Ënnji is French illustrator represented by both Karine Garnier and illozoo. She creates stripped-down illustrations focusing on basic shapes and limited colours. Occasionally adding in textures such as watercolour or ink splats. Roughing up otherwise pristine shape adding some movement. Ënnji’s illustrations play on negative space. She regularly balances visible shapes with ones that are purposely obscured, compelling the viewer complete the image themselves.
In little over a year, adult colouring books have made a monumental impact across the publishing world. You need only to take a look at Amazon’s Best Sellers Book list to garner how popular they have become. Various titles are sprinkled all over the top 10 list and beyond. They have well past their craze phase and transitioned to a staple in everyday culture.
However, colouring books for grown-ups is not a new concept. Ruth Heller, a children’s author and graphic artist produced many colouring books aimed at children and adults alike throughout the 1970s up until 2000. I also remember a rather tongue-and-cheek Gangsta Rap Coloring Book, which came out in 2004 to favourable reactions. So what has changed? Why is adult colouring books now a ‘thing’?
Well, I had the opportunity to find out for myself. Phoenix Yard Books are publishers of The One and Only Colouring Book series. They currently have five books in the series and I sat down with two of them, The One and Only Mandala Colouring Book and The Second One and Only Colouring Book for Adults. Both books have inspiring full-colour glossy covers. The interior pages are thick lightly textured paper, around 200gsm. The images are not printed in solid black, rather they vary from mid to dark grey. I am not sure why this is, perhaps grey is more calming than black, however, it is something that stood out to me.
The Mandala Colouring Book is, as you would expect, a collection circular Hinduism and Buddhism patterns. Many of the illustrations are very intricate with tiny details and appear to be drawn completely freehand. Colouring Book for Adults has a variety of subjects, mostly floral, but some abstract shapes and even a page of people, which appealed more to my representational sensibilities.
Colouring in has never been my strongest suit, staying within the lines was off the table from the get-go, but none of which hindered my experience. once you get started, you can very easily lose yourself. On first glance many of the images are daunting, I found myself dotting around the book, only colouring in the sections of the illustrations, then moving on to another page. Which is completely fine, you can always come back to an image at a later date.
I tested the books by using colour pencils, fibre tip pens and promarkers. Not being able to remember the last time I used colour pencils or felt tips I naturally felt more comfortable and grown-up using the promarkers. They glide across the page and left the most consistent solid colour behind. Their only downside is that the bleed, a lot. You pretty much kill the reverse of the page using them. Which may not be a sacrifice most people are willing to make.
Spending about an hour of my day with these books, I can easily see their appeal. They do a great job of zoning you out and really punch that nostalgia button. Though I didn’t actually feel like a kid again, I’m pretty sure looking at my face would have said otherwise. I had to regularly bite my lip to stop my tongue from sticking out. I would highly recommend having a timer nearby as you can quickly become engrossed by the process and lose track of time.
To address my opening question, why is adult colouring books now a ‘thing’? Some could argue, it’s their therapeutic qualities, helping you to switch off and de-stress in an evermore onerous world. But stress, like colouring books, have been commonplace in modern city life for over a century, so adult colouring books could have quite easily been just as popular in the 1980s, but yet they weren’t.
I believe the answer is we are experiencing a second Arts and Crafts movement. Just as the first was a reaction to industrialisation, we are seeing a strong response to digitisation. Just as the first Arts and Crafts movement had strong floral motifs, it stands to reason that much of the imagery in these books are inspired by nature.
Independent magazine publishing is proof of people’s reaction towards digitisation. Looking at its resurgence and growth in the last couple years emphasises the demand for a vessel of culture that is more tangible than the glowing screen of a tablet. For many years now there has also been numerous authors and practitioners, such as Matthew Crawford, Richard Sennet and Jonathan Openshaw, crying out about the virtues of craftmanship in the modern age. It would seem the populous are finally catching up.
Our fingers are itching to do more than just tap. Colouring books are the open door for grown-ups to enter the world of craft without the hindrance of facing a blank page. Adult colouring books let our hands run free. They reinforce, one does not need to be a creative to be creative.
