Using the colored pencils provided, Shirley McLernon bent her head over the black and white outlines of a little bear sitting on a half-moon and began to color them in.
"You can hardly see my yellow," she worried.
McLernon, of Towson, is not a little girl of, say, 5 or 6. She is 80. Yet there she was, coloring on 11-by-17 heavy stock paper at a long table in the Wilson Room of the Towson Library, where piped-in jazz played and a sign announced the library's new "Coloring for Adults" program.
She even used her finger to rub in the colors.
"It takes out those little lines in between, where you kind of mess up," she explained.
Coloring for adults is a nationwide trend. Adult coloring books are a staple of Amazon's best-seller lists. "Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book" by Johanna Basford was No. 3 on the top 10 list last week and "Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns" by Blue Sky Coloring was No. 6.
So popular is adult coloring nationwide that Parade magazine wrote a recent cover story about it and the American Art Therapy Association has issued a statement on its website about the craze.
"The coloring book phenomenon is helping to reintroduce art as an important component of health and wellness," the association says, referring to coloring as "a self-care hobby for stress management," but encouraging people seeking art therapy counseling to consult a credentialed arts therapist.
The Towson and Baltimore areas are catching the craze, too. The Barnes & Noble bookstore on York Road has featured a large display of adult coloring books in its downstairs vestibule and store manager Linda Liberto said interest has skyrocketed since last Mother's Day and that it seems especially popular with senior citizens and people with illnesses, including a cancer patient who told her that reading was becoming too tiring for her and that she had turned to coloring as an alternative.
Liberto also observed that coloring is a highly focused activity.
"You can't multi-task while you're coloring," she said. "You can't be on the phone."
A Barnes & Noble store near Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in North Baltimore went so far as to start a coloring club, also known as a coloring happy hour, last summer, and has been seeing many young people attending, said Pat Kennedy, the store's trade book supervisor.
"It is a trend that seems to go across generations," she said.
Kennedy said her supervisor, Michael Singer, "thought it would be a fun idea, because were getting in all these coloring books," as well as pencils and other coloring supplies.
Many of the books promote themselves as peaceful and calming, and use images such as mandalas, a spiritual symbol in Indian religions, Kennedy said.
"As soon as we get the books in, we sell them," she said, noting that many people are using them as an antidote to boredom.
"People say, 'I'm going to be on a plane for a long time,'" she said.
The St. Paul Street store carries a lot of calendars in which people can color in a drawing for each month, she said.
The store is capitalizing by displaying some of the coloring efforts and offering discounts on coloring books to those whose work is displayed, Kennedy said.
Also attending the inaugural coloring program early last month was Marquiscia Finney, 41, of the Cedonia neighborhood in Baltimore. Finney has special needs, uses a wheelchair and was taken to the library by her caregivers, Jaleesa Woodrum and Tarsha Witherspoon, at the request of her mother, who thought the session would give her daughter something fun to do. The caregivers thought so, too.
"She loves coloring," Woodrum said.
"So we knew that was going to catch her attention," Witherspoon said.
They said Finney is usually talkative, but on this particular evening, she didn't have much to say. She was too busy coloring in Super Mario Brothers characters, all in pink.
Although 10 people signed up for the program, Finney and McLernon were the only two who actually showed up. But Marcia Ferreira, the librarian working with them, wasn't concerned about the turnout.
"This is a very laid-back program. The idea is to relax, draw and listen to music," Ferreira said. "My guess is, once people try it, they will enjoy it."
And she advised McLernon and Finney, "Don't be afraid to color outside the lines."
"It's relaxing. It's fun," said McLernon. "I've always loved coloring. As a kid, I always colored. I thought it was nice that they would offer coloring for adults."
Ferreira, 42, of Towson, didn't just supervise the program. She joined in, coloring the top drawing on a large stack of them, most more complex than a drawing children would color. The pattern on the one Ferreira chose was abstract, with geometric patterns, although other drawings ranged from fish to cars.
And she noted that although it has been many years since she colored as a little girl, the coloring bug bit her again when she began helping with the program.
"I did buy a coloring book a couple of weeks ago," she admitted.
On a smaller table near the door of the Wilson Room were several library books about coloring.
Finney's caregivers spent much of the hour-long coloring session in another area of the library, playing on a computer. But when Woodrum came to check on Finney, she too picked up a drawing to color, for lack of anything better to do while she waited for the coloring session to wrap up. Woodrum chose a drawing of the University of Maryland sports logo with a turtle and the letter M.
When asked if it was fun, Woodrum shrugged and said, "It's coloring."
And when asked when the last time she colored was, she said, "I can't even tell you."
But she made short work of her drawing and was proud of her effort.
"It's actually neat for a change," she said.