Today, I have something exciting for you, a chat with the lovely Millie Marotta, the author of quite a few nature-themed coloring books, namely Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland, Wild Savannah and Curious Creatures. She has a wonderfully unique geometric approach to animals and nature, her style is definitely not easily forgotten. Plus she has great tips for you guys so keep reading!
Iris: How old were you when you started to draw?
Millie Marotta: I don’t honestly know what age I was when I began to draw. I can’t recall a specific time when I became interested in it, I think it was just more of a case of drawing being something that had I always gravitated towards from a very early age.
I: What was your favorite subject to draw then?
MM: Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in my room drawing pictures of our pets. I grew up in the countryside of rural west Wales and had a pretty ‘free-range’ childhood, surrounded by animals, which obviously made quite an impact on me and what I liked to draw.
I: How did you come to creating coloring books?
MM: I had been working as a freelance Illustrator for some years when my publisher initially approached me. They had seen some of my commercial work and were really interested in discussing the idea of me working on a colouring book. I immediately thought it would be a really exciting project to work on and felt that the style of my work, with all its’ detail and intricate lines lent itself perfectly to the idea of offering illustrations suited for adults to colour in. To be honest I didn’t have to give it a great deal of thought and couldn’t wait to get started. At that point colouring books for adults really weren’t the ‘phenomenon’ that they have become, but the idea of being able to offer beautiful and sophisticated illustrations for grown-ups to colour just made sense to me.
Animal Kingdom Deluxe Edition (Batsford) by Millie Marotta
I: Where do you find inspiration for your pages?
MM: I’ve been pretty fascinated by the natural world since as far back as I can remember. This attraction to all things nature is very inherent, so I never really have to think too much about where to find inspiration for my work. I just love that there is an endless world of plants, animals and habitats out there to explore and discover and I honestly cannot see a day where I would begin to tire of it as a subject for my work. I’m very lucky in that sense, that my favourite things, drawing and nature, tie in so well together.
I: Do you paint or draw for other projects as well?
MM: For the last couple of years I’ve devoted pretty much all my time to creating the colouring books, which I love working on. They are more than a full-time job and haven’t really left a great deal of time for other projects. When it has been possible though I have squeezed in one or two extra projects but it has been a little like spinning plates!
I: Can you show and tell us a bit about it?
MM: This year I released my first ever collection of homewares, which has been very exciting. The collection includes a variety of tableware pieces and was great fun to work on.
Country Garden Tableware Collection, available online and in various stores
I: Which of your coloring books is your favorite? Why?
MM: Oh gosh, I couldn’t possibly choose. Although, as Animal Kingdom was the very first one I suppose it will always be special for that reason. But, I’ve really enjoyed working on all of them. I enjoy the whole process and am really lucky that I get to spend my days doing something I love so much. It’s a lot of work but it’s very satisfying.
I: How do you create a coloring page? What is the process for you?
MM: I draw each illustration at the same size as they appear in the book, which I think is important as it allows me a true feel for what the image will be like to colour in. I think playing around with the scale once the image is drawn can tend to alter the colouring experience. Each page begins as a rough hand drawn sketch of the complete illustration. I say rough but these usually end up being quite detailed pencil sketches by the time I’ve finished as I like to have the image as planned out as possible before I begin the final artwork. Some images will come together very quickly while others may take a little more thought and planning, although for most I do have a pretty good idea in my head of how I want it to look like before I begin. I use a range of reference material including photos, books, nature documentaries and various sources online. Once I’m happy with my rough it’s time to draw up the final artwork. For this I use a very fine steel nib pen, using my pencil sketch as a guide, this time adding even more detail as I work. Once the inked drawing is complete it’s simply a case of scanning the illustration, ready for sending to my publisher. The only other process that I sometimes go through is to turn an illustration into a repeat pattern, which I will do digitally.
Page in progress from Curious Creatures (Batsford), Millie Marotta
I: How long does it take for you to create a whole book?
MM: About 5 months from start to finish. That includes all the research, rough sketches, final artwork and cover artwork.
I: What are the challenges of being an artist for you?
MM: One of the big challenges is making sure that I’m creating work in my books which remains continuously fresh and appealing for my audience.
