Category Archives: Arts/Entertainment

Colouring Books for Adults – Childhood Memory and Mindfulness

Walking down the aisle, the familiar fluttering of pages greeted my ears as I skimmed the shelves for anything that might pique my interest. A quick glance at the new arrivals, my attention settled on one book in particular – Johanna Basford’s Magical Jungle: An Inky Expedition and Coloring Book for Adults which stood out amongst the familiar stacked copies of fantasy or dystopian fiction and biographies. Flipping through the book, I was transfixed by the labyrinth of patterns before me. As an artist, my preference is to start with a blank canvas rather than being restricted with an outline. Despite this initial reservation, I found the idea of filling up the intricate patterns strangely appealing. Struck with a curiosity to comprehend how this fragment from our childhood could be transformed for an adult audience, I eagerly picked up a copy to find out more about the intricate lines and mesmerising patterns in these colouring books.

Johanna Basford, Magical Jungle: An Inky Expedition and Coloring Book for Adults
Johanna Basford, Magical Jungle: An Inky Expedition and Coloring Book for Adults
At first, these books seem to be a mere relic from the past…

In our fast-paced digital lives, anything that can hold our attention for more than 5 minutes has become as rare as casket tapes. Modern life is a myriad of fleeting moments, with each one flying past the other as quickly as we rapidly scroll through webpages, Facebook and Twitter posts. Each second, our brains are flooded with enough information to sink whole continents – so much, that the corner of our minds in which ‘peace-of-mind’ resides is dwindling day by day. While there are means like music or sports to help reclaim that corner, it is a rising trend for people to find relaxation from within the pages of a colouring book. As the frantic drumming of fingers on keyboard starts to drown out the scrapping of pencils on paper, the recent re-emergence of the colouring book prompts this question: how is it that this simple task found a way to reenter our lives?

Typically, colouring books bring to mind books filled with cartoons and other childhood delights. What appeal do these books have for adults? You can say it is the challenge of tackling a complicated pattern or illustration but the fundamental reason is this: their simplicity. The simpler the task, the lesser energy is needed to perform it. By utilising the basic “colour in the blanks” principle, these books provide less strain on brain for a length of time, before it needs to gear up to tackle other activities.

It is fascinating to examine the therapeutic effect a few pages of illustration can have on our minds. In a sense, it’s like booking a massage for your brain; and just like the experience at the massage parlour, it functions as a collective engagement of our senses. The sound of pen on paper, the sight of colours filling up the spaces and the tactile feel of a pen in hand – these sensual stimulations combined creates a great sense of engagement for the audience. Like old photos, these books sate our desire for childhood nostalgia and wraps us gently in a blanket of warm memories.

As someone all too familiar with the pleasures of illustrating and doodling, I was fascinated by the versatility of these colouring books. With the skeleton provided in the form of outlines, it presents the chance to start with a clean slate without the uncertainty that often looms over an unfinished work. With this eradication of the “worry” of messing up, creating something beautiful becomes as simple as the act of filling a cup with water.

In that sense, great art is made accessible and achievable for those who aspire to but lack the artistic chops.  Through pen strokes, fans can emulate artworks by great artists within the pages, an act similar to role playing. Like an interactive storybook we are given possibilities to explore without constraints.

Crayola Color Escapes Coloring Kit, 2016
Crayola Color Escapes Coloring Kit, 2016
However, It is also a matter of choice

For perfectionists, colouring books give them a chance to indulge. The more adventurous, however, are not confined by the given lines or colours. For those in search of visual satisfaction from the illustrations, the books are a collector’s delight.

The freedom to participate as we please, is one of the top reasons for the highly addictive nature of these colouring books. It is on-the-go and self-paced, providing a space for those who are in need of temporary distraction from the hectic reality. This way, the process of colouring becomes less of a chore, even becoming as rewarding as the sight of the completed work.

Colour is a vital essence that fuels the human soul…

Staring at the outlines within a colouring book, one would be plagued by this sense of emptiness and the nagging urge to fill in the blanks. Colour is more than a pigment; it embodies certain emotions and moods. The absence of it spells a lack of vibrancy and life, which explains why the sight and feel of colours spreading across the page can evoke a huge sense of satisfaction and calm within us.

