With Amanda DelaCruz

Go anywhere and you'll see people glued to a screen - phone, tablet, computer. Our lives are increasingly becoming more and more digital. With that comes a fast paced lifestyle that is hard to escape. I work with computers myself and when I get home, I just want to get lost in a book - but it's not a book, it's a digital file on my e-reader. It bothers me that I'm always looking at some back lit screen. 

So it's no wonder that Millie Marotta's adult colouring book Animal Kingdom has become overwhelmingly popular in the past year. People just want to wind down and get lost in something that is not an app. There is that sense of nostalgia but Millie's book is not like the colouring books of your childhood - her illustration style is more sophisticated, intricate and beautiful. She has merged her animals into their flora and fauna surroundings in a way that is truly unique.  But Millie says that they are more than just a break from the screens, that they also offer "a hands on activity, something tactile and creative which we can see the results of at the end and that can be great in encouraging a sense of satisfaction or achievement."

I recently moved into a new condo and I've been wanting to personalize the walls for a while now. Nothing seemed quite right. I wanted to be able to put my artistic touch on it, I wanted it to be intricate, I wanted it to be colourful and beautiful and unique. When I saw Millie's work I knew that it was what I was looking for. 

Surrounded by her sketches and ongoing projects Millie works from a little home studio in West Wales overlooking her garden, which she says is both lovely and distracting. When she was approached by Batsford Ltd  to create a colouring book for adults,

"the idea with Animal Kingdom was to create a beautiful book which people would enjoy colouring as much as I enjoyed putting together. Something people would love to look at and want to show others and which once finished they would want to keep afterwards."

When creating one of her pages for Animal Kingdom, she "begins with a rough sketch of the complete illustration...that actually end up being quite detailed pencil sketches. For the final artwork I use a very fine steel nibbed pen (either a Rotring Rapidograph or Staedtler Marsmatic) and so the paper needs to be very smooth. Some days I’ll happily sit in silence while on others I’ll have some music or the radio on in the background. Afternoons are probably my most productive time of the day I’d say. Mornings can often get eaten up by admin and answering emails etc, sometimes it’s well after midday before I settle down to some actual drawing." She told us that some of her illustrations come together very naturally with some taking a little more thought and planning. Although she has a pretty good idea of how she wants the page to look like before she begins.  

I'm a lover of the effort that goes behind very intricate art works but it's becoming less and less common that an artist doesn't rely on a digital element to help speed up the process.  It took Millie over 8 months to complete Animal Kingdom because it is all done by hand except for a "few of the pages in the book that are repeat patterns which span across a double page but even these begin life as hand drawn illustrations."

Out of the whole book she told us that she has a real soft spot for her little chap, the curled up fox, and that the whale, flamingo and octopus took the longest to complete. Watch her draw the fox here: 


Her next book Tropical World is highly anticipated and will be released in August 2015. Her style has been influenced by her subject matter more so than other artists. She studied Wildlife Illustration in college and the subject has been the backbone of her work ever since. Besides drawing  her other passion is the natural world.

"It’s a topic that I will never tire of and I think has great universal appeal. It is also what interests me and inspires me so in that sense I can’t really see me veering very far from nature, in all it’s glorious forms, as a theme for my work."

Millie's artwork is unique in that she is not just putting her work into the home, she has become a collaborator with people all over the world. We asked her how much she felt belonged to her and how much to the one colouring after it was complete. 

She told us that "while I was putting Animal Kingdom together I did feel quite nervous about people adding to the images. Of course I hoped that people would enjoy them but nevertheless the idea of sharing my work with people in a way that they were being invited to contribute to the artwork itself was a new thing for me.

I did feel a little nervous about how the book might be received, would people enjoy colouring my illustrations? Would they be charmed, as I was hoping, by my own interpretation of the animal kingdom?  As it turns out I’ve been astonished by how popular the book has been, way beyond my wildest dreams

Those initial nerves very quickly disappeared as I began to see more and more examples of how people were working with the illustrations, now I can’t get enough of seeing all the different ways in which so many people will approach the same image. It really is a collaboration and that’s something I really enjoy about what I’m doing. The illustrations all start off looking exactly the same, but are turned into something absolutely unique as each person begins to add their own colour and personality. I really feel that after many hours of careful colouring,

the illustrations do belong to each individual and in a way are very much their own artworks.

One of the most fascinating things about sharing my work with people in this way is to see how differently each person approaches the same image and how people come up with ideas that I would never think of myself."

The response to Animal Kingdom has been overwhelmingly positive to Millie. She hoped that people would enjoy her artwork but hadn't anticipated how well people would respond to it. The book has sold well from the beginning there was a 3-4 month period where sales seemed to skyrocket.

"The tipping point was when people really started to pay attention to just how beneficial colouring in can be in relieving stress and generally encouraging relaxation. So many of us don’t allow time for that in our daily lives and I think people just started to switch on to the idea of colouring as a very accessible and therapeutic activity.

The main surge initially came from Europe but it really has had a knock on effect across the globe and Animal Kingdom is now available in 26 different languages! I have to say that in Canada specifically Indigo Books & Music have been great supporters of the book, certainly having such great stores backing the book and the colouring-in genre as a whole, has been a huge part of the colouring book success story."

Above: Coloured in pages submitted for Millie's Animal Kingdom Gallery

"I was expecting people to use the book as a means to de-stress and relax; I always knew the benefits of these types of creative activities because I have always done them myself. The thing I really wasn’t expecting is the number of people who feel the book has actually helped them in some way. I’ve heard from so many individuals telling me their stories about how the book has been more than just a colouring book to them.

Some people have found that it has been really useful in helping to manage their anxiety, while others have found it a great support in coping with depression. Lots of readers who have been struggling through difficult times in their lives have said that the book has been a great distraction from the things that are causing them worry or sadness. I think that has probably been the greatest surprise of all, discovering that

as well as being a wonderful creative outlet for so many people, the book is going further than that and has become for some, so much more than just a colouring book."


What do you think of adult colouring? Let us know in the comments below!

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