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13 best adult colouring books for unleashing your creativity

If you thought you’d left your drawing days behind you in childhood, think again

Jennifer Barton
Thursday 27 May 2021 17:17 BST
Whether we’re seeking to reignite our creativity or need to stop ourselves from doom-scrolling social media feeds for hours, colouring can help
Whether we’re seeking to reignite our creativity or need to stop ourselves from doom-scrolling social media feeds for hours, colouring can help (iStock/The Independent)

Adult colouring books offer something for everyone – and we mean everyone. Golfer Tyrrell Hatton chose colouring to decompress while competing in the Masters in 2021; even busy parents have recognised the unexpected joy that comes from picking up a crayon and spending the better part of an hour shading in a dinosaur alongside their kids.

They seem especially relevant as we emerge from lockdown life after a tumultuous and painful year. Whether we’re seeking to reignite our creativity or need to stop ourselves from doom-scrolling social media feeds for hours, colouring can help.

"Colouring is a fantastic way to keep your mind gently occupied, while allowing it time to process all the information and emotions that you’ve accumulated throughout the day, so that you can rest more deeply and peacefully at night," Dot Zacharias, sleep coach and COO of the Nourish App, a mental wellness app for parents, says.

We’ve spent over 25 hours with felt tips and colouring pencils, shading and doodling in the books below over the past month (this roundup consists primarily of new releases, with a couple of older books that are worth checking out, too).

What we’ve found most surprising – in a good way – is that every time we start to colour in a picture, we look up from the page to find an hour or more has flown by. Colouring is completely immersive, and yes, we do find it immensely relaxing.

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The most important thing to remember? Throw out any preconceived rules. You didn’t need to colour in the lines as a child, and you certainly don’t now.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best adult colouring books for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Worlds of Wonder: A Colouring Book for the Curious by Johanna Basford: £14.99,
  • Best for teaching you something new – The Modern Witch Tarot Coloring Book by Lisa Sterle: £12.99,
  • Best for the eco-minded – Millie Marotta’s Woodland Wild: £9.99,
  • Best for gifting – Botanicum Special Edition Coloring Book illustrated by Maria Trolle: £10.62,
  • Best for music lovers – The Official Thin Lizzy colouring book: £12.99,
  • Best for hedonistic escapism –Tales from the Midnight Masquerade illustrated by Hanna Karlzon: £7.99,
  • Best for drawing and colouring – Rosie Flo’s Dog Show Colouring Concertina: £4.99,
  • Best for the pop-culture enthusiast –The Shady Queen Drag Queen Colouring Book UK edition by Louise Woods: £6.99,
  • Best for paint by numbers fans – Van Gogh: Colour by Dots: £5,
  • Best for fashion fiends – Fashion Doodling and Colouring by Frances Moffatt: £8.19,
  • Best for mandalas – Be Stress Free And Colour by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter: £7.99,
  • Best for colouring in people – Herstory Colouring Books: The Great Irish Women Colouring Book by Diana Matos Gagic: £6.99,

‘Worlds of Wonder: A Colouring Book for the Curious’ by Johanna Basford, published by Ebury Press

Worlds of Wonder- A Colouring Book for the Curious by Johanna Basford.jpg

Best: Overall

Johanna Basford has sold over 21 million colouring books worldwide and was the artist at the heart of the colouring book boom back in 2015. It’s easy to see why: her drawings are full of whimsy and intricacy, rooted in reality, yet with plenty of fantastical elements, too.

We spent two hours straight colouring in Worlds of Wonder the first time we opened it, perfecting the scales on a fish, giving root veg some colour and bringing delectable pastries to life on the page. There are fantastical buildings under the sea reminiscent of Russia’s onion-domed churches, bicycle wheels explode with florals, toadstools become fairy houses. There’s stuff for the more practically minded amongst us, too. We’d recommend this book as an intro to adult colouring; we’re confident that in the 80 pages, you’ll find something you enjoy.