To me, the colouring book embodies a continual process of creation. From the book designers’ first illustrations to the end user’s completed work, it relies on the dual efforts of the creator and user to make the illustrations “whole”. Perhaps this chance to participate in the creation of beauty is one of the reasons that fuel the rising popularity of these colouring books.

Paula Signolfi Cyoia, Instagram
Paula Signolfi Cyoia, Instagram
Something as simple as a colouring book can foster creativity…

Creativity comes from the willingness to expose oneself to different experiences. Adult colouring books are more often than not a collection of art – a reflection of the designers’ skills, and are good source of study for colour and composition. Within these books, every printed outline was not by coincidence, rather a meticulous arrangement of lines, dots and patterns. The blank spaces might be separated by lines, the colours to be filled within them will still be connected and should resonate with each other.

It takes effort to achieve a truly harmonious colour palate, and how else to do so than constantly exploring the possibilities page by page? The adult colouring book allows us to develop our flair for colour gradually, detached from the pressures usually associated with actual art classes. Through time and experience, we notice which colours complement or contrast each other, and which work the best together. The colouring book thus takes on the role of a personalised tutor, helping us hone our instincts for colour and composition in our own time.

They are also tools in which the creator can utilise to express a certain culture. Each colouring book has its unique style; ranging from floral or animal patterns to illustrations from Mayan roots, to doodles which showcase the landmarks and lifestyle of certain countries. Each page is a new chapter to explore, each newly completed page a satisfying stamp on the passport.

Chillin' Brains, illustrated by Yu Xin
Chillin’ Brains, illustrated by Yu Xin
So, what do these books show about our society?

The emergence and rising popularity of such books is no accident. More than a simple pass time activity, they are a reflection of the society’s changing needs and priorities – a pursuit for simplicity in an increasingly complicated world. But these pages are not simplistic constructions in themselves. From the typeface to the art style and layout of individual pages, each element was a conscious choice made by the creators to portray specific moods or themes. Illustrations are generally designed so that the user’s mind can expand comfortably, while the wordings of the books’ titles often feature uplifting, therapeutic words like “zen” or “mindfulness” – every component works together to highlight the collective need for personal growth.

What’s more, these traits are not limited to colouring books. Increasingly, books focusing on self-help and self-therapy have been popping up on shelves worldwide as best-sellers. A few of these books include Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun (of which I have a copy) and Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. On the Internet, trending videos featuring “soothing or therapeutic” content, for instance: flames engulfing a “cake” of match sticks, or a water jet cleaning grime off the pavement are on the rise as well. Like the simple act of colouring, the contents featured in the previously mention books and videos are easily digestible, a condensation of abstract concepts into bite-size messages.

On the surface, these colouring books may appear as another hobby, but coupled with fun and nostalgia, this light-hearted activity is an easy platform for those of us who wish to achieve personal and spiritual fulfilment.

Yu Xin Profile

Contributing Writer YU XIN a.k.a FISH, is a mad doodler and literature enthusiast. A passionate believer in the power of design, she loves to investigate how design influences the way we think and behave. Her obsessions include crafting puns and cooking up crazy ideas.

Blank Space

It’s been a while since I encountered a blank space (Word document) and faced its terrorising yet delicious aroma of immense possibility. There’s a lot I would like to say here and now. It’s almost as if I was waiting for an audience. And technically, I always am. Whether it is a massive crowd in front of the ramparts of Golconda Fort or the 99.8% non-English speaking European audience packed into a centuries-old barn close to Van Gogh Castle in Auvergne, France or at Delhi’s hallowed Habitat Centre or Bombay’s anticipated NCPA Festival or Turkish-speaking viewers at the stupendous Kagithane Sadabad Sahnesi Theatre in Istanbul… or most of all, alone in my room, performing to the galleries, singing my heart out, hamming it up, declaiming, emoting, romancing, attracting, intimidating, being…

A Scene from 'Spaves
A Scene from ‘Spaces’

I can’t call it acting. It sounds fake, when it feels so real to me. Acting sounds like, an act. A put-on. In my 40% conservative conscience, to say, “I like acting” sounds equivalent to “I like lying” or “I cheat people as a hobby”. How can you say it out loud? “I love to perform” sounds even more unreal-insubstantial, abstract, and functional.

