Ana Veciana-Suarez

The joy of crayons and coloring for grownups

Crayons still captivate.
Crayons still captivate.

Few scents elicit nostalgia as delightfully as an open box of crayons. I’m serious about this. Take a good sniff from your kid’s or grandkid’s stash and you’ll understand.

Hmmm. Can you describe that smell, put a name to it? The aroma of paper and wax. The fragrance of school, with an undercurrent of mimeograph ink. The bouquet of colors and possibility. Oh me, oh my! A whiff of it still makes my heart soar.

To think that half a century ago I’d have mortgaged my soul for the big box of 64. Yep, you know the one — came with its own built-in sharpener. My parents, for reasons known only to them, would never spring for anything beyond the box of 24. No wonder I’m scarred for life. Now, financially comfortable and long in the tooth, I’ve sprung for dozens of 64s, for the children I love and for the little girl I once was.

One of the many advantages of being blessed with young grandchildren is that they provide me with a ready excuse to wander store aisles looking for all those things I never owned. Or I did and now wish for their return because I know these toys will provide reprieve from a frenzied life.

So, yes, I’ve bought my grandchildren crayons. Lots of them. Bought them colored pencils and washable markers, too. Also a new entry into the coloring world: dry-erase crayons that can be used on the easel we keep in the family room. That box of “8 vibrant colors” comes with an “E-Z Erase Cloth” and sharpener. Wowee!

I’m rhapsodizing about crayons because, finally, I know I’m not the only adult who indulges in this kind of sentimentality even as I spend more and more time with a keyboard and screen. In fact, a 31-year-old Scottish illustrator has shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list — outdoing the likes of Harper Lee and Anthony Doerr — by appealing to our fantasies with her hand-drawn coloring books for grown-ups.

Johanna Basford’s first coloring book, “Secret Garden,” has become a global publishing juggernaut, selling more than 1.4 million copies in 22 languages. It has 96 pages of elaborate black-and-white ink drawings.

“Enchanted Forest,” her follow-up released in February, is temporarily unavailable on Amazon, apparently sold out of its first print run of about 226,000. It’s described as an “inky quest through an enchanted forest to discover what lies in the castle at its heart.”

She’s part of an unexpected publishing trend, that includes Chiquita Publishing’s “Coloring Books for Grownups” and Patricia J. Wynne’s Creative Haven coloring book series “designed for experienced colorists.” Little Brown is expected to release four this year, all subtitled “Color Your Way to Calm.”

The demand caught her publisher, Laurence King Publishing, off guard, the New York Times reports, and Basford admits to early (and unfounded) worries that her books would be considered silly. But silly is the inability — or unwillingness — to recall the pleasure of putting crayon to paper.

My life is what it is. Deadlines to meet, clothes to wash, meals to cook, floors to mop and bathrooms to clean. But oh, to steal away for an hour with “Enchanted Forest” and a fresh box of 64! In the company of brick red and aquamarine. Dandelion! Apricot! Carnation pink! Indigo and forest green! I can’t think of anything more gratifying than the rhythmic movement of my wrist.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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