Three years ago, when artist and illustrator Indu Harikumar designed a few colouring panels for a non-profit organisation which works with under-trial prisoners at the Byculla jail in Mumbai, she was told that colouring calmed and relaxed the women. These were women incarcerated for petty and serious crimes, and made to share one large dorm in the jail.

Privacy is not an option in prison and most other activities that inmates are usually made to participate in are in groups that they may or may not prefer. In that sense, colouring was one activity that could perform in solitude.

“I could feel the energy that they were not at peace with each other. The bed was the only space they had and I can imagine why colouring had a positive effect. There is a lot of detail in colouring books for adults and because of that, the mind doesn’t wander and one finds it easier to focus,” says Harikumar.

Colourful beginnings

Harikumar was at an art residency in Vienna in 2014 when the idea of Beauty Needs Space, a colouring book for adults, first came to her. She was out on a date and shied away from eating cake by saying “I feel fat”. That’s when her Viennese date said to her, “But beauty needs space”.

“It wasn't an idea I could push away because in between work (which is usually drawing) I doodle and I find it very relaxing. During the residency, I used to do this series called Vienna Diary where I would wake up and make a quick drawing and put it out on my Facebook page. I would write on themes that I faced every day – culture, perception, trying out Tinder in Vienna, patriarchy, food and travel etc. The series was hugely popular.

“I thought I was talking to a very Indian audience, but I received email from Scotland, Sweden, Japan, Singapore, and, of course, India. The “beauty needs space” comment got me thinking and that’s when I started putting up my drawings for the colouring book just to test the waters. The response was great. So I started drawing the first one – Beauty Needs Space – which appears on the cover. I decided to self-publish because I had buyers writing in saying, 'I am in whenever you are ready.' That meant a lot.”

A meditative palette

As a concept, colouring books for adults have been around in the West for a while now. Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford published her Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book in 2013; since then, the book has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than a million copies.

In 2015 she has published two more books – Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Colouring Book and Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure and Colouring Book. French illustrator and graphic designer Emma Farrarons has been smart enough to pitch her book, The Mindfulness Colouring Book, as an “anti-stress art therapy for busy people”. And UK-based publishing house Michael O’Mara has sold over 300,000 copies of the different colouring books it has published, even claiming that “colouring can lower anxiety, stabilise mood, increase attention span and serve as a sleep aid.”

It’s believed that colouring increases powers of meditation, especially because the panels in these books for adults are far more intricate than those for children. However, Harikumar, being the first Indian to initiate the concept here, isn’t suggesting that her book will do any of that.

“I just hope that people will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed creating it. If you enjoy it, you will find it relaxing. I hope people are able to find a part of themselves somewhere in the drawings,” she says.

Many of the colouring panels in Beauty Needs Space have been drawn with consciously positive messages, which can be found inside the back cover of the book. It has twelve high-quality A4 prints that one can colour and frame, stick on, and add one’s own beauty to it. There are empty spaces for users to fill in their own messages as well.

Says Harikumar: “I started the book as a social media experiment. As I put out each drawing, I heard from people across the world and the stories have been very heart warming. I have sold only through my social media accounts which go by the name of @Induviduality and I am happy to have sold to most continents except South America.”

Her next project for adults? Titled Women on Top, it’s a colouring book based loosely on the Kamasutra.