I am strongly reminded of Edward Norton’s character in the film ‘Birdman’. How he feels real only onstage; awkward in real-life. His poignant and evocative portrayal was the most interesting of characters in a film about actors, theatre and finding your life’s meaning. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I have (too much) trouble being myself (and what is really, to be oneself?) awkward in reality, but there is a sense of security that comes with being on stage, in the liberating confines of a role. The devadasi Bhagmati or Queen Hayat Bakshi Begum of the Golconda or the stubborn artist Aziza, with their rules, motivations and justifications for every pause, every glance, every step, are more comfortable than I can be, onstage. There’s a story to be told. When you forget that you are an actor, a person whose talent is to be judged and remember that you are the character; then you can do whatever you want to make that character come alive. With the director’s gentle nudging, of course.

Not that I’ve been personally acquainted with a lot of directors-but I would say it’s been a thrilling experience to work with a director, actor and co-playwright; a person who happens to now be my husband.

I met Mohammad Ali Baig as a person first. Let me explain further. Not as the theatre icon in Hyderabad or as one of the foremost professional theatre revivalists in India. Not as the son of late Qadir Ali Baig who devoted himself to meaningful theatre by contemporary Indian playwrights. A person I would have liked to meet and talk to. And here comes his son, whom I meet amidst whispers of “Who hasn’t heard of Mohammad Ali Baig?” I hadn’t. And there was a lot to know, as I would later discover about his plays, or spectacles atop 200-year-old hillocks with camels and horses and amidst glittering chandeliers of historic palaces. That was then – me, the young serious professional who thought creative work could only be a hobby, and he, the accomplished, youthful, consummate creative professional without the pretensions associated with that world.

He warmly invited me into that world, where I discovered his inner simplicity, affection and humour first and slowly, his creative genius and ability to transform seemingly incongruous elements into aesthetic montages. And that’s what he does everyday with the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation that he set up in his father’s name. He believes it is a tribute to his father, but I know that he has made theatre his own. Or rather, it was always his. And that’s how he makes it seem to me. To be bold and claim your path. To be grand and yet rooted. To be present and free.

A snapshot from Quli - Dilon ka Shahzaada
A snapshot from Quli – Dilon ka Shahzaada

It’s a kind of magic when you start out as a playwright’s imagination, take shape as a director’s vision and soon, at each repeat show, perfect what you’ve become all the while discovering things you never had before.

I can now view my journey with a little more clarity. It all takes me back to the 5-year-old who dreamt up shows for her parents on birthdays and occasions. The 7-year-old who enacted music videos in the rain – own compositions et al (along with imaginary magazine interviews). The 17-year-old heavy-coat encased, fake-blind beggar Mackwardt who will never forget the compliments she received after that within-classroom enactment. The 19-year-old who ran away with her two escorting friends, ran away from late-evening cigarettes and ‘cool crowd’, boys-only, swearing words-filled rehearsals of ‘The Pushcart Peddlers’. The 24-year-old who returned – or rather, turned – to professional, creative theatre pushing boundaries of not just shock and awe, but beauty. I had found my comfort zone, off and onstage.

And yet, I still feel as though it has been given to me, gifted to me. The drawing-room performer, stereo/headphones blasting, skidding on my knees, throwing my heart out like a Frisbee to invisible onlookers, revealing bits of my true self sometimes to Mum (who didn’t need to be shown to know), belting Queen songs, playing guitar a la Desperado or practising a speech on war veterans as John Steinbeck in my father’s coat and my aunt’s hat. I may have abandoned it, I may have fled from it, I may have discounted, ignored, shoved it in the bottom jammed drawer of a dusty cabinet. But it was always there. Pulsing with a soft glow, waiting for me to be done with my notions of art not contributing enough to the world. Waiting for me to stop being insecure about my passion weighing more than my skill. Waiting for me to stop leaving it to other people to judge whether I was good enough. Waiting for me to stop waiting.

