I’m in a colouring frenzy again. After months of not picking up my two Johanna Basford books, the bug hit again when I chanced upon a wonderful Korean artist named Daria Song, via Instagram. This is another reason I stopped colouring because, weirdly, looking at what other people have coloured-in turns out to be a much more enjoyable activity than doing the actual colouring-in yourself. It’s a sort of weird colouring-in trap. There I was, falling down the YouTube and Instagram rabbit holes of an alternate colouring book reality, unable to climb back out again.
I could be found on the couch (or sitting up in bed) goggle-eyed before a dimly lit screen, filled with completed pages from all manner of colouring book artists. ‘Ooh, look how she (it’s always a she) added shadow behind that cat and made it look so real,’ I’d inwardly exclaim in delight. ‘Ooh, that colour palette is genius.’ ‘Oh, why can’t I produce these stunning effects?’ This mental fawning over pre-drawn pictures, which have simply been coloured in, has to be silent for fear of family members thinking you’re nuts.
But I’m not alone in the madness. There’s a whole army of ‘colourists’ out there, producing state of the colour art pictures that leave us lesser mortals defeated, before we’ve even got started. The term ‘colourist’ leads me to the fact that the colouring-in world now has its own lexicon. Those who colour are not simply grown up kids at heart wielding a couple of Crayolas. No, the word is colourist or colorist (the craze, as with most crazes, has gone stateside in its vocabulary.) And the Crayolas, in most cases, have been replaced by high end art materials.
Your average YouTube colourist wields an industrial sized array of pencils. The brand names of which now slip off my tongue with ease. No self-respecting colourist would handle anything other than their Polychromos, or their Prismacolours, or their Derwents, or their Albrecht durers; not to mention their Inktenses and their specialist watercolours. The names of coloured pencil manufacturers now also slip off my tongue with equal ease…..Faber-Castell, Staedtler, Caran D’ache, Koh-I-Noor – why it’s a foreign language.
I had to spend a good few hours researching this foreign language in order to know what my colouring-in heroines were going on about. Just recently they’ve been testing out (the YouTubers do a lot of ‘testing out’) a brand called Black Widow. These jet black pencils come in a jet black box with a picture of a spider on it. What the connection between a deadly spider and the genteel hobby of colouring is, I can’t say. And I’m entirely put off the name for jinxing purposes (in its other sense) so it’s not a brand that’ll ever end up in my pencil case – I’ve had to buy a pencil case like I’m back at school.
However, I did fork out (well, the husband and sons did) on a set of 72 Derwent Procolour pencils for Christmas, at the alarming cost of £132. To this I added a plethora of other, much cheaper items, now considered of vital importance to the colouring-in brigade. For the ardent hobbyist uses various media in their work. I now know that my bog standard (but absolutely brilliant and cheap) W H Smith set of 48 pencils was never going to cut the mustard. No, I needed to get my hands on gel pens (I went for Sainsbury’s own cheap brand); on Stickles (which is glitter glue, who knew such a thing existed?); on Fine Liners (again Sainsbury had these in abundance – £12 for 24); on acrylic paints (I’m already in possession of tubes of the stuff) and on artist quality coloured pencils (the aforementioned Derwents.)
To revert back to Daria Song. I purchased a couple of Daria’s books last year – The Night Voyage and The Time Chamber – and got going with my bog standard W H Smith set of pencils. Paper quality is of vital importance to the colourist. The pages in The Night Voyage, like Johanna B’s pages, are thick and sturdy with a reasonable tooth. The tooth (or texture as us art novices would call it) of your paper should be slightly rough as that means it will ‘take’ the coloured pencils more easily allowing for depth of colour. But The Time Chamber was a let-down. The paper is more like bog standard paper so that you layer at the risk of marking and indenting the image on the other side, even if the only thing you use is a pencil. As most colouring book pages are double-sided, bleed-through is a real issue. Of course, when colouring books first came out the manufacturers (and authors) probably didn’t foresee that colourists would start chucking anything but coloured pencils at them. Your average sheet of paper is not made to withstand watercolours, acrylics, felt tips, markers, glittery stuff, pens etc. Not content with the humble pencil, the semi-professional colourists have gone with a pimp-it-up attitude, and this extends to adding their own drawn details to an existing page. In a few rare cases this actually improves on the original.
