We sat down (virtually!) with the queen of colouring books, Millie Marotta, and asked her all about her process, her designs, and the benefits of colouring. You may have seen her coveted colouring books in our May box, they’ve been a huge hit!
So, Millie, how did you begin your career in creating colouring books?
Initially it was my Publisher who approached me with the idea of putting together a colouring book, having already seen some of my commercial work. Straight away I thought it would be a really exciting project and felt quite confident that the style of my work would lend itself very well to colouring books for adults – the more I thought about it the more sense it made and I quickly got to work. Colouring, and being creative in general, is something we all enjoy as children but as we grow up other things become more prominent in our lives. I don’t think that childhood creativity ever really leaves us, I think for many it just gets a little buried. At the time I wasn’t really thinking much beyond the idea of creating a beautiful book that people would enjoy colouring as much as I had enjoyed putting it together. I never thought for a moment that the books would become as popular as they have and it’s wonderful now to see so many people across the world enjoying colouring as a creative outlet in their everyday lives.
Have you always coloured, throughout your life? Or was there a certain stage of life when you got into it?
As a child I was always colouring, painting, drawing, making things and generally getting stuck into anything creative that I could get my hands on. I studied Art throughout school and then went to Art college. For a few years I was Art teacher myself and continued my own creative projects alongside my job, before taking the plunge to work full-time as a freelance Illustrator. There isn’t a specific time I can recall becoming interested in Art, it’s more of an ‘in-built’ part of me.
Is there any psychology behind the art of colouring and soothing/meditation?
Definitely. Colouring, along with many other creative activities, can bring huge benefits to our mental wellbeing, which in recent weeks I’ve been so strongly reminded of. It’s been proven that these types of activities, where you’re working with your hands and focusing the mind can help reduce stress, ease anxieties and calm the mind. Creative and mindful activities, like colouring, encourage you to focus on the here and now, to concentrate on the task at hand and be very much present in that moment. Many people struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression have found colouring to be really helpful in that it can be a very meditative process and can provide a much-needed distraction or escape from negative thoughts or feelings. There’s also the simple enjoyment and satisfaction that we as humans get from spending time making something and seeing a finished product as a result of our efforts.
What are your favourite pieces to illustrate for a colouring book, as you have such a range?
I wouldn’t say that I have one favourite kind of image to work on – I’m lucky in that if for whatever reason I don’t feel like working on a particular image one day, I can just jiggle my schedule a little to whatever suits me. My drawings are quite varied, some take just a day to complete from pencil sketch to inked up final artwork, while others, such as the really intricate double spreads can take up to 4 days to complete from start to finish. Some days I’m creating repeat patterns and others I’m working with symmetry or creating a mandala style artwork – it never gets boring.
One of my favourite things about making colouring books is that I get to share my illustrations with the most fantastic collaborative audience I could wish for. Seeing the colouring community interacting and sharing ideas, inspiration and work makes me endlessly happy. I also love that I get to continuously explore, research and learn about the natural world – I really want my books to encourage people to have a connection with nature as well as enjoy the colouring itself, I think you’d be quite surprised by how much research I actually do for a colouring book.
What are your top tips for adults beginning with more intricate colouring?
I’m sending a separate document filled with tips.
What’s your usual colouring set-up? Ie. do you listen to music, do you like to finish colouring/drawing a piece all in one go or come back to it in intervals?
The majority of my time is spent creating the drawings for my colouring books, rather than colouring itself. When I’m researching and sketching, I generally work in silence as this is the stage where I really need to be thinking about the arrangement and contents of the book and the composition of the illustration – I use this stage to thoroughly plan each page and end up with quite a detailed pencil ‘rough’. Once I’ve moved onto drawing up the final artwork in ink, the ‘thinking’ has all been done and I feel much freer, so will listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts.
As I’m normally so busy drawing the black and white illustrations, I don’t get a huge amount of time to colour my own pages and rarely get to finish a whole colouring in one sitting. But I do think that’s one of the nice things about colouring; that it’s easy to pick up and put down without too much fuss. When I do get to do a spot of colouring though, it’s so nice to just get completely lost in it and forget about the outside world.
Favourite writing/drawing materials?
I definitely couldn’t be without my trusty Rotring Rapidograph and Staedtler Mars Matic technical pens. All of my final artwork is created using these pens. They can be a pain to clean and tricky to look after, but they are a dream to draw with. I like to draw up my final artwork on marker paper as it has a really smooth surface which is prefect for the steel pen tips. My favourite colouring materials would be my Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and my Prismacolor Premier pencils. Each have their own brilliant qualities, worthy of a post all of their own. Suffice to say, I highly recommend them!
Interviewed by Molly Masters