May 312015

Zentangle, Zen doodle, tangle, coloring book—all of these words reference a hot trend in every bookstore or online publishing market: coloring activity books for adults. When I visited my local bookstore this weekend, next to the escalator stood a special display for doodling, tangling and coloring—all intended for, but not limited to—adults.

Book Display Front

I was tempted to make a purchase, but couldn’t justify doing so because I have an untouched coloring book waiting for me at home. After discovering in late March that my local Barnes & Noble stores had sold all copies of Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, I turned to Amazon. But Amazon, too, reported the title was on back order. I ordered it, anyway, and it finally arrived last week. I noticed, on the copyright page, that the book is so popular that it was reprinted five times in 2013, six times in 2014, and twice so far this year. Basford’s newest book, just released this year, is An Enchanted Forest: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring, and it, too, is on back order.

While I was waiting for The Secret Garden, I received a note from the author via Amazon, something that’s a first for me.


Firstly, thank you for buying one of my books! The coloring craze is sweeping the world!

Perhaps more importantly though, I’m so sorry you have had to wait so long for your book to arrive. I think it’s fair to say we’ve been completely overwhelmed by global demand for the books and it has caught us quite off guard!

The ink is *almost* dry on your book and we hope to have it in your hands very, soon. I’m so sorry you’ve had to wait so long, if I could get into the print factory and help speed things up myself, I would!

As a thank you for your patience and to tide you over until your book arrives, we’ve put together 3 pages from Enchanted Forest that you can print at home and start coloring. Think of it as a warm-up!

Thank you again for bearing with us and happy coloring!

Johanna Basford

There are other adult coloring books out there, but Secret Garden and its companion, Enchanted Forest, are probably the king and queen of the genre—in other words, something pretty special. When my book arrived, I was delighted to discover 96 pages of beautiful pen and ink drawings on thick, creamy paper. The drawings feature the flora and fauna of Basford’s home in rural Scotland. At the beginning of the book is a guide to creatures that are hidden within the detailed drawings. If you visit Artist Goes Outside The Lines With Coloring Books For Grown-Ups on the National Public Radio Web site, you can see some images from the book and listen to an interview of the author.

Secret Garden

So, what’s behind the lure of coloring books for adults? According to Basford, coloring is a charming and nostalgic activity, as well as a nice way to be creative. “You don’t have to sit down with a blank sheet of paper,” she says, “or, you know, have that scary moment of thinking what can I draw? The outlines are already there for you, so it’s just something that you can do quietly for a couple of hours that, you know, is hand held and analog and quiet.”

For me a coloring book like this evokes childhood memories, when my younger brother and I spent hours coloring pages of cartoon characters with fresh crayons. Sometimes a little more than the coloring book pages got colored—I recall running out to the end of the driveway to share our newly colored fingernails with the paper boy delivering the evening newspaper from his bike basket. Those coloring books were eventually the springboard for our own drawings of paper dress-up dolls that populated our Lego world. Back in those days, there weren’t any elaborate Lego sets with theme-based figures. Coloring during childhood, as it is today, was a soothing activity that fired our imaginations with colors and shapes, and created stories in our minds.

According to Elena Santos in Coloring Isn’t Just For Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress., coloring “…generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.” She points out that one of the first psychologists to use coloring as a de-stressing activity was Carl Jung in the early 20th century, who asked his patients to color mandalas, circular geometric designs that have their origins in the culture of India. The reason the activity works for de-stressing purposes is that it causes us to focus on something other than our worries, much in the same way that other repetitive hands-on activities do, such as crochet, knitting, weaving or cross-stitch. Santos points out that another psychologist, Gloria Martínez Ayala, believes that coloring activates multiple areas of our cerebral hemispheres that involve logic, creativity, vision, and fine motor skills.

Coloring books are simply one of the ways that the coloring trend for adults shows up. Have you participated in a “paint and sip” party lately, where an artist leads a group of adults in copying a painting and enjoying a glass of wine at the same time? If you read Grownups Pay Big Bucks to Attend NYC ‘Adult Preschool’, you’ll learn about adults in Brooklyn, New York who pay $333 to $999 to attend Preschool Mastermind, founded by Michelle Joni, where they can fingerpaint, sing, snack and nap.

