The vivid cover of a Charles Leo coloring book. Courtesy image

Hue knew? Concordian is creative force behind adult coloring books

March 12, 2024

By Holly Camero — Correspondent 

As a self-taught graphic designer, Charles Leo has done a little of everything — from creating three-dimensional renderings of multi-family housing developments to designing bottles for major pharmaceutical companies to helping with page production at publishing houses.   

“I just taught myself everything I could possibly learn. I’ve done illustrations for all kinds of projects,” he said.  

Now, the Concord resident is using his skills to create coloring books for adults, publishing them under the pen name “Hello Charlie” because “it sounds friendlier and happier.”  

The most recent book, published February 13, is titled “The Art Nouveau Coloring Book: Hats, Cats, & Vintage Romance Volume 1.” 

Courtesy image

“So, my favorite illustrations are the vintage look with gigantic hats and flowers everywhere and cats, of course,” Leo said of his latest endeavor.  

Nearly all his books’ illustrations are computer-drawn. He uses various tools to come up with the images, he said.   

“It definitely helps, but it’s not completely AI (Artificial Intelligence). There is a lot of handwork involved [in] touching up images, contrast … So, it’s not an automatic process. In the end, I’ve had my fingerprint on every single one of them. I bring 25 years of experience to the table on this,” Leo said.   

Behind the scenes 

The coloring books “can be challenging at times,” with complex, detailed pictures he hopes will appeal to adults.  

“Someone can spend days and days and days working on [an illustration],” he said, noting the backgrounds and floral patterns in his coloring books. “When I think of adult, I think of something a little bit more challenging.”   

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Take The Amazing Animal Coloring Book, for example.  

“Animals are fun – everybody just loves animals,” Leo said.  

But animals are only part of the book: The pictures have background scenery and floral and geometric patterns, too.  

“The minute you break it up with geometrical patterns, people can do whatever they want, and no one expects it to look completely real,” he said.  

He points to an elephant print.  

“You can do so many colors with it, which you wouldn’t do if it was supposed to look like a real elephant. It’s really your imagination,” he said.  

Friends often send him photos of their colored pages.  

“I get a kick out of seeing what other people are doing with it because some of it is better than anything I could do, and sometimes it’s really surprising,” he said.  

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Coloring away stress 

The paperback coloring books are part of “A Stress Relief and Mindfulness Coloring Book Series.” Knowing so many people spend time coloring sometimes makes him a little jealous.  

“I’m seeing more people spending time working on these with their pens in their hand and I spend a lot of time on the computer. [Coloring is] the thing that gets people away from the computer. It gets people working with their hands. You can take it with you … and do it at your own pace. The great irony is that I’m on the screen, and I watch other people turn off and actually do something with their hands. It’s just a mindful practice,” Leo said.  

Some in the medical profession would agree.  

Joel Bobby, a licensed independent clinical social worker in psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic in Austin, Minnesota, wrote in an August 2022 report that coloring books can be a tool for practicing good mental health.  

As people concentrate on color choices and staying inside the lines, they can focus and stay in the moment, he wrote.  

Coloring can also help relieve stress by calming the brain and helping a person’s body relax, Bobby said.  

“This can improve sleep and fatigue while decreasing body aches, heart rate, respiration, and feelings of depression and anxiety,” he wrote.  

Because coloring is non-competitive, there’s no pressure to finish in one sitting or execute a perfectly colored page.  

“Try to let go of judgments or expectations and enjoy the simple beauty of coloring. The only thing that matters is if you found enjoyment and relaxation while coloring,” Bobby wrote.