Colour me your Colour Baby

(This post was meant to be about my recent entry into the colouring in world, but I got massively side tracked into an unexpected rant about Julie Burchill, the she-devil journalist, whilst doing a quick bit of research.)

This is my ONE HUNDREDTH POST – I feel that deserves an exclamation mark, as in: Yay for ME, I’ve reached my century/centennial/centenary, in blog writing terms.  However, frequent use of the exclamation mark seems a bit childish don’t you think?  A bit youthfully over the top.   A bit infantile, when I’m middle-aged and currently bathed in a hot sweat.

One of my university English teachers certainly thought so.  In the only bit of tutor-ly advice that has stuck with me down the years, said teacher insisted that we NEVER use the exclamation mark (in a heavy duty Scottish accent.)  That writers should not exclaim about anything.  Exclamation marks are unnecessary, introducing a jarring note into literary proceedings.  NEVER USE IT!!! he’d bellow from across the room, without the exclamation marks of course.

Speaking of infantilism.   Julie Burchill, the exceedingly unattractive (on the inside as well as out) strident feminist recently bemoaned the adult colouring book craze.  Only ‘weedy needy women’ colour in, she claims.  Men don’t go near the things.  In late middle-age (56) Ms Burchill appears to be lightening up on men a bit.   Julie would have us know that women have gone infantile and need to grow up (she’s not the only critic in this respect, but is probably the one filled with most hatred and bile.)  Happily married, grown-up, normal women (like herself) would rather read Porn.  You must take ‘grown-up’ and ‘normal’ with a pinch of salt when discussing Ms Burchill.

Julie is vehement in her criticism of the useless, rubbishy-type women who feel the need to take up a coloured pencil and spend hours getting that flower petal just the right shade.  Her view is that this so called stress reliever is used by women living stress free, never had it so good lives.  Completely ignoring the fact that some of those ‘weedy needy’ women are right now colouring in, as they sit in hospital beds, getting a dose of chemo.  Giving their worn out frazzled brains a chance to focus on something non-threatening, something therapeutic, something calming.  That colouring in clubs have sprung up all over the place, providing friendship in what can definitely be a lonely world.  That non-weedy business women, shift workers, young mothers, teachers, all spend an hour or two colouring in to tidy up their cluttered minds.

To suggest that this is infantile, inherently immature behaviour is wrong.   What it is, is a therapeutic antidote to too much hi-tech ‘noise’. The most common criticism is that colour-inners are not engaged in ‘real’ creativity.  They’re just colouring in someone else’s design and, because a child could do it, then they’re nothing but overgrown babies (Ms Burchill again.)

But look at all the other therapeutic, more accepted non-creative activities.  I’m a knitter, well not so much now, but I used to be obsessive.  The reason it got me hooked was because it’s the ideal pastime when your kids are very young.  You can knit anywhere, anytime, whilst keeping an eye on the kiddiwinks.  And you feel like you’re doing something creative and engrossing, even though you’re working to someone else’s pattern, producing something that is being replicated by thousands of other knitters.  Needlework activities, like tapestry and cross stitch, involve stitching-in someone else’s design and yet no-one is calling these crafts infantile or child-like, even though a child is just as capable of learning how to knit or stitch.

And just as creative people end up producing their own knitting patterns and their own needlework, the artists out there are putting their own stamp on the colouring in movement.

Like statistics, Julie Burchill’s generalisations tend to verge on lies and then damn lies.  Adult colouring books are ‘money for old dope’ is her battle cry.   Let’s take Johanna Basford, the leading and most well-known colouring book artist.  Every one of the images in 33 year old Basford’s books is first hand drawn in pencil, then finished off in pen and ink (again, by hand) before being reproduced by computer for publication.  Her books are works of art.  She takes the time to source paper that will ‘take’ the coloured pencils more effectively and which will give an art quality finish.  Each image to be coloured in represents hours of painstaking hard work in her beautiful studio up in Scotland.  She clearly couldn’t be happier to be her own creative boss, after serving time as a graphic design artist on book covers, iphone apps, handbags, ceramics, wallpaper and packaging.  During her 4 year degree at a Dundee college of art and design (she failed to get into the Royal College of Art, proving yet again that the big hitters in any field regularly fail to recognise talent with populist potential) – Basford worked 14 hour days, feeling that student loans are a kind of privilege which shouldn’t be wasted.

None of this is indicative of someone who is churning out unthinking crap.

