Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss’s Snowflake, Seashell, Star promises to be ‘both a field guide and a therapeutic exercise book’
Adults who are running out of cats and gardens to colour in as part of the new craze for “mindful” colouring books will soon have a more educational option for their eager felt-tips, thanks to the forthcoming release of a mathematical colouring book.
Alex Bellos, the author of bestselling popular maths books including Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, has teamed up with British mathematical artist Edmund Harriss to create Snowflake, Seashell, Star, a series of mathematical patterns first to colour, and then to create, using simple rules. Out from Canongate in September, it will be, said the publisher, “both a field guide and a therapeutic exercise book”: it requires no mathematical knowledge, but is “a stunning celebration of how mathematics is the search to understand the patterns of the universe in their purest form”.
Bellos said that “joyful contemplation of mathematical patterns” has been part of the human experience “from the philosophers of ancient Greece to the artists of the Renaissance, via Islamic design and Hindu mandalas”, and that his aim was to “provide an effortless appreciation of this magical beauty”.
“The problem with maths is that it is interesting, but how do you get the message of its wonderful inner beauty across? When you create these images, you just get it straight away,” said the author, who is also the Guardian’s maths and puzzles blogger. “The patterns I’ve chosen are all doubly enjoyable – they are gorgeous to look at and colour in, but they also unlock hidden mathematical ideas.”
With Penguin Random House planning a series of colouring books based on classic novels, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, and George RR Martin preparing a Game of Thrones colouring book, Bellos is just the latest entrant into a market that has boomed beyond all expectations over the last year. According to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom, featuring intricate illustrations of animals, has sold 164,000 copies to date, 149,000 of those in 2015 alone. Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden has sold 138,000 copies so far, said Nielsen, while The Mindfulness Colouring Book’s sales are at almost 90,000 copies.
On Amazon, Marotta’s title sits in second place in the bestseller charts, behind EL James’ Grey but ahead of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, with three other colouring-in titles for adults in the top 20 for the online bookseller. And reviews of Animal Kingdom are overwhelmingly positive: of almost 800 write-ups, nearly 700 are five-star, with many readers providing pictorial evidence of their efforts.
“I work full-time as a litigation solicitor, spending a lot of time involved in court proceedings. The nature of the work is highly stressful. On the suggestion of one of my support staff, I purchased this colouring book,” writes one reviewer, Bill, one of Amazon.co.uk’s top 50 reviewers. “And you know what, having not done any art at all since leaving school, with a modest grade C pass in O-Level Art 30 odd years ago, it’s been highly enjoyable to do something creative again.”
“Adult colouring books have been a huge hit for us recently,” said Bea Carvalho, Waterstones non-fiction buyer. “We could anticipate the trend to a certain extent as it happened in Europe first, but it would have been hard to predict just how popular they would become. Over the last year we have seen such a wide range of beautiful, creative and varied books.”
Carvalho said that many of Waterstones’ biggest sellers have been those focusing on the therapeutic and mindful benefits of colouring. “But we have also enjoyed success with such wide-ranging subjects as comic books, tattoos, mandalas and animals as well, of course, as Johanna Basford’s wonderful books – Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest – which really paved the way for us,” she added.
Bellos said that before embarking on his book with Harriss, he hadn’t coloured anything in for 30 years, “if not ever”. “But I’ve been colouring in all week. It is a really fantastic way to spend an evening,” he said. “And I’ve learned quite a lot of new maths by doing it … It’s an amazing way to be meditative, but also to bring out the inner beauty and structure of mathematics.”
This article was written by Alison Flood, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th July 2015 16.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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