How to color like a boss: Gel pens and coloring books for adults

How to color like a boss: Gel pens and coloring books for adults

pilScoot over, novels. Coloring books for grown-ups have taken over bookstore displays all over the country. The genre has been around for decades, but in 2013 adults discovered coloring in a big way. Last December, adult coloring books filled nine of the 20 spots on The New York Times bestseller list. In total, adults bought 12 million coloring books for themselves in 2015, and the trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

For fast-paced lives, coloring may offer the perfect blend of ease and creativity. Anecdotal reports and at least one study suggest the pastime is therapeutic. Researchers in that study, conducted at Johns Hopkins University, divided college students into two groups. They asked one group to color pre-designed mandalas; the other group did not color. Then they tested both groups’ anxiety levels. The “colorists” (as adult-coloring-book enthusiasts sometimes call themselves) had significant reductions in marks of anxiety compared to the control group.

If you already love coloring, you can take the hobby to a new level by using creative gel pen techniques that amp up the fun and add visual appeal.

Intensify texture

Creative pen strokes and patterns add texture to coloring sheets. Fill spaces with stripes, polka dots, swirls, geometric patterns, hatching (parallel strokes), crosshatching (perpendicular strokes), and stippling (small dots) to make coloring pages pop.

Get creative with color

Half the fun of coloring is working with a rainbow of color. You can also intentionally limit colors to create interesting effects. Use a color wheel to find an appealing color scheme. Experiment by limiting your palette to:

  • Complementary colors, such as red and green. They’re opposite each other on the color wheel and create a vibrant look.
  • Analogous colors, such as blue and green. They’re next to each other on the color wheel and create a harmonious look.
  • Triadic colors, such as green, purple, and yellow. They’re evenly spaced on the color wheel and create a vibrant look.
  • Monochromatic colors, such as different shades of green. They create a simple and harmonious look.
  • Warm colors, such as yellow, orange, red, or pink. They create a feeling of coziness and warmth.
  • Cool colors, such as blue and green. They create a feeling of expansiveness and coolness.

How to color like a boss: Gel pens and coloring books for adults


Some gel pens smear easily, but that doesn’t need to be a drawback. You can use this quality to your advantage by intentionally blending colors together or creating a gradient effect with one color. Some gel pens are wetter on the page, while some tend to be dryer. Wetter pens usually work best for blending.

Experiment on a blank page to determine which of your pens smear best. Color a small square, and experiment with a blending tool or your fingers to smudge it. Various tools work well for blending; try using a silicone spatula, a pencil eraser, a bristle paintbrush, a wet paintbrush, or a flat-ended cotton swab (found in the cosmetic section of most grocery and drug stores).

Mix mediums

Use metallic, neon, pastel, glitter gel pens, and a white gel pen to highlight parts of your artwork. And don’t be afraid to use gel pens in tandem with other mediums. Crayons and colored pencils work great to fill in backgrounds. To create an unusual pattern, place a piece of paper on a material with an interesting texture—such as burlap, a flour sifter, or a leaf—and then rub a crayon or colored pencil over the top.

Experiment and enjoy

Creative gel-pen techniques can help you turn your coloring sheets into a feast for the eyes. Just as importantly, they can add fun to a favorite pastime. Remember, coloring isn’t supposed to be stressful. Relax, get creative, and have fun!

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How to color like a boss: Gel pens and coloring books for adults