Picture Book of the Month: Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland

Picture Book of the Month: Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland

One of the most popular adult colouring books to emerge this year was Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta. Filled with gorgeously intricate drawings of elephants, birds, forest scenery and much more, Millie’s book provided the perfect level of difficulty for adults and some beautiful scenes to inspire our creativity. In her second book, Tropical Wonderland, Millie presents us with more exotic, botanical scenes from the rainforest, including luscious plants and foliage and tropical birds to colour.

We caught up with Millie for an exclusive interview about her thoughts on the adult colouring craze, how she designs the stunning pages of her books and her tips for getting the most out of them.

Hi Millie! So what do you think of the recent popularity of adult colouring and why do you think people love it so much?

I think colouring is something that we all enjoyed as children but as we grow up we tend to have less time or inclination to allow for this type of creative activity; that’s not to say that we don’t enjoy it anymore, it’s just that other things become more prominent. As humans we naturally enjoy creative activities, especially those which provide us with some kind of ‘outcome’ at the end, we like that sense of achievement and the satisfaction that we get from seeing the results of our efforts.

I think in todays busy and fast paced world colouring-in can be a great creative outlet and a way to de-stress in the form of an activity which is comfortable and familiar. It really encourages us to focus the mind and concentrate on ‘the here and now’, offering a much needed distraction from all those things in the grown-up world which may be causing us worry, tension or stress, a little bit of escapism if you like. It has been proven that these types of creative activities, where we are focusing the mind and working with our hands, do reduce levels of anxiety and help relieve stress.

I also think there are a lot of people out there who for work, study etc. are spending their entire day or working week in front of a screen of some kind, be it a laptop, a phone, a tablet, a monitor, and they need something to draw them away from that, to offer them a step away from the digital world back to something a little more hands-on. Not everyone has the time or the means to learn a new craft or attend an Art class for example, but with colouring books I think people have discovered a simple, affordable and very accessible way to engage in something creative. They are especially great for those who would like to be artistic but perhaps don’t feel that they have the skill or the confidence to start themselves from scratch, a blank page can be a very daunting thing.

How long does it take for you to complete a page for one of your colouring books?

It varies quite a bit from page to page but one illustration can take anything from 4 or 5 hours to a couple of days from start to finish. I wanted to ensure plenty of variety across the pages in the books, from intricately drawn individual creatures to full bleed spreads of highly detailed patterns, and for that reason there is no ‘format’ if you like to how long they take me to draw.

We’ve seen lots of interesting tools used to colour in books to different effects – everything from glitter glue to fineliners to pastels. What would you choose to colour your designs?

As boring as it may sound my personal preference is to use coloured pencils, I love how versatile they are in allowing for shading, colour blending, building up layers of colour and so on, which you can’t really achieve so well with pens. But, I have seen some incredible examples where people have used all sorts of different materials on their images, pens included.

Have you ever been inspired by how your fans have coloured in your work? Does it change how you approach the next image?

I’m inspired all the time by reader’s coloured in pages from the books. When I was putting the first book ‘Animal Kingdom’ together, I wasn’t really expecting to have so much insight into how the readers would be colouring and working with the illustrations, so it’s been fascinating to see just how differently every reader approaches the same image. Now I’m onto my third book and I’ve seen so many incredible examples from the first two books I do find that as I’m drawing the illustrations I’m thinking a lot more about how readers might colour the illustrations.

What’s the most unique way of colouring that you’ve seen (either amateur or professional)?

There are so many, the colouring skills of some readers are just astounding and have left me quite gob-smacked! I’m seeing more and more people using mixed media on the pages with really interesting results. And there seems to be a lot more people now who are exploring the idea of adding backgrounds to many of the illustrations, which were intentionally left empty on some pages to encourage the reader to add their own drawn elements to the images. With these backgrounds people are getting quite adventurous in their choice of materials and I’m seeing some great colouring techniques using slightly more unusual materials, pastels and cotton wool for example.

How do you find working in black and white? Do you ever have certain colours in the back of your mind when creating your designs?

