We here at Open Culture heartily endorse the practice of viewing art, whether in a physical museum, in the pages of a book, or online. For some, however, it tends to have one serious shortcoming: all the colors are already filled in. If you’re itching to use your own colored pencils, crayons, watercolors, or other tools of choice on drawings, paintings, and a variety of other works besides in the possession of well-known art institutions, these past few months are a time of year to savor thanks to the initiative Color Our Collections.
Each February, Color Our Collections releases its latest round of coloring books free online, assembled from contributions by the likes of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Eton College, the New York Botanical Garden, the Toronto Public Library, and the University of California, San Francisco.
“Launched by The New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016,” says its about page, it hosts an “annual coloring festival on social media during which libraries, museums, archives and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring content featuring images from their collections.”
The de-colored pictures you see here offer just a taste of all you can find in this year’s Color Our Collections crop. Some of the participating institutions provide colorable selections from across their holdings, some stick to a certain theme, and some contribute actual volumes, digitized whole or created for the occasion. Take, for instance, the Ol’ Medical Colouring Book from Queen’s University Library, which promises hours of fun with pages like “anterior view of the skeletal system,” “ventral view of the brain,” and “urinary system shown on the female form.”
These are some distance from the bunnies and buttercups we colored in as children; so are the vigorous nineteen-thirties motorcycle advertisements assembled by the Harley-Davidson Archive, or the architectural and archaeological drawings from the Médiathèque de Châteaudun. But Color Our Collections 2023 also contains a good deal of kid-directed material as well, including Princeton University Library’s lively package of animal images from issues of Kodomo no Kuni, or The Land of Children — a magazine directed toward the kids of Japan a century ago, but then, some childhood pleasures know no cultural or temporal bounds. Enter the archive of 2023 coloring books here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.