Johanna Basford is the Illustrator of a series of intricately drawn adult coloring books. For one of her latest books, Johanna sat down to talk about her work and experiences.
An Inky Expedition and Coloring Book for Adults
(Penguin Books; Released August 9, 2016; 9780143109006; $16.95)
In your previous books, you’ve invited colorists to join you for inky adventures in gardens, forests, and oceans. What attracted you to the jungle for this new book?
I’ve never visited a real Jungle, but the idea for this book came to me whilst visiting Aberdeen’s Winter Gardens with my daughter, Evie. The tropical plants are housed in huge glass greenhouses and whilst exploring them one day Evie pointed into the dense leafy undergrowth and shouted ‘Look Mummy! Tiger!’. The Jungle suddenly seemed like a marvelous place for an inky adventure; full of gargantuan leaves, exotic flowers and teeming with creatures big and small. A great place to let your imagination roam wild!
What about coloring do you think is so therapeutic?
I think it’s a great chance to unplug and indulge in a bit of a digital detox. We’re all glued to screens, be it our laptops, iPads or TVs, so to have the opportunity to lose yourself for a little while in something analogue and creative is often a welcome retreat. There’s no ping of a tweet or an email or the interruption of a new message to read, you can just spend some time focused on the task at hand and ignite your inner creative spark
Who is your favorite artist? Favorite author?
We’re currently reading a lot of Dr. Seuss in our house. My favorite has to be Oh, The Places You’ll Go! It’s like an undercover self-help book with its motivational messages and no-nonsense advice – perfect if you are feeling a little lost or stuck in a procrastinating fog.
I could never pick one single favorite artist or creative practice; these things change like the seasons. My current obsessions are terrariums, brush calligraphy, flat lay photography (still life for the digital age!) and Pantone® color books.
You’ve spoken about not being accepted to a post grad program. What about your life do you think would be different if you had accepted in? What are the benefits of a “real world” education as opposed to formal post-graduate programs?
To be fair, I applied to do a post grad at the Royal College of Art in London because I didn’t know what else to do after Art School. It wasn’t the best reason to continue in education and I’m lucky they rejected me! Instead of spending 2 more (expensive!) years in education, I just got stuck into work. I did some internships then set-up my own studio. I made a ton of mistakes, but I learned from them all. I think there’s only so much you can learn within the bubble of Art School, sooner or later you have to go out into the real world, find your clients, your voice, your style of work and just start living!
Do you color in your own books?
Not as much as you would think! I often test pens and paper samples by coloring in small sections of the drawings, but I tend to think of the books as collaborations. I create the artwork and draw the outlines, then it’s up to whoever buys the book to bring the color and make their mark. My job is the black and white line work, then I hand creative control over to audience. I think perhaps if I started coloring the books it would disrupt the natural order of things!
In your bio you’re described as an “ink evangelist.” What does that mean to you?
I prefer pens and pencils to pixels. I use the computer right at the end of my creative process to rotate butterflies, erase tea spillages and perhaps flip some symmetry. I absolutely don’t use the computer to create. I think the natural world needs to be captured by hand, it seems counterintuitive to try and recreate the beauty of a jelly fish or a coral reef in little square pixels! I rejoice in the wobbly lines, imperfect circles and the odd smudgy finger print – they prove that the artwork was lovingly crafted by a real person and not just generated on a screen.
Your coloring books, Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest, and Lost Ocean, have been huge successes, with over 20 million sold worldwide. Were you surprised by that? What in your life has been different since the books took off?
The numbers don’t seem real! Day to day not much has changed in terms of work. I still sit at my desk in my house in rural Scotland, drawing pictures all day and dreaming up ways to share them with the world. I’ll never fail to be surprised by the way a little idea, to create a coloring book for adults, has snowballed into what it has become. It’s utterly bizarre but also incredibly humbling to have the opportunity to share my work and collaborate with millions of people all over the world. Some days I look at the amazing pictures people post online of their completed coloring pictures and just think ‘how did this happen?!’.
Now that your daughter is approaching two years old, have you started to introduce her to coloring?
Of course! Although it was less of an introduction and more sabotage! Evie loves to find a pen or pencil and add her own little contribution to whatever might be on my desk – whether I want her to or not! Her favorite creative projects are our ‘Big Pictures.’ I tape a long strip of wallpaper to the kitchen floor, grab a marker and draw whatever she tells me (usually this involves butterflies, mice and raspberries), then she lies on the floor and colors it in with her crayons whilst I cook dinner.
Traditionally, coloring has been considered an activity for kids, but obviously adults are big fans of coloring! Your books are designed for adults, but do you see coloring as a family activity? Do you have suggestions for your fans who want to get their kids involved?
I think any creative activity can be enjoyed by people of all ages, you just need to adapt it a little, relax and have fun. The reason kids enjoy drawing and painting so much is that they aren’t too precious with it. They never doubt their own talent or worry they aren’t doing it ‘right’ – they just get stuck in!
I see so many great examples of my drawings colored by kids – and they all look full of joy and energy and excitement! The best way to encourage little people to pick up a pen or pencil is to lead by example. Sit down and do some coloring of your own, don’t worry if you go over the lines and don’t over think your color choice.
Remember, there are no wrong colors! Suggest to kids that they can color several sections in the same color if the individual shapes are proving to be a bit fiddly and always advise that they go wild when it comes to backgrounds – encourage them to add their own drawings and embellishments! For very little hands, get a blank sheet of paper and a marker pen, then draw a simplified version of the page you are working on – perhaps a couple of big leaves and a butterfly – this way they have their own ‘special’ version to color and you can keep your book crayon free!
And lastly, remember collaboration is always the most fun way to work! Pick a page, then take it in turns to color a bit!
If you could pick one of your environments to inhabit as one of its critters or creatures, which would it be? Why?
Oh I’d love to be a bee in Secret Garden! I just love bumble bees! Flitting from flower to flower, living with all your friends and enjoying the summer sunshine—what a life!
Thanks to Johanna for taking the time to answer questions about her new book and work!
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