And so when my co-playwright, and friend (were we ever ‘just friends’?) offered me a part which I had written, pouring my spirit and soul into the legendary historical character’s every pore, the part of me deep inside, opened up its oyster case, swum up to the surface and said a resounding yes, a breathless yes, even before my mind was aware of it.

And when people say that the bug has bitten, or judge me for wanting to wear the make-up and think that I should step aside and be modest and be a backstage support (and they do, some even close to me), or that I deserved to do better with my education and my life- I do stop and question myself. Am I really being selfish by focusing on my passion for my work? Am I making a big mistake, considering my hard-earned education and propensity to achieve further academic success? Am I being greedy for wanting to perform and wanting to touch people the way I have been told I have done, for knowing that if there is paradise, this is it, this is it, this is it?

I then look over my shoulder at the only child in the drawing room, the shy teenager, a rockstar in her mind, the self-conscious adolescent who had learnt at her father’s knee that there is nothing nobler than honesty. I see her innocence. That innocence remains in my blood like inheritance. I know then that I am not wrong.

And I will always love acting. The way acting has loved me.

Share your views and comments on your theatrical encounters with on facebook or twitter.

Fotor_146764906082560NOOR BAIG is a playwright-actress with Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation, (Hyderabad, India). She has travelled with her plays to several prestigious arts festivals and venues in India and overseas. Her short story ‘Spaces’ was published in the Random House bestseller ‘She Writes’ (2012).


Confessions of a Fangirl: A SHINee Encounter

Sometimes I feel embarrassed of being a fangirl. The question I get very often is “Why are you still following these idols? You are already 26!” That I am pursuing a PhD in English also offers people more reason to judge me: I am supposed to stay away from fandom. I am supposed to enjoy the so-called High Culture. If I cared too much about what is expected of me, I wouldn’t be studying overseas. A single Chinese girl shoulders a lot of pressure for her choices.

SHINee world 2016. PC: Kang Mengni
SHINee world 2016. PC: Kang Mengni

So I went to SHINee’s concerts at Tokyo Dome earlier this week. It was my first time experiencing K-pop live and I screamed, chanted and even cried with 50,000 screaming, chanting, crying fans. During the three hours I was totally mesmerized, not just by SHINee, which always has the best live performances, but more by that indescribable atmosphere. Overwhelmed by the dazzling lightsticks of the same color (every K-pop band has its unique color), the uniform fanchants and the mind-blowing visual effects, I lost myself in a world completely different from what I am accustomed to: A peaceful environment of reading and writing. My guilt of being a K-pop fan just disappeared. Why should I feel bad about that? Why should I subject myself to the judgment of those who will never know the feeling of watching such a spectacular performance with 50,000 people?!

A Dream Stage, Tokyo Dome. PC: Kang Mengni
A Dream Stage, Tokyo Dome. PC: Kang Mengni

I had been informed that the fandom system and idol culture in Japan was quite mature. Given such expectations, I was not ready for seeing tens of thousands of people rushing to queue for idol products: keychains, fans, photos, bags, coats… Everyone was enthusiastic, yet everything was organized. Contrasted with the scene was the hectic Japanese, not far away from the Dome, in crowded streets and subway stations, completely disconnected from what was happening. It seems that Japanese are quite used to these different worlds and they can easily move between them. At one moment they are fangirls and a few hours later they are back as gentle and refined as typical Japanese. I was also surprised at the number of elderly people at these concerts. Age does not prevent them from enjoying such shared magic with the youth!

The two concerts in Tokyo Dome were absolutely wonderful. But a funny episode made me feel awkward at the end of the concert. As I cannot speak Japanese, I ignored the notice on my seat. It was from the organizers requesting everyone to hold up the colored banner when the last song ends, so that the words “ALWAYS WITH YOU” forms in the audience. The moment when everyone took out their banners, I spent seconds to figure out what was going on. As I rushed to take mine out, I was flustered for a moment for almost ruining their grand finale. This last scene keeps coming back to me: why did I feel responsible to complete a task that helps the branding of the group? My love for SHINee is genuine, but it was being calculated and manipulated for whatever purposes required by the industry behind the curtain. For a moment, it makes me wonder if my feelings have any significance at all.

