A Coloring Book That Will Drive You Crazy

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Steven Guarnaccia, author, illustrator, sartorialist and teacher at Parsons School of Design, always loved coloring books and paint-by-number books. “I LIKED coloring inside the lines, and I collect old coloring books today,” he recently told me. “But I, like I imagine a number of my fellow illustrators, was dismayed by the mania for contemporary coloring books — the utter witlessness of them, and the sense of them giving people something to do with their hands that wasn’t employing their minds in any way. They seemed a product of a desperate need to kill time in an unplugged, disengaged, mindless rather than mindful, way. I was somewhat surprised that there weren’t any smart and conceptual new coloring books out there.”

Them is fighting words. Especially, given that for the past four or five years adult coloring books, designed to reduce stress, have taken the market by storm and carved out a strong revenue stream. But Guarnaccia put his wit where is pen was when he created the anti-anti-stress coloring book titled “Red Riding Hood’s Hood: The Stress-Inducing Coloring Book.”

He teaches a zine class at Parsons, “Pictozine,” so it was made in the zine spirit, printing just enough to share with friends. “Though I’d make more if the interest was there,” he says.

Putting on his educator’s hat, Guranaccia notes: “The truth is, there had already been a coloring book revival aimed at adults, in the 1960’s: they were campy, as in the reprints of the images from Alice in Wonderland and satiric like The Executive Coloring Book (from 1961) and The John Birch Society Coloring Book. Even Barbara Streisand got in on that first craze with her hit LP, Color Me Barbra. That first revival in the 60’s took a forgotten form from childhood (not unlike the 70’s paper doll fad that brought us paper doll movie stars and drag queens, many by paper doll legend Tom Tierney) and applied it to a satiric purpose.”

All printed versions of this are hand colored.

Asked if coloring books clinically lessen stress, Guarnaccia speculates that commercial ones are probably a distraction, at best. “These new coloring books seem to speak to a sad state of affairs, where we’re encouraged to pick up a colored pencil and disconnect form the world. Mine I figured would stress the colorer out — after all, what’s more annoying than filling in large areas with just one color?”