Exclusive stationary range available from Marks & Spencer, available online and in-store
I: Can you describe your day as an artist?
MM: No two days are ever the same really, which is great! I work from my studio at home so I don’t have to dash off out every morning, which is lovely. The first part of the morning is usually spent sorting through emails and doing admin, I find it really hard to concentrate on drawing if I know I have a pile of emails stacking up which need my attention, so it’s best to get those out of the way as soon as I can. The rest of the day will be spent doing research, sketching, planning page layouts or drawing up final artwork, all depending on what stage of a book I’m working on. I’ll often pop out for a breath of fresh air at some point during the day for a blustery walk on the beach. Putting a whole book together is a huge undertaking, not least because my work is so detailed, which makes the whole process incredibly labor intensive. This often means long hours, it’s not unusual for me to work 12 hour days 7 days a week when things are really busy and a deadline is looming. However, I absolutely love what I do and it doesn’t really feel like work for me, it’s what I would be doing with my time if I didn’t have to work anyway, so I’m very lucky in that sense.
I: What are the tools you can’t live without?
MM: I definitely couldn’t be without my trusty Rotring Rapidograph fine liners. All of the artwork in my books has been created using these pens and while I do occasionally dabble with others the Rotring pens are definitely my firm favourite. When it comes to colouring, I love Faber-Castell’s Polychromos pencils. They are lovely to use and the colours are beautifully vibrant.
In progress page from Wild Savannah (Batsford) by Millie Marotta
I: Do you have any tips for complete beginners in coloring?
MM: For someone who is completely new to colouring it’s probably helpful for you to start off using materials that you’re comfortable and familiar with, rather than opting for something you’ve never used before. That way you will feel confident in setting out to create your own masterpiece! It’s also important to remember that there are no rules when it comes to colouring, that’s the lovely thing about it, it is after all a creative process. Some people like to colour every tiny little detail, whilst others prefer to simply colour over larger areas allowing textures and patterns underneath to show though. Some people love to set themselves a challenge by using a limited colour palette whist others enjoy using every colour under the sun. It’s all really about doing what you want to do, not about what you should or shouldn’t be doing or what is right and wrong. The colours, materials and techniques that you use are your own individual choice and are what will ultimately bring the illustrations to life as your own unique piece of art.
In a more practical sense some helpful tips might be:
- If you are using pencils, keep the point nice and sharp, as this will allow you more accuracy when colouring all those little details.
- 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.
- If you prefer pens, which many people do, try to choose ones which have a fine nib, coloured fine liners are particularly good for colouring those finer details.
- Avoid permanent markers or pens which have particularly heavy ink flow as these have more of a tendency to bleed.
- Try to avoid ‘scrubbing’ or scribbling too hard with your pens and pencils as this can spoil the surface of the paper, instead use gentle sweeping strokes to build up your colour.
Finally, the colouring community have left me absolutely astonished by the incredible buzz and positivity they have created online and over social media. I can see that these wonderful people are a great source of advice, inspiration, ideas and motivation to one another. Facebook colouring groups, Instagram, YouTube tutorials etc are all ways that this incredible community are interacting with one another and sharing their work. I would certainly suggest to anyone new to colouring who is perhaps looking for tips, tricks, techniques and advice about materials to reach out to the colouring community, they are the colouring experts after all!
Hermit crab from Curious Creatures (Batsford), Millie Marotta
I: Is there something in the works for the future as well?
MM: Right now I’m beavering away on book 5, which is keeping me very busy. Beyond that I hope to build on the homewares collection and perhaps explore some new products there. There are a few other projects in the pipeline but I can’t really say too much about those at this stage. I think all of that should keep me busy and out of trouble for a while.
I: And last, for fun, if you could be any fairytale or fantasy character, who would you be and why?
MM: A-ha, Dr. Doolittle, as I’d love to be able to talk to animals! Does he count?
Thank you, Millie, for finding the time in your busy schedule to chat with us! We will surely be eagerly awaiting for the fifth book!
Millie Marotta books are available in many physical stores globally, plus you can find them online from many places, including Amazon and Bookdepository.
Images by Millie Marotta, used with permission.