I have always been a fangirl. My teenage years was never boring because of the heated discussions with my peers about the celebrities of the time. The beginning of the new millennium was the era of Chinese-pop. Like many of my friends, I took myself superior to those into Korean music and dramas, which was and is still considered shallow and cheesy. The clichés of love triangle, the unchanging music style, the eyeliner… all these things are regarded superficial under the context of Chinese culture, which has a history of more than 5,000 years. What is so attractive of Korean pop? If you cannot appreciate high culture, at least you can support Chinese pop, our own thing—this is still the mentality of many Chinese. We don’t want to be the victims of cultural imperialism, yet we constantly inflict our own values on others.

I then got into western culture largely because I was an English major. Even now I cannot tell if it was vanity or real passion that drove me to consume those American-dramas non-stop. Perhaps I just unconsciously got my academic and leisure lives mixed up. It was not until 2014 when SHINee caught my attention and trapped me into K-pop that I began to seriously look into it, probably owing to the impulsion to justify my taste. I guess compared to other people, Chinese have a much stronger aversion to K-pop as it is unacceptable to see their once hegemonic culture eroded by it. If they can take the exposure to American entertainment for granted, they cannot bear the popularity of the Korean counterpart—America is a recognized power, while Korea is a close competitor. Self-sufficiency plays a big role here.

K-Pop Supergroup: SHINee
K-Pop Supergroup: SHINee

A more general dislike of Korean culture mainly lies in that it emphasizes the exterior too much. The image, hairstyle, makeup, expression, outfit and dance moves, may outweigh the interior—the music itself. For those people who enjoy more classic or traditional music genres like Jazz and Country style, K-pop is definitely not an option. But if you ever have the patience to finish a music video or live performance of K-pop, you will find that those elements are not for their own sake. Rather, they serve the whole concept. There are different types of music, some are concerned solely with voice, some are more about visual enjoyment. Most of K-pop belongs to the latter.

But that K-pop cannot satisfy certain groups does not mean it should be debased. I cannot believe that people are still essentializing music in 2016! You like something of high musicality, that is fine. But you cannot deny that the music catering to direct visual and audio satisfactions is also a form of art. Personally, I would love to distract a little bit from the mundane reading of English literature and pamper myself with these catchy pieces: No need for sophistication, all you have to do is to relax. Here I want to say this “sophistication” is a relative concept. Compared to High Culture, K-pop is indeed unsophisticated, if “sophistication” is defined as something profound and requires diligent attention and preparation to understand. I think K-pop is sophisticated in its own way because I have to mobilize my sensory perception all the time: There are just so many things going on! People who have ever watched the performances of the groups like SHINee would never question their singing and dancing abilities, but the misunderstanding of K-pop as something all about “packaging” hardly gets clarified, as those out of field never bother themselves to listen to it, not to say to appreciate.

I have to admit that there is a sense of conformity saturated in K-pop industry and the pursuit of such uniformity has incurred much controversy. Many YouTubers have tried to show K-pop to those influenced and cultivated by western culture and their reaction to it indicates curiosity arising not from sincerity but from a momentary attraction to something foreign to their context. The notorious training system and the stringent selecting process are frequently dubbed in the West as oppressive and anti-individualistic. The common practice of plastic surgery among idols is also regarded ridiculous—another embodiment of the pursuit of perfect appearance. The systematic operation behind the K-pop industry is of course a complicated issue requiring a more elaborate explanation. Here I just want to share my own feeling of being a tiny part of this huge picture. Despite of the craziness on K-pop, I am also haunted by slight uneasiness every now and then.

Which K-Pop bands do you go crazy over? Share your views and comments on popular fandom with on facebook or twitter.

Mengni profileThe Contributing Writer KANG MENGNI is currently a PhD student of English in Nanyang Technological University, mainly focusing on postmodern literature. She is also a big fan of K-pop.