Dee Razzuto of Philadelphia used to love to pull out her crayons when she was bored and color. But she finally stopped doing it in public because of all the strange looks she was getting.

Ms. Razzuto is 35 years old.

Adult colorers are more common than you might think, according to Binney & Smith, the Easton, Pa., maker of Crayola products. And lately, the unit of Hallmark Cards has been noticing an upturn in the number of adults who say they are buying crayons for themselves, according to Tracy Moran, a Crayola spokeswoman. To encourage the trend, Crayola is sponsoring a coloring contest for adults, which will be judged in October by a panel of children. The grand prize: $25,000 in silver and gold bullion.

Who are these people? Adult colorers tend to be an unusual bunch, says Ann McGillicuddy-DeLisi, a professor of development psychology at Lafayette College in Easton. Because coloring goes against the notion of being productive and competitive, they are often nonconformists, she says. Most adult colorers are women, she adds.

Once adults let go of their inhibitions, many find coloring highly therapeutic, says Edie Pistolesi, a professor of art education at California State University in Northridge, Calif. Carolyn Neary, a 28-year-old media executive from Philadelphia, colors in a Cinderella coloring book to relieve stress. ``Whenever I can, I break out my crayons, find my fairy tale coloring books and get to work,'' she says. ``My fiance just doesn't get it.''

Some adult colorers report feeling liberated when they break the rules and color outside the line boundaries, says Jo-Ann Magdoff, a cultural anthropologist. ``It's a way of being expressive that feels safe,'' she says.

That's not the case for Renee Murray, 37, an antiques dealer in Middleboro, Mass. She says she always stays within the lines when she colors. (Her favorite colors are pink and teal green.)

Prof. Pistolesi observes that her adult students, like children, often spend an inordinate amount of time just choosing a color. And coloring time can have its heated moments for grownups, too. ``Adult colorers get territorial with their crayon boxes _ they hate to share,'' she says.

Unlike her own two young children, however, adult colorers don't try to eat their crayons.