Coloring craze sweeps over Austin

Meetups thrive as area stores struggle to keep pencils, books on shelves.

On a recent chilly evening, a crowd packed the inside of Gourdough’s Public House. But the adults inside the restaurant weren’t there to savor the slow-cooked chicken and doughnut hole dumplings or the other decadent offerings on the menu. They were there to color.

Austinites squeezed into Gourdough’s armed with color pencils and fine markers as part of an adult coloring book meetup. Colorists filled the bar, restaurant and patio areas, and when there wasn’t any space left, some people camped out in a corner and started coloring on the floor.

“I’m addicted,” said Cam Ray, 48. Coloring has served as a meditative escape for her since she picked it up last summer.

Austinite Ariana Mahoney said that while she used to color in high school to relax, nowadays she doesn’t take the time to color on her own. Coloring with others at Gourdough’s helped her remember why she loved it. “It takes me back to childhood,” Mahoney, 23, said.

The coloring book craze, which many say was sparked after the publication of Johanna Basford’s “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” in 2013, hasn’t slowed down. Some enthusiasts who once only colored at home are now venturing out and meeting other coloring partners in crime at meetups and coloring clubs.

At Recycled Reads on Burnet Road, a coloring club called Colorsome: Adult Coloring Group gets together the last Sunday of every month. Local creative studio MindCanvis, which released its debut coloring book “Spirit Animals” last fall, periodically hosts meetups around town like the one at Gourdough’s.

In Austin, coloring books that feature everything from mandalas to scenes of the city can be found at places like BookPeople and Toy Joy. At Michaels arts and craft stores, supplies have been flying off the shelves. “We started running out of color pencils since before Christmas,” said Jessica Lucero, customer service manager at Michaels on Brodie Lane. Customers often purchase coloring books at the Barnes & Noble store next door and then, she says, head to Michaels for their drawing materials. “It’s been crazy,” she said. “And it’s not slowing down.”

Sales for coloring books at BookPeople were 15 times higher during the recent holiday season compared to the 2014 holiday season, according to Elizabeth Jordan, the bookstore’s buyer and inventory operations supervisor. “There have always been trends, but not so much trends that are craft-based,” Jordan said. “I haven’t seen anything take off quite this quickly.”

Austin-based artist Carlos Gonzalez, the illustrator behind the “Spirit Animals” coloring book, says doodling or coloring with his son has always helped him relieve anxiety, so it doesn’t surprise him when people tell him that coloring his designs do the same for them.

Gonzalez and his business partner Enrique Macias, who are longtime buddies from El Paso, co-founded MindCanvis Publishing last October. Initially they offered one of Gonzalez’ coloring book designs as a free download and posted it on Facebook coloring group pages. Within a few hours of posting, they received about 500 requests to download the page.

Macias said that with our constant digital connection, “Coloring offers the ability to be creative in a different way.” The book’s theme also resonated with coloring book enthusiasts. “There’s an emotional connection to spirit animals,” Gonzalez said.

Round Rock resident Nicole Duden turned to coloring after experiencing health issues and said it helped her learn a lot about herself. Now she colors two to three times a week.

Duden said that at first she approached coloring in a literal way, coloring things like horses, for example, exactly how a real horse should look. That’s changed as she’s given herself the freedom to experiment. After all, she said, “There’s no wrong way to color.”

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