According to Jared Keller in The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time, playing (in this case, coloring) is as important for adults as it is for children. “More generally, for both children and adults,” writes Keller, “it really gives us a chance to build our imagination. The fantastical becomes real, the real becomes fantastical; we can try out a new hypothesis without consequence.” He points out that Americans in particular downplay the importance of playtime as they aim to be more productive, more efficient, and more in charge. Americans, he says, tend to be proud of not taking time off, whereas in other countries such as France, adults are allowed to take a month off for play.

Obviously, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars—or even $25—to reap the benefits of coloring. You can purchase a coloring book with elaborate designs such as those found in Johanna Basford’s books or Lucy Muckow and Angela Porter’s Color Me Calm, or color geometric designs found in books like Creative Haven Mandalas or Creative Haven Paisley Patterns. You can learn how to Zen doodle within shapes in Sandy Steen Bartholomew’s Totally Tangled: Zentangle and Beyond, or download printable designs. You can even color an embroidery design with colored pencils, such as the downloadable design found in Crafty’s Staying Inside the Lines: Pencil Coloring Embroidery Designs.

Feeling a little stressed? Coloring is cheap therapy.

Image courtesy of dan at

Image courtesy of dan at

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 292015

How do you take time from your busy schedule to be creative? Whether you’re running from job to job, you have a day job that keeps you so busy you don’t dare take your lunch hour, or you have so many errands to run that you can’t even see straight, the bottom line is that you may feel you have neither time nor energy to spare for creativity. You walk into your sewing room and see the fabrics piled on a shelf a year ago for a project you know will take hours, but you simply can’t spare that length of time. It can be overwhelming to have so many tasks on your to-do list—so overwhelming, in fact, that you don’t know where to start. And then you don’t start at all, and you feel even more tired and discouraged.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

For me, the challenge is not coming up with creative ideas, but finding time to explore all of them. So, what’s the solution for finding more time to be creative? Here are a few strategies to help you get back into the creative groove when you’re feeling overwhelmed by other, usually more mundane tasks. At the end of this post are some links to related posts, if you need additional suggestions. Obviously, I need help myself, since I have written about this topic more than once!

Arrange your most frequently used tools and supplies within arm’s reach. This allows you to be efficient and productive during whatever time you may have available, however short that may be. I don’t put away all of my tools after each work session, for example. Instead, I have a basket filled with my most frequently used tools. This is moved to my work space (usually the kitchen table).

Tool basket

Additionally, I use a compartmentalized Oreo cookie package insert for my books and a few supplies that are “in process.” This enables me to get right to work, without a lot of preparation, when inspiration strikes.

This "basket" is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the items we purchase can be re-purposed!

This “basket” is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the consumable items we purchase can be re-purposed!

Break down your project into parts, and pull a Nancy Zieman. What do I mean by this? On my bookshelf I have a series of how-to books written by sewing guru and video host Nancy Zieman, all of which suggest setting aside a short period each day to attack part of a project, instead of several hours. A couple of the titles include 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew and 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew for Your Home—both of which point out that when you spend 10, 20, or 30 minutes a day toward a specific goal, those minutes add up. “Like you,” says Nancy Zieman, “I struggle to find time to sew. Yet I find that even on busy days, I can free up 10, 20, or 30 minutes.” Before you know it, your project will be done, and you’ll be ready to begin another.

Nancy Zieman books

Set aside non-essential tasks for another day. Ask yourself if anyone besides you will notice the dust collecting on top of the bookshelf or the piano. Lots of laundry to do? Put if off for an afternoon or a day. In a pinch, you can wear a garment a second day so that you can work on a creative project instead. Better yet, delegate household tasks when you can; things don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to do it all yourself.

“You want to create art,” say Cherie Haas in An Easy Way to Make Art. “You want to express yourself and make beautiful things. It’s as important as any other aspect of your life, because it is who you are. There’s a lot of pressure on us to prioritize our lives, to put other people first, to keep our living space immaculate, to have perfect nails. But when you have a project to create, you’ll find that the household things can fill your day quicker than you can say ‘domestic.'”