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‘The Modern Witch Tarot Coloring Book’ by Lisa Sterle, published by Liminal 11

The Modern Witch Tarot Coloring Book by Lisa Sterle.jpg

Best for: Teaching you something new

You don’t need to know anything about tarot to get a lot out of this colouring book – which is also a spiritual guide/feminist interpretation of the Rider Waite Smith tarot and a reflective activity journal, with questions designed to unleash your passions. Each page is colour-coded, so you can match the colours used by illustrator Lisa Sterle in her accompanying Modern Witch tarot deck, reprinted on the inside covers (you can ignore them and come up with your own colour combinations, too).

We love the diverse and modern imagery which really sets this colouring book apart from various others we tested. Also, it enticed us to order the tarot deck, which says it all really, doesn’t it?

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‘Millie Marotta’s Woodland Wild’ by Millie Marotta, published by Pavilion Books

Millie Marotta’s Woodland Wild .jpg

Best: For the eco-minded

The latest from illustrator Millie Marotta, author of the bestselling Animal Kingdom colouring book, Woodland Wild is a love letter to the world’s woodlands and the animals that inhabit them. There are over 90 images of towering trees, rainforest canopies and animal life, from exotic birds and butterflies to badgers. What’s striking about Marotta’s style is how she incorporates natural elements to create new forms: we never would have expected to spend an hour lovingly colouring a snail we would avoid at all costs in real life, but such is her particular brand of magic.

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‘Botanicum Special Edition Coloring Book’ by Maria Trolle, published by Gibbs M. Smith Inc

Botanicum Special Edition Coloring Book illustrated by Maria Trolle.jpg

Best: For gifting

The latest colouring book from Swedish illustrator Maria Trolle bursts with life and character – it’s just gorgeous. Botanicum is a fairy naturescape: there are frogs that haven’t yet become princes, mythical creatures, cute bunnies, gorgeous females with hair adorned in flower wreaths and petals. The thick, quality paper and beautifully hardbound cover, with gold foil accents, makes this a great gift for the colouring fan in your life. Also: we can attest it’s equally popular with kids as it is with adults – we kept having to wrestle it back from our five-year-old.

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‘The Official Thin Lizzy colouring book’ published by Rock N’ Roll Colouring

The Official Thin Lizzy colouring book .jpg

Best: For music lovers

The latest release from the Rock N’ Roll Colouring series (along with a colouring book on Megadeath), this Thin Lizzy colouring book pays tribute to the band behind “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Cowboy Song,” with iconic album art and band logos. The illustrations appear on every other page, so there’s room for a keen artist to draw their own interpretations of their favourite albums (or to display and frame a favourite pic). The highlight is undoubtedly Thin Lizzy’s Chinatown album cover, featuring an intricately drawn dragon that begs to be coloured in a rainbow of shades.

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‘Tales from the Midnight Masquerade’ by Hanna Karlzon, published by Gibbs M. Smith Inc

Tales from the Midnight Masquerade illustrated by Hanna Karlzon .jpg

Best: For hedonistic escapism

Another Swedish artist, Hanna Karlzon’s latest colouring book is like the much-needed night out you’ve been waiting for. It’s a Venetian masked ball with decadent food and drinks, enchanted animals come to life, stunningly embellished characters – think commedia dell’arte meets Marie Antoinette, full of sumptuous, detailed illustrations. Not only is it soothing to colour, but you may also find yourself pulling out a rather extravagant ensemble to wear afterwards.

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‘Rosie Flo’s Dog Show Colouring Concertina’ by Rosie Flo

Rosie Flo’s Dog Show Colouring Concertina.jpg

Best: For drawing and colouring

We first came across Rosie Flo’s charming colouring books several years ago, when we were given some as a birthday gift for our eldest daughter, and we distinctly remember colouring in them into the night, long after we’d put our little artist to bed. In addition to colouring in, these books ask artists to draw on heads, arms and legs, so there’s plenty of opportunity for creative inspiration.

The concertina-style colouring Dog Show packs away easily in any bag, making it useful for day trips, and features a selection of stylish characters, from a punk with a Chinese crested, to a royal with a few Corgis. It combines fun with a sense of humour.