Back to Daria. Ms Song has a unique style and one I find captivating. Johanna B is fine of course, but there’s such a plethora of leaves and flowers and symmetrical patterns. It wasn’t until I came across Daria that I realised other artists were drawing pages that contained people and houses and landscapes, whilst structuring their images around a story…..a very ‘loose’ sort of story it’s got to be said. I mean not one that’s exactly riveting, just a few words here and there in Korean/Japanese, which probably lose quite a lot in the translation.
Whilst colouring in a couple of pages from Daria’s books, I then discovered a Japanese artist called Eriy and her Romantic Country series of colouring books. I was hooked. You’d never know Eriy hails from Japan, being that her books are filled with English style country cottages and houses; American farm houses; European streets; Dutch windmills…….and cats. The giveaway is the sort of Studio Ghibli drawing style; that unmistakable simplicity of line filled with endearing cuteness. For whatever reason, the Japanese and Koreans are just brilliant at adult colouring books. My only criticism is that they all feature cats.
The cat is an animal I can’t be doing with. When they’re not using my flower beds as a public lav, they’re either fornicating loudly in the alleyway or scratching each other’s eyes out. And yet, strangely, both Daria and Eriy’s books feature cats who are guilty of nothing more than wearing cute smiles on their feline faces whilst sporting cute bows.
Johanna B has recently produced a book called Ivy and the Inky Butterfly which, not to criticise the sainted Johanna in any way, seems to me to have drawn a lot of its inspiration from these Korean and Japanese artists. Her book takes the idea of weaving some sort of a story around the images to the next level. It’s a black and white illustrated children’s book (a story told to her daughter at bedtime) which you, the colourist, can transform into a keepsake for your own children/grandchildren. Like Daria and Eriy’s books, it features a young girl going on a journey. Johanna’s skills at rendering the human form however (unlike D and E) doesn’t seem to match her ability with all that flora and fauna, which might account for why she stuck to so many leaves all these years.
Still, I’ll probably purchase a copy of Ivy at Amazon and further line Johanna’s colourful pockets, being her images are so cosy and comforting and fairy tale’ish. For I’m the sort of person who LOVES nostalgic, whimsical, charming country cottagey, old fashioned pictures. You know when that trio of art critics on Sky’s Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year whinge on about ‘chocolate box imagery’ and what an unpleasant assault to the artistic senses it is. Well I, for one, don’t know what they’re on about. When confronted with a Jackson Pollock, or a J W Turner, I know which one I’d go for. And here I shall majorly digress.
Yes, I appreciate that it’s possibly a genius creative choice to paint your trees purple and your grass pink (in fact Hockney did this in his later years in Yorkshire); or to slap a few random lumps of oil paint on your canvas and call it a face; or to rip up your old magazines and use the torn up bits to build a side view of Noel Fielding but, then again, Mr Fielding sort of resembles a living collage anyway – but could I stand being confronted by such images, on a regular basis, hanging from my walls (no, is the answer to that one.) Mr Pollock may have had what is generously (or laughably) called a ‘drip style,’ which seemed to draw so many gullible rich loonies in, but, in the unlikely event that he (or Damien Hirst) would ever have produced colouring books, you can be sure I’d have steered well clear.
This takes me back actually. Many moons ago I spent two hellish weeks at a teaching training college. I had to get the bus in to the college from a rented room. Just asking for the bus fare was a daily torture, so it was no surprise that I found the actual course difficult (to put it mildly.) Apart from playing many ice breaking games, designed to instil confidence in public speaking, which only served to put my stammer in the harsh spotlight, my one clear memory of that short time is being taken on a tour of the college grounds, which were full of Henry Moore statues. Our leader asked for our opinions. I mentioned to the woman standing next to me that I didn’t like them. She must have been about 30. A lot of the trainees were quite a bit older than me. I was 21 and, not taking this into account at all, she launched into a diatribe, pointing out that, where art was concerned, I was obviously an uneducated dolt, as couldn’t I see that every statue was simply magnificent. This was in ear shot of the other recruits.
From my current perspective of middle-age, I now see that she was a (probably unintentional) bully. I also know that Art is a snobbish and contentious subject. Knowing nothing about Mr Moore, or his standing as a sculptor, I maintained that the lumps of stone in front of us were ‘rubbish.’