We were recently contacted by Italian freelance graphic designer and illustrator, Diamante Beghetto, who has embarked on a project titled, Beautiful Jungle. In which Diamante draws on top of vintage photographs using Uni-posca paint markers. Adding creatures and distorting figures, to otherwise mundane imagery, to create humorous yet unsettling visuals.
Across all Diamante illustration work, you get a real sense that the process is rather organic, that the images feel very much spontanious. Perhaps having an idea but ultimately using the paper to explore and let her mind and hand wonder. Which in turn gives the viewer a similar experience, where your eyes dot across the illustration, trying to make sense of it all.
In Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi, 50 talented traditional and digital artists showcase their sketches, share their inspirations, and explain their approaches to drawing sci-fi art. From doodles of robots and aliens, to concept designs for spaceships and speculative life-forms, Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi is a visually stunning collection packed with useful tips and creative insights – an invaluable resource that will inspire artists of all abilities.
The Book Review:
Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi is the third installment from 3DTotal’s Sketching from the Imagination series. You can read our review of the previous edition, Sketching from the Imagination: Fantasy. As with the previous editions, the format remains a chunky square paperback showcasing the work of 50 illustrators from around the world. The subject ranges from re-imagined worlds, landscapes, monsters, aliens, robots, and mechs. There is also a host of futuristic and otherworldly characters.
All images are accompanied by words from the artist, giving you more insight into their thoughts and process. As well as all the tips, one thing that really stands out in this edition is the reoccurring words of encouragement, such as this gem,
Do not feel guilty because you’ve taken a break (because you need it!) or because you’re slow. Nobody works at the same rhythm. When you feel bored about practicing, just look into new things or activities.
Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi has a spectrum of styles and I’m sure each reader will have their own favourites. The illustrators that stood out to me were Jerel Dye, Josan Gonzalez, Anaïs Maamar, Veronique Meignaud, Jakub Rebelka, Nick Sumida, and Brad Wright. I could probably go on, but I’ll stop the list there. Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-fi is a great addition to the series that is sure to introduce you to many new illustrators.
Currently 3DTotal is running a very fitting kickstarter campaign called, How to Keep a Sketch Journey. Which combines visual inspiration, tutorials and high-quality stationary to get amateurs and professionals alike sketching more. The Monsieur soft leather cover sketch journal is sure to make you the envy of all your sketching buddies.
If there is a comic on the shelf right now not coloured by Jordie Bellaire, I have not seen it. This weekend, during a quick comic shop, I saw her name on Moon Knight, Convergence Shazam, The Kitchen, Injection and probably a bunch more I did not spot. Jordie Bellaire has been a familiar fixture of our comic shop shelves for much of the last two years. So prolific and wonderful is Ballaire, that last year the industry showed their appriciation in the form of an Eisner award. Which in 22 years only 10 other colourist have earned, Dave Stewart and Chris Ware claiming over half of the awards between them.
Bellaire has worked with close to all of the big comic publisher on many great titles such as, Pretty Deadly, The Manhattan Projects, Nowhere Men, Zero, and Hawkeye. Along the way, enhansing the pages of many of my favourite current comic artist including Tom Fowler, Chris Samnee, Ramon Perez, Sean Murphy, Becky Cloonan and Emma Rios.
Perhaps you have heard of Colorist Appreciation Day, well, you can thank Bellaire for that too!
I started collecting comics in a bygone time called the 90s. Back then there was one stamp on the covers of comic far more important than the Comic Code Authority, which was Liquid!. Many of my favourite titles had it and thanks to their distinct logo, one could not miss it. It was the first time I took a real interest in colourist and that apprieciation has grown ever since. I thought at the time this was a shared feeling, however, jump forward 20 years and it seems like the industy and perhaps its audience have not shown colourist the same recognition. In a tumblr post by titled, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” directed at an unnamed fan convention, Bellaire laid it out bare, stating the importanace of all professionals that work in comics, underlining the vital role that colourist play. The post gained the attention that the subject deserved and resulted in fans calling for a #ColoristAppreciationDay on Twitter and opened a discussion that continues today.