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‘The Shady Queen Drag Queen Colouring Book UK edition’ by Louise Woods

The Shady Queen Drag Queen Colouring Book UK edition by Louise Woods.jpg

Best: For the pop-culture enthusiast

Since the very nature of drag is to turn yourself into an elaborate work of art, it stands to reason that colouring in drag queens will be a delightful way to spend an afternoon. The newest release from Etsy shop Wush Print, by Louise Woods, The Shady Queen Drag Queen Colouring Book UK Edition is just the antidote for anyone in need of a bit of escapism and fun. Shantay, you stay.

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‘Van Gogh: Colour by Dots’ by Michael O’Mara, published by LOM Art

Van Gogh Colour by Dots.jpg

Best: For paint by numbers fans

This isn’t a new release but it merits inclusion as it’s an unusual premise: instead of allowing unbridled creativity, this colouring book is formulaic, asking you to colour each section to match the dot inside it. Amazingly, this results in your own version of “self portrait” with “bandaged ear”, or “the church at auvers” and other Van Gogh works. OK, it’s not quite the level of a masterpiece, but it’s wonderfully satisfying. We’ve found that being given direction when colouring can be even more relaxing than trying to figure out which colours to use.

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‘Wondermorphia: An Extreme Colouring and Search Challenge’ by Kerby Rosanes, published by LOM Art

Wondermorphia- An Extreme Colouring and Search Challenge by Kerby Rosanes.jpg

Best: For total immersion

Combining artwork from ultra-popular artist Kerby Rosanes’ books, Fantomorphia and Geomorphia, Wondermorphia is an escapist fantasy that sucks you right in, with its sweeping landscapes and Gothic symbolism.

What we like best about this book isn’t just its chunky size – it has an ample 92 pages – but the fact there are hidden pictures in each drawing (there’s a guide at the back with symbols to unearth and an answer key if you need help). Each picture reveals more detail and character the longer you colour: stalactites are actually bats, tornadoes contain horses’ heads, desert dunes become dramatic waves. Truly magical.

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‘Fashion Doodling and Colouring’ by Frances Moffatt, published by Pavilion Books

fashion doodling and colouring.jpg

Best: For fashion fiends

This is a fun one for anyone who likes fashion and accessories, with over 300 illustrations and opportunities to showcase your style, adding patterns to leggings, designing fashionable hats and using cosmetics to create makeup looks. It slips into a handbag and is a good choice for dipping in and out of when you have ten minutes to spare. The inviting illustrations and doodle prompts make it a fun way to unleash your inner creativity; we were spritzing fragrance on the perfume illustrations and using nail varnish to colour in bottles.

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‘Be Stress Free And Colour’ by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter, published by Crestline Books

be stress free and color copy.jpg

Best: For mandalas

Created by an art therapist, this book is designed for adults to reconnect with themselves through colouring. There are over 50 pages, featuring mostly mandala-style imagery, which is often used in art therapy as a meditative relaxation tool. There isn’t much to think about here; simply pick up a pencil and enjoy switching off.

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‘Herstory Colouring Books: The Great Irish Women Colouring Book’ by Diana Matos Gagic

The great irish women colouring book copy.jpg

Best: For colouring in people

The latest colouring book from Crafty Birdie Designs, aka Diana Matos Gagic, celebrates Irish women throughout history, from Mother Jones to Sinéad Burke. The portraits are cheerful, set against patterned wallpapers, and each inspiring historical woman has a bio page about her achievements. One for the kids to enjoy, too.

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The verdict: Adult colouring books

See what all the fuss is about with adult colouring and dip your watercolour pencil into Johanna Basford’s newest release, Worlds of Wonder. We think it will get those creative juices flowing and help you relax at the same time.

Another safe bet? Try Millie Marotta’s Woodland Wild for soothing pictures of animals and landscapes.

Top tip: you’ll find pocket-sized colouring books from both of these illustrators, which are perfect for on-the-go stress relief.

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