Clothes hamper

Exchange favors, or get the kids involved. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who just can’t get personal time away from the kids, offer to trade child care responsibilities with a friend in the same situation. You can take her kids for an afternoon, and she can return the favor. If that’s not a possibility, or you’re simply uncomfortable with an exchange, get the kids involved in a simple art project while you create (something else) beside them. Who knows? Your creativity and theirs may rub off each other. And if you can afford it, hire a babysitter to keep your children occupied while you create.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Work when everyone else is asleep. Set your alarm clock so you can rise 30 to 60 minutes before everyone else, and resist the temptation to do household work during that period. Or, stay up 30 to 60 minutes longer than everyone else. If your children nap, use that time to tackle your creative project: drawing, writing, needlework, or whatever your creative niche may be. Remember that you don’t have to complete the entire project, only make some progress toward your ultimate goal!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Stop the electronic train. Turn off your mobile devices and power down your laptop. If you need your laptop for your creative project, stay away from e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and basically all social networks. In fact, limit the length of time each day or week that you spend on social networks; this is precious time that you can convert to creative minutes. Ask yourself if there is a television show you can live without to scrape up time to create.

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Take the long view, and record your progress. To encourage yourself to follow the suggestions in this post, keep a record of what works. Keep a diary that acts as a creativity time clock—record the minutes and times of day you are working on a project, and what you have accomplished. Add up the minutes each month, and pat yourself on the back. Or, keep a journal of completed projects, filled with photos, such as the beautiful one below by Kalona Creativity. You’ll be amazed by how much you complete, when you tune out the distractions. Reward yourself at intervals by buying yourself a gift: an inspirational craft book, a new set of pastels, some specialty beads, or ribbon trims or threads in your favorite colors.

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Need some other suggestions for carving out time for creativity? You may find these previous posts I wrote helpful:

Do you have other ideas for finding time to create? Share them in the comments below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 062015

It’s easy to feel as if the blogging inspirational well is running dry when you write frequent posts and don’t sense an audience is present. You might feel as if you’re a fisherman, casting a net for fish that swim in anyone’s waters but your own.

“Seems like most of my followers are from this [Etsy] team,” reports one of my Etsy friends.

“I think most of my (blog) followers are teammates, too! I get some outside traffic, but not many followers,” says another person.

Photo courtesy of  Dhammika Heenpella, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Photo courtesy of
Dhammika Heenpella, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

The standard blogging advice, if you’d like to see more followers, is that you need to read others’ blog posts and comment—you need to reciprocate, in other words. It’s considered good blogging etiquette, too, to respond to comments that need answers. Not all of them do. Be genuine with both your comments and responses. It also helps if you share links to your posts on your favorite social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and other sites. But you may still feel that you aren’t gaining followers if you don’t see the count on your “Followers” widget go up, or if you aren’t getting many comments in response to your blog posts. That can be discouraging, but you might be surprised to learn you have more readers—perhaps silent ones—than you think.

Are you really without readers? Take a look at how many posts you have written, and how many comments they have garnered. This is my 344th post, and to date my posts have collected 1,548 comments. That’s an average of 4.5 comments per post, much more than my own perception, sometimes, that few people read this blog. But there is further evidence that there are readers out there beyond the comments we bloggers crave.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Some years back, I set up a StatCounter account to track how many unique views my blog was getting. Beyond that, I didn’t really look at the other statistics that StatCounter’s basic (and free) account provides. Here’s a rundown of just a few statistics that StatCounter gathers that will help make you feel you aren’t blogging for an audience of only six or seven people, and in turn may help you feel more inspired to blog:

  • The number of page views, unique visits, first time visits and returning visits from today to the time you created a StatCounter account
  • Your most popular pages (or posts)
  • Where your traffic comes from
  • What keywords visitors use to find you
  • How long visitors stay on your site
  • What items are being downloaded from your site
  • What links on your site are being clicked on

