In France a rather quirky revolution has been taking place… it isn’t loud and it isn’t even obvious. It’s a movement that’s seen people trying a different way to relax and chill – it’s called “art therapie”.
I heard about it when I went to visit a French friend who manages a farm with her husband. There are cows to milk, fields to manage, everything to clean, log in a book, vast food deliveries to arrange, collections to organise. Running a farm is not for the faint hearted and usually Blandine is rushed off her feet, stressed and miserable. Her days are long and start at a horribly early hour whatever the weather.
But, this time when I popped in to pick up a bag of potatoes she was positively Zen. Instead of the usual hurried and curt response I get, I know she can’t help it, there’s too much to do, she was quite relaxed. Confused I asked if she was alright.
“Yes” she said “I’m good”. This was odd. I asked her if she’d sold the farm perhaps.
“Non, I would never sell the farm, it’s our heritage”. I wanted to ask if she had been prescribed medication but I didn’t dare, French people are notoriously picky when it comes to personal things.
“You seem different” I told her. Yes, she acknowledged, she felt different.
She then let me in on her secret. She has, she revealed, been having “art therapie”. You could have knocked me down with a feather because Blandine, lovely woman that she is, isn’t exactly the arty type. I once asked her to help me with directions to a flea market and she drew me a map, let’s just say it looked like a 3 year old had been let loose with a biro and was feeling particularly hyperactive.
I must have looked really perplexed because she offered to show me her art therapie. I was a bit worried, I mean, therapy is personal right and I had no idea what I was going to see.
Imagine my puzzlement then when she presented me with a book called Jardin Secret by Johanna Basford. I leafed through the pages and discovered that it was in fact a colouring in book. But, not the sort of colouring in book we remember from our childhood. This has the most exquisite drawings, complex, pretty, lace-like, sophisticated, elaborate and most beautifully drawn, imaginative illustrations to colour in – for adults.
Blandine told me that when everything is really kicking off, she just thinks about colouring in, and, as soon as she can steal a little bit of time, that’s what she does.
“Zut alors” I said, which got me a reprimand since French people don’t really say that much these days.
Anyway, I get pretty stressed myself on occasion so, I nipped to the lovely Librarie in Arras (top photo) which is my favourite bookshop since it has a resident giant sleeping beauty. Art therapy colouring books are clearly big busienss in France and Johanna Basford’s books are the favourites, there was a steady stream of buyers while I was there.
Johanna Basford is a British designer and “ink evangelist” and in 2013 her first book Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book outsold the best-selling cookery book in France. She has in fact sold over 1 million copies in 14 languages around the world.
I bought Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest her new book, and they are completely and utterly delicious to look at and to colour in. I love the thick paper, the gorgeous intricate and delicate drawings, treasure hunts, animals, castles, flowers, fauna, secrets and mystery. The fact that they are all drawn by hand and not computer generated is astounding.
I suppose it’s almost like doing tapestry or needlework except that anyone can do it, it makes an instant artist out of all of us – and that’s very therapeutic.