Happy National Coloring Book Day! This Adult Coloring Book Unlocks Your Creativity

If you haven’t already made plans for National Coloring Book Day, here’s an easy downloadable coloring book by Hawai‘i’s own queen of “keeping it between the lines.”
National Coloring Book Day
Associate editor Katrina valcourt, author rachel funk heller, senior editor don wallace, editor robbie dingeman taps into their collective subconscious with paper dolls.
Photos: Aaron Yoshino 


Today, Aug. 2, we solemnly observe National Coloring Book Day. Doing so honors a trend that has gone from, like, preschool to Picasso in only a year, culminating a couple of months ago with Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb crayoning furiously on The Today Show. If you’ve been following, you’ll know the adult coloring book phenomenon is about stress relief, getting seriously silly and doing a book-club-y kind of thing with friends. Only, unlike a book club, which can get a little competitive, a little tense, just the idea of breaking out colored pencils takes everything down a notch or three. Especially if there’s wine involved.


For today’s celebration, HONOLULU invited Hawai‘i’s very own coloring book queen, Rachel Funk Heller, to show off her wares—in particular The Writer’s Coloring Book, a brainstorming and creativity platform that also invites participants to cut out and customize their own paper dolls. (The book comes in traditional printed format, but also as a downloadable PDF from writerscoloringbook.com, which means you can print up as many pages as you like.)


Long before the trend, Funk Heller (a name we love saying), a former journalist and CNN producer in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., was pulling together ideas about creativity and social interaction. In Honolulu, where she was an organizer in writing groups, she saw the need to unlock creativity and reduce artistic anxiety. “Everyone at the time was cranking out book after book and burning out. I said, ‘Lighten up, people.’”


For decades, Funk Heller had been thinking about how writers create characters. A tape of a 1977 talk by Joseph Campbell, later the subject of a PBS documentary about myth-making in our daily lives, led her to Carl Jung and his theory of the subconscious. “Because I’m a visual thinker I wanted to see how to plot these ideas I came up with.” This led to her first idea, for a chart called the Story World Mandala, an aid to thinking through a creative situation or challenge.



Believing that the best way to help make convincing characters leap onto the page was to consciously put the subconscious to work, Funk Heller hit on the idea of using paper dolls, dressed in outfits appropriate for the story and situation. “It’s a chance for writers to see their characters.” Basically, writers can dress and accessorize characters for their books using the provided templates; then they’ll always have a visual representation to inform their writing.


The coloring book concept followed, as a perfect way to package the entire approach. “I realized, ‘Yeah, that’s the circus tent pole.’”


Once she tried out The Writer’s Coloring Book on her group, it became apparent the concept had magic: “The feeling of it, the spirit of it, having fun, being creative, getting back into being a kid before your left brain kicked in and started being judgmental.” In addition to provoking giggles, the exercises put the creatives into a productive dream state. “It’s just relaxing to do something with your hands, something that’s tactile, that gets you to relax a little bit.” Especially if there’s wine involved.


That’s the precise effect the book had in the HONOLULU offices. (And without the wine, too.)



Funk Heller took her ideas and creation to a printer, planning to self-publish the book. “Then, just as we were going into production, suddenly there were coloring books everywhere!” The subconscious had caught up with the conscious world. Titles such as Johanna Basford’s Secret Gardens hit first, followed by a stream of stress-relief books, including Release Your Anger: An Adult Coloring Book, the Good Vibes Coloring Book and, mischievously, Calm the F*ck Down: An Irreverent Adult Coloring Book.   


Funk Heller made an appearance at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City last summer and will make another this October in Los Angeles for a novel-writing conference. But The Writer’s Coloring Book may have been too successful for its creator. Lately, she’s been too busy writing a novel to “ride that coloring book wave,” she says. “I thought I wanted to create myself as a great writing teacher, but now I want to write my fiction and get that out there.”


Order your book (which come with a PDF version on a flash drive), or just the PDF, at writerscoloringbook.com. Happy right brain!


Read More Stories by Don Wallace