When Joanna Farina wants to lift her spirits, she often turns to a favorite pastime from her youth: coloring.

Coloring has become a popular hobby no longer reserved for youngsters but for adults of all ages. From bars to libraries to tea parties, the coloring phenomenon has struck a chord with patrons and retailers.

Farina, a teacher's aide, was among about a dozen people who showed up at the Cherry Hill Library recently to color. She took up the hobby two years ago.

"It's relaxing," said Farina, 58, of Cherry Hill. "I liked it right away."

The library set aside 90 minutes specifically for older adults as part of its bimonthly Thursday Morning program series.

Illustrations were left on the table for participants to chose from, along with colored pencils and markers. Tranquil meditation music played in the background while peaceful nature images flashed on a screen in a softly lit room.

"We are trying to make this as chilled and relaxing as we can," said Deena Caswell, outreach librarian. "We do all of the work."

Farina brought her own book, "Color Me Happy." Grieving the loss of her only child, Jennifer, in a house fire last January, she said she colors at least twice a week as part of her mourning process.

Demetra Evans, who runs a before-school child-care program at Russell Night Elementary in Cherry Hill, joined the library group to color cards that students will send to the Veterans Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Each card has a handwritten message: "Best wishes to a very special person." Last month, the students, who earn community-service credit for the project, sent about 70 Thanksgiving cards to veterans, Evans said.

"They were so beautiful," said Evans, 78, of Cherry Hill. "I'm very proud of them."

Library employees also were allowed to take a break from work to join in the coloring. The group sat quietly, speaking in hushed tones amid the sound of pencils shading their illustrations.

"I've never done this before," said first-timer Shelby Seningen Goldfarb, a direct-care supervisor with Easter Seal. "I colored when I was young."

Retired Camden High School English teacher Richard King began coloring in 2003 while recuperating from hip surgery. "I had to find something to do."

King, 67, of Pennsauken, said coloring brought balance to his once-stressful lifestyle that included a 30-year stint as an assistant basketball coach.

"I was very, very no-nonsense," King said with a laugh. "This is such a calming thing. People don't think it was something I would do."

King colors book and large poster illustrations with markers and gives them as gifts to his elderly mother and members of his church.

Coloring appeals to people because it provides an outlet to relax, relieve stress, and be creative, researchers said. In general, research has shown that engaging in repetitive actions such as coloring can have a meditative effect and lower blood pressure and heart rate, said Sean Duffy, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University-Camden.

"Filling in colors is an easy way to feel like one is 'doing something' while engaging in a task that requires very little action or behavior," said Duffy, who studies pop culture.

Added to that, coloring requires little skill, so anybody can do it. It's also relatively inexpensive. It can be done with a crowd in a public venue like the library or from the comfort of home.

"It gives people a place to sit with themselves. We don't have a lot of space for that in our lives," said Nancy Gerber, director of the doctoral program in creative arts therapies at Drexel University.

"People are looking for a respite from the tensions and frenetic pace of today," said Gerber, who noted that coloring differs from art therapy used by clinicians to treat ailments such as depression.

Beginning Monday, the Cherry Hill Library will sponsor a "passive adult color week" in its Reading Room, mostly targeting students preparing for final exams. Coloring books and pencils will be left on every table.

The finished pages can be taken home or left for display in the library. "It's really great, especially around the holiday season," Caswell said.

The adult coloring book for craze began several years ago. One of the most popular books, Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, has been translated into 14 languages and sold more than one million copies.

The demand has flooded the market with themed coloring books, from simple drawings to intricate designs. Bookstores have set up special sections, and retailers from discount stores to swank gift shops are stocked with coloring books.

"You really do feel like an artist at the end," said illustrator Laurie Triefeldt of Trenton. "It gives people a real sense of accomplishment and creativity."

Triefeldt, a former newspaper graphic artist, released her first coloring book, Elegant Tea Party, this year. A second book is due out this month.

"It's something I always wanted to do," said Triefeldt, also the author and illustrator of the Weekly Wonder, which appears in newspapers around the country. "I grew up with coloring books and dolls."

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