A pioneer in the adult coloring movement, best-selling author Millie Marotta was an illustrator long before she inked her first book. Living by the sea in West Wales, her intricate illustrations are inspired by a love of wildlife and fascination with the patterns found in the nature from around the world, which are constant themes in her artwork.
Millie’s adult coloring books, Animal Kingdom, Tropical World, and Wild Savannah, have sold more than five million copies worldwide and have been translated into over 32 languages. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to download three free coloring pages from Millie!)
Millie set aside her illustating pens long enough to chat with us over email and answer some questions about her life as an adult coloring artist…
Q: Please tell us a bit about your background as an artist.
A: My drawing days started pretty much as soon as I was able to hold a pencil. Even at that early age I found drawing very engaging and naturally gravitated towards it as a hobby and then as a subject to study. I studied Wildlife Illustration, which was amazing for me as it meant I got to combine the two things I have always felt very passionately about, drawing and wildlife. When I look back now I suppose my path was always mapped out, though I didn’t realize it at the time. It wasn’t until quite a while after my studies that I actually began to work as a freelance Illustrator, but I always carried on with my own creative projects alongside other jobs during those years. After teaching art in a local secondary school for a few years I finally decided to take the plunge and go it alone as a full time freelance Illustrator, and here I am today, absolutely loving what I do.
A coloring-in-progress from Tropical World.
Q: When and how did you get into creating adult coloring books?
A: My publisher initially approached me with the idea of putting the first book together. 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, was perfectly suited to the idea of offering illustrations that adults would enjoy coloring. To be honest I didn’t have to give it a great deal of thought and couldn’t wait to get started. That was back in 2013. At that point, coloring books really weren’t the ‘phenomenon’ that they have become now, but the idea of being able to offer beautiful and sophisticated illustrations for grown-ups to color just made sense to me.
A Millie Marotta illustration colored by Iris Eenmae.
Q: What are some of your favorite pencils, pens, markers or other tools for coloring?
A: Normally I’ll choose colored pencils rather than pens, simply because I find them so much more versatile, but that’s not to say that you can’t achieve fantastic results with pens and plenty of other materials, too. My all-time favorites are a beautifully boxed set of 108 Karisma pencils, which I bought many moons ago while I was at college studying wildlife illustration. I still have them today, although some of them are now just tiny little stubs. Sadly these pencils are no longer available but a great alternative is the Prismacolor Premier series, which produce unbelievably vibrant colors. Another firm favorite are the Faber-Castell Polychromos. These are lovely and soft, great for color blending and shading but not so soft that you’re re-sharpening every 5 seconds.
A serene page colored by Cherry Lee.
Q: Can you share any special techniques you use to get great results in your coloring?
A: If I’m completely honest, I don’t do a huge amount of coloring myself as I’m always so busy working on creating the illustrations themselves. They keep me very busy and don’t allow a huge amount of time for much else! When I do color, though, I will often build up my colors gradually in layers, rather than pressing too hard. I find that this allows me to achieve a really smooth surface to my coloring and it’s amazing how many shades of one color you can get from a single pencil. Having said that, the vibrancy that you can achieve by pressing a little harder with your pencil is also rather nice. I also love to blend and shade colors, which again can be achieved by building up gradual layers. I also find that a blender pencil, which is essentially a pencil with no color in it, can be great for fusing colors together.
Q: What is your process like when you create a coloring book?
A: I draw each illustration at the same size as they appear in the book and will begin with 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 piece. 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. Once I’m happy with my rough it’s time to draw up the final artwork. For this I use a very fine steel nibbed 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 though is to turn an illustration into a repeat pattern, which I will do digitally.
A coloring page from Wild Savannah, colored by Lindsey Sayle.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of the process? The most rewarding?
A: I’d say the most challenging part is making sure that I keep the illustrations looking fresh and different enough from page to page. It’s really important to me that I am giving fans the best book I possibly can, so I always try really hard to make sure there’s plenty of variety throughout the books and that the illustrations are always charming and intriguing. The most rewarding part by an absolute mile is seeing how far-reaching coloring has become and how many people worldwide are enjoying it now as a creative outlet. I love hearing from people from all walks of life who have rediscovered the joy of coloring and have made it a part of their everyday lives. It’s also amazing to be able to share my work with such a responsive audience. It’s been amazing to watch the coloring community grow and I love to see fans sharing their work over social media, on a level that I really wasn’t expecting at the time of putting the first book together. I hadn’t anticipated having so much insight into how users of the books would be coloring and working with the illustrations and I’m stunned everyday by examples of the most beautifully colored pages from my books.
A page from Wild Savannah, colored by Milli Bainbridge.
Q: Why do you think adults love to color?
A: My feeling is that as children most of us have enjoyed coloring as a fun activity and a way to be creative – so why should that stop simply because we have grown a little older? I don’t think that creativity or the desire to be creative, which is so strong in childhood, ever really leaves us. I think for many it just gets a little buried as we grow up and other things in our lives become more prominent. I have always enjoyed creative pursuits myself as a great way to relax and switch off, and I think this is also the case for those who are enjoying the books. These days we lead such busy, fast-paced lives. We seem to be constantly multi-tasking and trying to cram as much as we can into one day and I think the main appeal of the books is simply that people find them a great way to relax and ‘switch off ‘ for a while. They offer a simple and enjoyable way to unwind in the form of a creative activity that is accessible, satisfying and for many it can also feel very familiar, which I think can also be a comfort.
Q: What’s your favorite creative activity to relax and unwind?
A: I’m one those very very lucky people who get to do something they love for a living, so day to day I get to do something that I already find very relaxing as my job. When I’m not drawing I love to get outside and enjoy blustery walks along the Welsh coastline.
Visit Millie on Facebook and Instagram at MillieMarotta.
And for coloring tips and techniques from JOANN click here!