There’s a reason the restaurant kids’ menu often comes with an outline of illustrations and a bundle of crayons. Many times, coloring inside, or somewhere in the vicinity of, the lines is all it takes to channel and calm a child’s chaotic energy. Turns out, the same thing goes for grown-ups.
With her new line of coloring books, local art therapist Lacy Mucklow aims to relieve and restore weary men and women with the wonder of such focused play.

“We see the joy and excitement that children have when they color a book with cartoon characters that they love to see, and we tend to get away from doing things like that when we are adults, due to added responsibilities, a tight schedule, or even thinking that coloring is only for kids,” Mucklow, 39, of Springfield, Va., said in an email. And yet, “we need to schedule self-care or ‘me’ time to unwind.”

“Color Me Happy” and “Color Me Calm,” authored by Mucklow and illustrated by Welsh artist Angela Porter, have sold out in each of five printings since their release in late October, according to Jeannine Dillon, editorial director of Quarto Publishing Group, who enlisted Mucklow and Porter in the book venture. “Color Me Stress-Free” is slated for release this fall.

The books follow best-sellers in the positive psychology movement, which espouses a path to happiness through redirected thinking and “natural ways to calm yourself down,” Dillon says. While coloring books for adults have surfaced in Europe, Mucklow and Porter’s books seem to have tapped a new market in this country, she says.

Unlike kids’ coloring books, these creations are almost “Where’s Waldo”-like in their degree of detail. The intricate sketches harness an adult’s fine motor skills and soothe with specific imagery, says Mucklow, who selected the themes based on her research and experience. Joyful depictions of children, animals, music, food and art fill the whimsical pages of “Color Me Happy”; its cover portrays a vibrant Eden of soaring butterflies, sunshine and a pink cascade of heart-shaped flowers.

As with “Color Me Happy,” the cover of “Color Me Calm” is almost entirely colored in, offering example and inspiration. It has a cooler tone and drawings of woods and water, natural patterns and geometric shapes such as mandalas —­ symbols used in Hinduism and Buddhism for spiritual focus and meditation.

In her day job, working with children of military families, Mucklow relies on free-form drawing to coax behavior change and uses templates if needed to calm a traumatized patient.

Her books, she cautions, don’t take the place of art therapy, which requires professional guidance, but provide a simple tool to manage stress and access creativity.

“Relief and healing can come from time out,” she says.

While art therapy and journaling are longtime therapeutic techniques, the impact of these books depends on who’s using them, says Nancy Mramor, a Pittsburgh-based media and health psychologist.

“Somebody might feel a wonderful relaxation just sitting and coloring, while someone else might find it’s not at all what they wanted,” says Mramor, author of “Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life.”

“The benefit is really in the eye of the beholder,” she says.

Fortunately, so is art.

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