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 272015

I enjoy custom orders. They give me a chance to do something different, to experiment, to learn something new, or simply to explore new techniques. Recently a buyer-and-friend asked me to design a “celestial” gratitude journal for her—basically, a book with a cover featuring the sun, moon and stars. Because so many of my handmade books feature flowers or a floral theme on the cover, a celestial-style journal represented a welcome departure from the norm. This post is about what happens behind-the-scenes after you click on the “Request Custom Order” button of my Etsy shop, MisterPenQuin.


The Request Custom Order button opens up a private conversation (convo) between you and your seller, initiated by you, that enables you to inform the seller about your preferences, and allows the seller to describe, both in words and pictures, how your wishes can (or can’t) be granted. I don’t know exactly how many messages are typical for a custom order convo stream, but I would guess it’s a half a dozen or more. For this order, 12 messages were exchanged, but I’ve done custom orders that involved as few as five messages or as many as 19. In any event, communicating clearly with my buyer before I click on the “Make this a Custom Order” button is a great way for me to “get things right.” I nearly always attach a PDF document with thumbnail photos to one of the messages within a convo stream. This helps my buyer narrow down choices and for me to ask questions that enable me to fill the order.

Sample PDF

Because I didn’t already have celestial-style paper in my inventory, I made a trip to my local scrapbooking store, and discovered it only had paper with plain stars on a solid background, and Halloween-style paper that looked a bit garish for the purposes of this journal. The next best option was digital paper from an Etsy seller—something I can also re-use for other books. I researched a few options and shared them with my buyer, presenting a few ideas about how they could be combined with other options. In the end, the choices were narrowed down to one of the papers in the Galaxy Night Sky collection from FishScraps, and three celestial images from Sun and Moon Digital Collage Sheet, designed by Graphics Digital. If you use digital papers in a project you sell, by the way, make sure you check the seller’s policies. Some allow you to make and sell projects with their images, while others only allow for personal use. If in doubt, don’t make assumptions; check with the seller.

Sample Papers

The blue of the Galaxy Night Sky paper keeps changing in this post, as I took photos at different times of the day. The final photos are pretty close to the correct shade, as they were taken within a light box.

The first thing I had to figure out, once I began working on the order, was how to incorporate the celestial images. I had proposed making dimensional tiles with them, but the collage images were designed as one-inch tiles—a quarter-inch too large for a 4-inch by 4-inch journal after they are matted. I adjusted the settings within my printer’s dialog window, and “tricked” the printer into treating my paper as only six inches wide. This caused the collage images to print out as three-quarter-inch-wide tiles. Perfect! I matted them against one-inch squares of Galaxy Night Sky paper by running the celestial image squares through my Xyron® Create-a-Sticker™ (figure 1), then inked the edges with Tim Holtz Distress Ink in Stormy Sky (figure 2). I subsequently adhered the squares to craft foam to create dimensional tiles (figure 3). The last step was applying a sealant called Tim Holtz Distress Micro Glaze that makes the paper water-resistant (figure 4).

A Tile work

I set the tiles aside and began working on the cover. I always begin by cutting the chipboard and papers to size.

5 Cut out chipboard and paper for cover

Then I adhered the paper to the chipboard and let it dry for a minute or so (figure 1). I sliced the corners off the paper for mitering purposes and scored around the edge of the chipboard (figure 2) with a bone folder (figure 2). This helps “train” the paper to fold more neatly around the edge of the chipboard when you adhere it to the chipboard (figure 3). I also applied silver ribbon down the front cover at this point, wrapping it to the inside cover. The last step involved adhering squares of paper to the inside front and back covers (figure 4).

B Cover work

While I worked on the inside pages, I tucked the covers between two sheets of wax paper inside a book press. Without this step, the covers have a tendency to warp. I typically leave the book covers in the book press for at least a few hours, or overnight.

10 Press covers in book press

The inside pages were printed with my laser printer, four pages to a letter-sized sheet of paper. These were trimmed to size with my RotaTrim paper cutter (figure 1), after which I rounded off their corners with a Crop-A-Dile Corner Chomper (figure 2). Did you know that rounded corners tend to tear less than right-angle corners? That’s one reason for this extra step, but I also think it looks nice. The pages were pre-punched for spiral binding, for which I used my Cinch (figure 3). You can follow the directions on the platform of the Cinch to punch your papers, but I always use a paper jig for positioning because I think it’s faster and easier. This is simply a piece of cardstock that is the same size as the page, pre-punched with the appropriate number of holes and marked with a center line that aligns with the centering arrow on the Cinch. You can see the completed stack of punched pages in figure 4.

C Page preparation

After I removed the covers from the book press, I applied micro glaze to them (first image). This is especially important for inkjet-printed papers, as you never know how colorfast the ink is. The protectant does not waterproof the paper, but it does make it water-resistant. I punched holes in the cover to match the holes in the pages (second image), and finally assembled the entire book, fastening everything together with an owire (third image).

D Micro glaze and book assembly

The last stage of book design is always my favorite: embellishing the cover. As you can see below, I adhered the foam-backed tiles to the ribbon. Then, because I knew my buyer/friend likes a little bling, I adhered some tiny crystals to the Galaxy Night Sky paper, which give the appearance of twinkling stars. I reinforced the sticky-back adhesive on the crystals with Ranger Multi Medium Matte to make sure they won’t come off easily during the life of the journal. Finally, I tied some silver ribbon “bows” to the owire, something I do with nearly all of my journals. When the book was done, I took photos for this post and for my own records.

Celestial-Style Gratitude Journal

To be fair, most of the stages of development for this celestial-style journal are involved in my entire bookmaking process, except for the series of messages that initiated this particular order. But if you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of one of my books, from “conception” to “giving birth”—especially if you have a custom request—now you know how things work. I really enjoyed customizing this gratitude journal for my buyer.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.