is a very ancient thing and everyone has the capacity to be mindful,” said Vo. “It’s not exclusive to any particular group of people or religion – mindfulness is not exclusive to Buddhism and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to be mindful.”

Although not intentionally oriented towards the mindful, meditative state of other adult colouring books, Vo believes that mindfulness can be incorporated in everyday life. Citing mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, he defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

Just as the process of creating the colouring book seemed a natural progression from their travel photos for the couple, Vo emphasised that mindfulness should begin to feel an ordinary part of everyday life with practice.

The couple have plans to keep traveling and taking pictures with the eventual aim to create books representing every place they visit.

“I want to become the Lonely Planet of colouring books,” said Ms. Matthews. “I want to have a book for every country.”

The book is available on and in the UBC Bookstore. Geoff and Katie can be found at their blog, Wandertooth.

With files from Jennifer Hong.