In fact, looking at a typical Henry Moore today (as I just did via Google for the first time since 1982) I’d say he copied took direct inspiration from those Neolithic primitive sculptures they keep digging up – those really unattractive, indeterminate, out of proportion, non-artistic lumps of stone. Not the sort of thing I’d want on my mantelpiece – not that I could, being Mr Moore liked to assault our eyes with monstrosities built to a monumental scale.
(I wonder if that woman incorporated her belligerency into her teaching style?)
Let’s play a game. It’s called ‘Spot the Moore.’ Below are a few sculptures. Can you tell which were sculpted by some uneducated caveman from the stone age, with no artistic training at all…….and which were carved by the prize winning Mr Moore.
There are not many downsides to the activity of colouring in. It’s relatively cheap for one thing. Your average colouring book will set you back about £10 and there’s no real need to splash out hundreds on artist level pencils – even Crayola gets good results in the right hands. For the key to achieving glory in the colouring-in world is to wield a pencil using painterly techniques. Therefore, you must watch hours of YouTube tutorials in which you will be shown how to layer – a process by which you apply many layers of colour to, say, just one flower petal in order to achieve depth and brilliance. Of course this is a massively time consuming process; it took me nearly an hour to colour in a tiny kitten in a tiny basket for example. Have I lost the plot? Is there a more constructive way I could pass the odd hour on an evening? I think not. As so many philosophers have suggested before him, the trickster Derren Brown assures us that happiness is to be found ‘in the moment.’ When I focus on which pencil to choose, and which bit of flower to shade, and I begin the repetitive action of colouring, am I not going all Zen? Just doing, without the mental chatter. (This blog post, conversely, would appear to be the perfect example of mindless, inane chatter.)
YouTube will also show you how to shade, using a heavier and lighter pressure on your pencil. You will add shadows to achieve a sort of 3D effect. But most importantly you will choose a colour palette. Without a colour palette your page is doomed to look like an uncoordinated mess – or something Jackson Pollock would have been proud of. It really does seem that the internet caters to every need. For I found an online colour palette generator. Such a thing exists. You’re presented with 5 coordinating colours (palette-wise 5 seems to be the magic number) which switch to 5 different coordinating colours at a click, on an endless loop. This is a big help, believe me.
The other big help is the relatively recent dawn of the colour and chat video (the husband couldn’t contain his mirth when I casually mentioned I was following a colour and chat video.) Here you’ll watch disembodied hands colouring-in, whilst their owner’s disembodied voice gives a running commentary on the colourists’ personal life and artistic techniques. My favourite is Coloring Frances (despite the Americanisation, she’s British.) Coloring Frances is a delightful young woman, who burbles on about her difficulties in getting a permanent teaching job (give the girl a job please); her single status (why hasn’t someone snapped her up?) and her love of Star Trek, Sci-Fi, films and colouring-in. Basically she’s me, without the stammer and the husband. Her videos are an hour of Frances gabbing about anything that jumps into her quirky, grasshopper brain. In fact, judging by the rambling nature of this blog post, I seem to have picked up a few bad habits from the lovely Frances.
There now follows a series of chocolate box type images, which I’ve been filling the odd hour here and there with for the last few weeks. They were coloured using the W H Smith pencils and my Derwent Procolour; along with fine liners and the odd glittery gel pen, inspired by Coloring France’s liberal use of what she calls the ‘glittery goodness.’ FYI, the W H Smith pencils perform just as well as the Derwent – it looks like I paid £132 just to get a wider selection of colours. But as we colourists say, you can never have too many pencils.
None of the photos show the depth of colour that’s apparent in ‘real life.’
From Romantic Country. This is what the colourists call a WIP (work in progress)
RC again. This one is finished. I made attempts at adding in shadows and rubbed out bits of the sky to give the effect of clouds.
I gave up on this one from The Time Chamber but may go back to it. The more intricate ones could possibly take years to finish.
From Daria Song.
Daria again. These were all pre-Derwent pencils.
I added the sun and some birds to this RC one.
And this is the latest WIP. You will note the tiny little cottage in the middle of a forest, just the kind of place the husband and I would like to live.