Such is the booming popularity of adult colouring-in books that it has come to cause a crayon shortage. Earlier this year, Faber Castell, the world’s largest wood pencil manufacturer, announced it was having to run extra shifts at its factories to keep up with demand. Here, Whitcoulls recently revealed that since 2015, colouring-in books have collectively outsold the literary kind, accounting for seven of the their top 20 bestselling titles.
Much has been made of the therapeutic benefits of the endeavour, with the colouring-in craze coinciding with the rise of mindfulness. “One of of the most unexpected and rewarding parts of having my books published is getting emails from people all over the world who have found such profound benefits from my books,” says Thomas Pavitte, a Melbourne-based Aucklander who has created some wildly successful series worldwide. “A lot of people who experience mental health issues have contacted me saying how much the books have helped them. I think it’s a great way for people to relax and focus on a really simple task and then see a piece of art come together which they have created.”
Thomas tells me his mindfulness practice comes in the creation of the drawings, with each piece taking up to two days to complete: “I find it meditative creating them, as I listen to music, radio, or podcasts which keep me motivated.”
A graphic designer by trade, Thomas believes it “vital for my own creative fulfilment” to invest in side projects without the budgetary, time and artistic restraints of client requirements. “Through having my own personal projects,” he says, “it gives me a lot more freedom to experiment with new ideas.”
Such ideas include a collection of fascinating animations and sculptures (which can be seen on his website, thomasmakesstuff.com), but it is his unique colouring-in and dot-to-dot books which have reaped the most reward, shifting hundreds of thousands of copies across the globe.
“My projects often start as personal challenges,” he says. “One of my most popular was a series of experiments with dot-to-dot drawings. My aim was to create more detailed images than the simplistic drawings we all know from our childhoods. I created a number of works around this idea, including a 6,239 dot version of the Mona Lisa that went viral.”
This led to a London publishing deal, with Thomas now having released six books in the 1000 Dot-to-Dot series. Initially, Thomas set about creating the most complex dot-to-dot in the world.
“I couldn’t find anything online, so I decided to set about creating my own record,” he says. “It took about a week to create the artwork for the Mona Lisa. I roughly calculated that it would take me four hours to complete the A0-sized print, but it ended up taking about nine. I applied for it to be recognised by the Guinness World Records, but unfortunately they said it was not something they could measure. But I’m happy to claim the unofficial record!”
Thomas’s follow-up, Querkles, is an intriguing approach whereby detailed images are created by drawing multiple patterns of rings. “One of the things that sets Querkles apart from other colouring books is that people have no idea what image they will be creating,” he says. “The page is covered with circles and it’s only as they start to colour that the subject is slowly revealed.”
The concept riffs on the paint-by-numbers notion, and just five hues are need to complete them. “The only rule is that the colours must range from a dark to a light tone,” Thomas says. “I have seen people experiment in really interesting ways by using charcoal, crosshatching, and even coffee as the ink.”
The colouring-in does not even have to be particularly precise, with many of the rougher finishes often giving the most expressive results from afar: “I really enjoy checking out Instagram every day to see new images that people have created.”
Having inspired so many others to get creative, I ask Thomas who most moves him.
“Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are two of my favourite artists. I really admire the simplicity of their ideas, how bold and vibrant their pieces are. I was lucky enough earlier this year to visit The Broad museum in LA and see their art in the flesh. It was such an incredible experience.”
With so much now created digitally, do you believe it’s more important to promote a more old-school approach?
“I’ve always had a huge appreciation for low-tech ideas. As a designer you learn that the strongest ideas are often the ones that can be represented in a simple way. I’m really interested in technology and love seeing new developments, but I have never seen anything that can replicate the human approach. Witnessing things created by hand rather than machines is a much more relatable experience.”
Thomas’s success stems from the marrying of maths and art, his two favourite subjects at school. “I think the work that I am doing today is a combination of the two interests,” he says. “There is a lot of geometry and numbers in both book series that I have published. I also owe a lot to the Whanganui School of Design where I graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Graphic Design. The school has an emphasis on experimental design and I learned how much fun you can have with creativity.”