Coloring pages and coloring books for adults are on the rise, and for a reason you might not expect: coloring and doodling combat stress and calm the mind. The process engages the logical parts of your brain as you work to stay inside the lines as well as the creative engines in your mind as you select colors and how they will work together on the page.
Similarly, relaxing your mind and drawing repetitive patterns or variations on a concept or shape can bring you into a kind of meditative state. Doodling is even sometimes used in cognitive therapy, and research shows it helps improve memory and focus.
To kickstart your doodle-induced relaxation, keep reading to learn some of the best ways to meditate while drawing. Then, I’ll show you how to turn your doodles into printable coloring pages, so you can color your stress away.
How to meditate on paper
My sketch pages are full of variations on one concept. I confess, it is hard for me to doodle abstractly at this stage in my drawing life, but there is something special about making a series of circles or spirals or some other shape that just fill the page in strange and unexpected ways. In my example above, a page full of frogs is just simple and strange enough to let my mind relax.
Often I will put on music, or just doodle while sitting with friends in conversation. It helps to sit comfortably, too, but the most important thing is to reduce your small distractions. If you are having trouble getting started, just follow these simple steps:
Start with a blank page and something to draw with. Keep it simple.
Begin with a shape your hand is familiar with. A circle works great. Remember: keep it simple.
Follow each mark with another, and trust your gut. Maybe smush a bunch of circles together.
Does it feel like there should be some lines? Go ahead. Make those lines. Go nuts.
Give yourself permission to put anything on the page. Fill the page all the way up, or stop when you feel like stopping. Just stay with it until you feel done.
Go on with your day feeling refreshed. The simple act of making marks on a page can do wonders.
The most important thing is to calm your mind. If you find yourself getting tense and worrying that you aren’t doing it right, just take a deep breath and let that self-criticism go. The goal is a kind of zen state where you aren’t really thinking about any one thing. Instead, you are just letting your hand make marks and your mind have thoughts without judgment.
From sketch to coloring page
When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream (sometimes a nightmare) where a dragon occupied our backyard garden and spat flames as I tried to go back into my house. This memory has been on my mind lately, and I have been working on a way to turn it into a children’s book idea. Along the way, I just started drawing dragons in gardens. I thought this topic would make for a good meditative drawing example as well because the plants, grasses and the dragon’s scales are all repeating shapes that make for good space-out doodling.
I started with a pencil-on-paper sketch. I did some relaxed doodling of the hosta plants, day lilies and the dragon’s scales. But I wasn’t overly concerned with precision — I was mostly just doodling. That’s the stress-relieving part.
Next, I scanned my pencil sketch and brought it into Photoshop. I added a layer filled with a light blue color above my drawing, and set the color layer to the “Overlay” blending mode. This makes it easy to see the sketch, while making sure it won’t distract me from my final black line art over the top of it.
Finally, I just started the drawing again in a new layer. Because I meant for this to be a coloring page, I closed my shapes more than I usually do, though you will notice I didn’t worry if they weren’t all completely closed.
In the video below, I have compressed nearly two hours of drawing down to just under five minutes of playback. As you watch, you will see that I stayed close to the sketch for the most part, but I wasn’t precise about any of it. The sketch was my guide, and I let my instincts drive which marks I actually laid down. That is the crucial element to this activity: Just let the drawing happen and don’t worry about how it comes together. Trust your instincts.
While the idea of a dragon in your garden may not be super relaxing, coloring in all those scales and leaves should be plenty calming. I’ve made a free downloadable coloring sheet of the drawing so you can zen out with some colored pencils and a few nice, calm thoughts.
You can find even more grown-up coloring pages here. If you color one in, share your finished product in the comments so we can all see!