I find the simplicity of working in black and white really allows me to focus on creating a strong image, relying on good composition, beautiful detail and interesting patterns. In addition to that I just think black and white are such good partners. I don’t normally have a colour scheme in mind when I’m working on an image, I’m more preoccupied with creating a captivating design which will be engaging and interesting for the readers, I leave the colour choices up to them.

Do you have any tips for those of us who haven’t coloured since school?

  1. If you are using pencils, keep the point nice and sharp, as this will allow you more accuracy when colouring all those little details.
  2. Don’t press too hard with your pencils, instead you can achieve lovely vibrant colours by building up layers gradually, this will also help you to achieve a really wide range of shades from your set of pencils.
  3. If you prefer pens, which many people do, try to choose ones which have a very fine nib, coloured fine liners are particularly good for colouring those finer details.
  4. Avoid permanent markers or pens which have particularly heavy ink flow as these have more of a tendency to bleed.
  5. Try to avoid ‘scrubbing’ or scribbling too hard with your pens and pencils as this can spoil the smooth surface of the paper, instead use gentle sweeping strokes to build up your colour.
  6. Some of my illustrations have areas which are very detailed and not everyone will want to colour in every tiny shape individually, instead simply colour over the top of these details allowing the textures and patterns underneath to show though.
  7. Don’t rush, you don’t have to complete an entire image in one sitting. These illustrations take me a long time to draw and take even longer to colour. The idea is that you can dip and out the books whenever you like.
  8. While I have offered some tips here I think it’s important to remember that there are no rules. The colours, materials and techniques that you use are entirely your choice and are what will turn the illustrations into your own unique works of art.

What other art hobbies would you suggest we try if we’re enjoying colouring?

Oh gosh there are so many to try! Of course it all depends of what kind of materials you like to work with and might have available to you but painting, drawing, collage and some types of printmaking can all be pretty easily done at home. I think as long as it’s something that encourages a bit of creativity any type of art-based hobby is a great thing!

What is your working space like and what sort of space would you recommend to get the best out of adult colouring?

I work from a little studio that I have set up at home overlooking the garden, which is lovely but in itself can also be a huge distraction for someone who is a bit of a nature geek. I’m quite happy to spend what is probably an unhealthy amount of time intently watching the lone pigeon that visits the garden everyday!

The walls of the studio are usually covered in sketches, print outs, research and reference material for whatever project/s I have on the go. I find it really helpful to have these visual reminders up on the walls, ideas come much more easily when there are lots of visual prompts around.

I’d like to say my studio is very neat and tidy, which how I normally like it to be. But right now it’s rather messy I have to admit. Since I started working on the colouring books I seem to be accumulating rather a lot of boxes of drawings not to mention all the paper samples, proofs, tests, dummies and mock-ups…my storage situation has definitely reached crisis point!

In terms of what sort of space I would recommend to get the best out of adult colouring, I honestly think that as long as you have your colouring book and whatever materials you like to work with you can pretty much take it anywhere as it’s so portable.

Many of us seem to enjoy colouring because it reminds us of our childhoods – summer holidays, weekends at your grandparents’ house, the joy of receiving a new pack of felt tips – do you have any particular fond memories of colouring as a child?

Colouring was an activity that I did a lot as a child, not just in the pages of colouring books but on my own drawings too and I even recall thinking it would be a good idea to add a splash of colour to some of my bedroom furniture. I remember once being particularly pleased with myself for turning what was a perfectly good mirror into some kind of technicolour dream mirror with a set of paints one afternoon, not sure how much my mum appreciated that though.

Christmas and birthdays always bought the anticipation of receiving new art materials of some kind, which was especially great for me as my birthday usually fell at the beginning of the long school summer holidays, so I kept myself well entertained until school time came around again.

What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

More colouring books! I’m currently working on my third book, which is well under way and coming together nicely. Beyond that there will be a fourth book and I’m also having a few discussions about other potential projects/collaborations, so busy times ahead!


Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland: A Colouring Book Adventure is available to order online today.