Returning to the odious Julie Burchill (who loves to be hated.)  Her rant on adult colouring-in books ends with her fervent hope that she never feels an urge to join the looney colouring in club.  I wonder if Karma might come into play here, rather like it did in June of last year.  Last year Ms Burchill’s 29 year old son killed himself.   Her remaining son appears to loathe her and she, in turn, never mentions him.  On hearing of her son’s death (she hadn’t seen him for a year) Julie wrote an In Memoriam piece, which managed to be almost completely about herself, donating her fee to two suicide charities; one specifically preventing male suicide.

Flash back to 1999, when her tragic, mixed up son was 13 and Julie Burchill wrote this about male suicide:

“”That young men succeed in suicide more often than girls isn’t really the point. Indeed, the more callous among us would say that it was quite nice for young men finally to find something that they’re better at than girls…””


“The last time I suggested that suicides should be left to get on with it, I received a small number of letters from people whose sons had killed themselves. All of them demanded an apology. I’d advise them this time to save their stamps because, you see, I don’t care.”

Perhaps her brand of cruel, bitchy, illogical feminism has now been tempered by harsh reality.  But I’m leaving Julie in the wings, she’s taken centre stage on this blog post for too long.

Last December I bought Johanna Basford’s Enchanted Forest as a gift for son No. 1’s friend.  I flicked through it in Sainsbury’s and thought, this is weird, appears to be full of black and white pictures (I had no idea you coloured them in) but they look very nice and there’s something about it being some sort of puzzle.  So I forked out roughly £9 (which seems amazingly good value considering we know the amount of work that goes into these things) and forgot all about it.  On a recent holiday up North I then re-discovered Johanna Basford in a local Smiths, realised it was a colouring book and decided it was just the thing to pass inactive time up North, and got instantly hooked.  I do happen to be ‘weedy and needy’ so, in my case, Ms Burchill was spot on.

I realised I needed crayons (I now know to call them ‘coloured pencils’) and got myself a set of 24 kids Crayola crayons (£5) – BIG MISTAKE.  After rapid perusal of YouTube videos, submitted by proper artists showing us lesser mortals exactly how we should be colouring in,  I realised that Crayola was way too infantile for this level of infantile adult colouring in, and bought a set of Faber-Castell pencils (£9 on offer.)

faber castell

These too were not doing a good enough job, in that my professional colouring in people were using artistic techniques like ‘shading’, ‘blending’, ‘burnishing’ etc which required artist quality pencils and a set of 36 at the very minimum.  A set of 36 artist quality faber-castell pencils costs £54.  Even I’m not that mad (many weedy needy colour-inners are however.)  Happiness was reached when I discovered that W H Smith do 36 artist quality pencils for £7!!  (apologies to the uni tutor)  And these pencils are the real deal.


I follow the delightfully named Henny de Snoo-van Breugel on YouTube.  Henny, a former architect with graphic design experience, thinks nothing of spending 100 hours colouring in one Johanna Basford page.  Her videos last an hour and feature her disembodied hand, as it colours, and the soothing sound of her Netherlands’ based voice – I recommend them if you suffer from insomnia.  Henny has taught me the importance of layering colour upon colour and below is one of her masterpieces – so layered that the paper began to fall apart she tells us.

secret garden

Here are a few of my coloured in efforts.  I find that the number one difficulty is colour choice.  Once you’ve coloured in one page it becomes more and more difficult to choose a colour palette (as those of us who colour in call it) for the rest of the book.

coloured owl

coloured birds

coloured boat



coloured pumpkins

Unlike Henny I don’t colour in the backgrounds but am experimenting with that in the last pic featuring sheds.

One very good result of joining the adult colouring craze is that I’ve discovered that art quality pencils are probably just as good as acrylic paint for producing portraits/art work, and am thinking of drawing my own pictures to colour in.  This thought evidently also struck the lovely Henny de Snoo-van Breugel (you can’t say or type that name enough times) as the moderate success of her YouTube channel has led to a request to create her own colouring book, which should be available for purchase.

I don’t know how long my colouring in habit will last – hopefully until Christmas when Johanna Basford is set to release a book full of yuletide scenes.   I can’t think of a better Christmas present.  I might just send Julie Burchill a copy through the post.








2 thoughts on “Colour me your Colour Baby

  1. Hi Henny. How on earth did you find my invisible blog?! I wouldn’t have written about you if I’d thought there was any chance of you reading it!! I hope you don’t mind the ‘tone’ of my writing, I write with humour at all times. Your videos don’t put me to sleep 🙂 No need to thank me for including you in the post 🙂


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