Perhaps your problem, when it comes to blogging, is not that you think you don’t have an audience. You know you do, and you don’t want to disappoint folks with a lack of fresh content. Your challenge is coming up with new topics. Here are five strategies that may help you target the perfect blog post idea(s).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Network with others. Start a question exchange with one or more other bloggers, building a list of questions you each can use to write blog posts. Your questions (or requests for information) should be open-ended. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What would you do if . . . ?
  • How do you . . . ?
  • Tell me more about . . .
  • When was the last time you . . . ?
  • Explain what . . .
  • What is the best way to . . . ?
  • In what ways can you . . . ?
  • Why (or how) did __________ happen?
  • What did you learn from . . . ?
  • What’s the best that . . . ?
  • What’s the worst that . . . ?
  • How can you change/modify/adapt . . . ?
  • How can you solve . . . ?
  • How can you extend (or shorten) . . . ?
  • What’s a good substitute for . . . ?
  • How can you maximize (or minimize) . . . ?
  • What happens if you . . . ?
Image courtesy of franky242 at

Image courtesy of franky242 at

Begin with the title. When I write Instant Challenge activities for Iowa’s Destination Imagination program, I often begin with a list of potential titles, and write the content to match it afterward. This works well when you have one or more brainstorming partners because then you are bouncing ideas off each other. Using this method, a friend and I came up with a common theme: rolls and tubes. We then generated related titles that we transformed into A Roll of Plenty (practice Instant Challenges, that is!):

  • Future Tube
  • Roll Out the Red Carpet
  • Roll Play
  • Jelly Bean Roll
  • Test Tube Towers
  • Tube Shot
  • Magic Carpet Roll
  • Roll Out a Rescue
  • Tube Trek
  • Let the Good Times Roll
  • Tough Tube Tower
  • Tunnel Tubes

Still lost? Don’t know how to begin? Visit Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator, where you enter three words and click on a button that says “Give me blog topics.” The app automatically generates titles for you, and then you write the content.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Pick a topic from a list. There are many online lists of blog topics that others have posted on the Web. Some are business-related, some are not, but all of them contain a seed that just needs your creativity (and maybe some research) to bloom. Here are a few:

If all else fails, visit Handmadeology and enter “blog ideas” in the search box. You’ll find more ideas here than you will find time to implement!

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

Revamp an old post. Perhaps you explored one aspect of a topic a year ago, but there’s another point of view you didn’t address, or the topic was so broad that you only covered one tiny corner. Pull out that post and brainstorm a list of related topics. Then, research the topic, interview people, seek or take photos, and write your post.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Keep a swipe file. I had never heard this phrase until I ran across Kevan Lee’s The Ultimate List of 95 Blogpost Ideas for Creating Craveable Content to Share on Social [sic], but essentially a swipe file is a collection of resources from which you can “swipe” ideas when you’re running low on inspiration. Anytime you run across a blog post, article, photo, image, quote or anything else that captures your interest, jot it down, snap a photo, pin it, photocopy it, print it, or file it away physically or electronically. A Pinterest board is a kind of swipe file, as are software apps such as OneNote and Evernote. Similar to Pinterest is another free app called Trello. It really doesn’t matter why you collect the topics you find interesting, challenging, amusing or puzzling; you just want to have a parking lot for them when you need ideas to write about. A swipe file is a starting point. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open, and collect trivia in the same manner a sponge soaks up water.

Image courtesy of nuchylee at

Image courtesy of nuchylee at

Whenever you’re feeling discouraged because you don’t seem to have readers, remember that many of your visitors are silent. Prove it to yourself by reviewing the facts. Check out the number of comments you’ve collected versus the posts you’ve written. Look up a few StatCounter statistics. Visit your Etsy Stats page, change the time frame to “All Time,” and check out how many times people arrived in your shop location after visiting your blog. Remember to visit other blogs and comment, and to respond when necessary to comments on your own blog. And whenever you need some fresh ideas, look up one of the five idea-generating strategies in this post. You’ll want to bookmark this post for future reference. Do you have a blog post idea-generating technique that works especially well for you? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.